I recently saw some information about the Costa Book Awards. These are awarded each year, and they are a big deal. There is a financial prize (from £1,000 to £5,000) but more importantly, they attract readers. The winners of the Costa Book Awards can expect mainstream bookshops to put their books where they are likely to be seen by people browsing. And readers are keen to read a book that has won a prize. The awards can turn an unknown author into a household name – at least amongst those who read.
I discovered that books can be submitted to the judges from publishers. Now, as I set up a micro-publishing house, rather than paying a self-publishing company to publish my books, I thought why not enter a book? I know that CLARA – A Good Psychopath? is by far my best book, and is as good as many popular books, so why not have a try? It has been professionally edited and typeset, it was printed by mainstream printers, I paid a photographer for an enticing cover, it is available through wholesalers, it has an ISBN number. If someone randomly picked it off a shelf, they wouldn’t know whether it was self-published or published by one of the major publishing houses. So I wrote to the person sending out the application forms, and she duly sent me one. Or to be precise, she sent one to The Cobweb Press, which has its own email account.
But then everything fell to pieces. There was a clause which read:
iv We regret that self-published books and books solely published online are not eligible. Self-published books are not eligible where the author is the publisher or where a company has been specifically set up to publish that book.
I was pretty sure this disqualified my book. But The Cobweb Press is a legitimate business, and I do employ editors, typesetters, etc on a freelance basis, so I had one last try, and emailed the helpful admin person to check. She informed me that if I published books by other authors, I could submit my book, but not if I only published my own work. I considered quickly publishing via Kindle a book by another author (I know a few) but decided that they would probably check, and it was probably deceptive of me, and I probably shouldn’t. So I didn’t. The Costa Book Awards will not be considering CLARA – A Good Psychopath? as a possible contender. Which is a shame.
I was particularly interested by a clause in the instructions which reads:
We ask that you take careful note of all conditions before submitting your title(s). If you’re uncertain as to whether or not a title meets the criteria, then please contact me before submitting it. Very occasionally we’ve had situations where the eligibility of a book has appeared ambiguous.
When you submit any title, you are confirming that title’s eligibility. Entries will be further checked by the organisers as the judging process progresses to confirm that they are eligible. If, at this stage, it’s found that an entry is, in fact, ineligible, it can cause great inconvenience and disappointment so please ensure that all titles you submit are eligible.
Now, this implies that they have had self-published books submitted in the past. And they have considered them for a prize, not realising that they were self-published, but further investigation revealed they were not published traditionally, so they were disqualified.
My question is – why? Why is the book industry so intent on squashing the new author – unless they are linked to a celebrity or film producer, or have an actual human contact? Why do major bookshops and wholesalers and competition organisers refuse to accept that a book which is indistinguishable from a traditionally published book might not be inferior? I have had my books rejected from magazines when I have offered them for review:”Sorry, but we don’t review self-published books”, from some bookshops (though the major ones are beginning to accept them if you jump through enough hoops) and, most importantly, readers. People will ask, “Is it self-published?” and if it is, they walk away. Yet it is incredibly difficult to persuade traditional publishers to take on a new author unless they fit a very tight criteria, unless they are pretty much the same as books they are already selling. Which is rather limiting don’t you think? Do we want the world to be full of books which major companies have decided we should be reading – or do we want to select them on merit?
I understand that some self-published books are not edited, and are badly written. I realise that some do not have trade agreements with wholesalers, so if they were to become well-known they would be difficult for bookshops to source. However, as publishing houses become ever more restricted by falling sales, surely society should be looking in a wider pond for excellent new authors.
CLARA – A Good Psychopath? is not likely to be eligible for entry to major book competitions. Nor will it be reviewed by well-known magazines or newspapers. But it is still a book worth reading. As are many, many self-published books. Please remember, when you next choose a book to order from your library, or to download for your Kindle, or to buy for your holiday, some of the best books are the ones which are not traditionally published. Why not give them a chance?
Thank you for reading.