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My bookshelf – a glorious mish-mash

The newspaper I’ve read since I was able to choose for myself  is The Guardian. We share a roughly similar world view, their standard of journalism is high and they tackle controversial issues. Best of all, I love their books section, book passion and literary mindset. I could spend all day browsing their features and reviews.

They were one of the first broadsheets to get behind self-publishing as a serious literary phenomenon and I couldn’t have been prouder to appear in their pages as a Reader Recommended indie book last year.

Now they’ve launched a prize for Best Self-Published Book, which runs monthly. Hooray!

Or… not?

(Note: As a non-UK resident, I am ineligible to enter. This is not a ‘How Dare They Overlook My Genius’ hissy fit, but a general concern.)

It’s early days, but the first two winning books have been selected and duly reviewed. Two very different winners; a comic romp and the story of a suffragette.

Much to admire in Tom Moran’s Dinosaurs and Prime Numbers, but the reviewer says this:

But it is surprisingly easy to forget that Dinosaurs and Prime Numbers is self-published – that it hasn’t been through the editing, streamlining, stringent process of a publishing house. Spelling, grammar, the rest of it, are all spot-on, and Moran’s story hangs together neatly, pleasingly, and open-endedly ready for a follow-up.

 … a slice of (sometimes) comic fantasy which deserves comparison to the likes of Robert Rankin – another author who isn’t afraid to pile on the quips, and who nonetheless enjoys a home at a mainstream publisher. There’s talent, here, if you can trample through the jokes to find it.

The reviewer of The Right of the Subjects, by Jude Starling, makes her judgement in the headline. A closely researched and passionately told story of suffragism, this novel could have been greatly improved by a conventional publisher.

… They [editors] may remind you that people don’t describe themselves as going somewhere with “our eyes shining”. They’ll mention that The Right of the Subjects might not be the most alluring title. They won’t let you use the word “tut” three times on one page, or the same formula each time you describe someone’s physical appearance, or have a character called Annie appearing alongside a character called Amie. They’ll tell you when your book is, say, 25% (30,000 words or so, in this case) too long.

Rather makes me glad I’m not eligible if this is my reward. A pat on the head for a ‘nice try’?

I have several issues with this.

If you are awarding a prize for the Best Self-Published Novel, why not choose one you can rave about? I’m a regular reviewer for Bookmuse, never differentiating between indie, trad or small press (unless I feel it deserves a mention, such as with A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing). I’ve read literary fiction, horror, in translation, YA, thriller and general fiction from a range of sources, and won’t review if I can’t recommend. Not one self-published novel on the site merited such half-hearted enthusiasm as these prize winners. If I were Mr Moran or Ms Starling, I’d find this chalice not quite poisoned, but certainly corked.

Example indie books I’ve loved: I Stopped Time by Jane Davis,  The Flesh Market by Richard Wright, String Bridge by Jessica Bell

Traditional/conventional/mainstream/trade publishing is not always better. Top indie authors use professional editors, copy editors and proofreaders. They work with expert designers and typesetters. They work hard on their marketing just the same as any midlist author with a trad press must, and are often more creative and flexible in reaching readers.

Example of trade press publication editing: (author unnamed as I see this as publisher failure).

 p.21 – A. was explaining something to S., elaborately gesticulating. He liked to use them a lot while talking, just like an Italian.
p. 42 – Wrong character name
p. 68 – Wrong character name
p. 77 – For a few seconds, she lost balance, the creaking tyres leaving a long black mark behind.
p. 81 – C smiled afflicted.
p. 89 – Truly awful metaphor
p. 90 – …there was something grander then the trivial petty misery
p. 90 – A fomer boyfriend
p. 109 – The spheric sound of Goldfrap
p. 129 – “Take me under you microscope”
p. 132 – …as she watched him filetting that turbot
p. 138 – Mother and daugther.
p. 157 – C. and her friends are a rangle of mid-thirties character without…

 

The assessment of what ‘the best’ is always going to be subjective. Is that a polished package with its own branding? Or something that makes news because it sells? Or a brilliantly imaginative experiment in a tacky cover with a nasty font? Or a multimedia set of discoverables for readers to assemble and interpret? Or ‘almost as good as something the Big Five might put out’?

I find it depressing that the first two reviews of Best Self-Published Books in The Guardian/Legend Prize contain such reactionary observations and still hold up the trade model as ideal.

Self-publishing’s grown up.

Time reviewers caught up.

 

 

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