The Alliance of Independent Authors's Open Up To Indies Campaign welcomes the news that the newly established Folio Prize, with a top award of £40,000, will be accepting self-published entries.
Originally The Literature Prize, renamed after acquiring sponsorship from the Folio Society, the prize is open to authors of all nationalities writing in English, provided their book is published in England in the calendar year preceding each year’s prize.
The prize was set up as a serious-minded alternative to the Booker after the controversial announcement by its 2011 judges that they were focusing on books with “readability”, which many saw as a marginalisation of books that made a serious effort to engage with important or difficult matters of subject and form.
Unlike the Booker, the /Folio Prize is not restricted to Commonwealth nationals, and most important and welcome of all, it is open to self-published works.
The terms of eligibility do not, unlike many prestigious awards that explicitly rule them out, mention self-publishing, but I emailed the prize’s administrator and received confirmation that self-published books would, indeed, be considered alongside those coming from a traditional publisher.
This marks the prize out from the other major UK award launched this year, set up to reward boundary-pushing novels: the Goldsmiths Prize. (Though surely such a prize would be perfectly suited to works that are self-published and free of any commercial pressures to temper their innovation).
The Folio Prize composes its longlist in two stages. Eighty books are put forward by an academy representing all quarters of the literary community, and the final twenty are selected from submissions by publishers, after the first eighty have been announced.
The prize’s administrator has confirmed that self-publishers are allowed to represent themselves as publishers and submit the 300-word case for their book to be included, consideration of which will lead to the calling in of books for selection where successful. It would also seem that Academy members are free to nominate self-published works.
Value of Prizes
This is important news and greatly welcomed by ALLi's Open Up To Indies Campaign. Whilst self-publishing has been stripped of much of its stigma by a string of high profile commercial successes, the suspicion remains in some quarters, notably the media, that the self-published corpus is not a place to find works of outstanding artistic merit that could take their place alongside the works of a Hilary Mantel or Will Self or Philip Roth.
And the closed doors of major prizes has made it virtually impossible to demonstrate otherwise. The one exception so far somewhat proves the rule. The astonishing debut collection from 26 year-old poet Kate Tempest, Everything Speaks in its Own Way, was self-published last year and despite huge acclaim in underground circles, was pointedly ignored by the mainstream media. Tempest then went on to win the £5000 Ted Hughes Award earlier this year for her poem-play Brand New Ancients, considered by many a weaker work than her collection, and was suddenly everywhere in the media.
Prizes are, therefore, a wonderful opportunity for the stripe of self-published writers who have to some extent been ignored in the media circus around their commercially successful colleagues to come forward and show that not only does self-publishing offer books with the potential to appeal to massive audience, but also books that can satisfy the demands of the critical establishment.
Pay To Play
Not that the door is wide open. As with the Booker, the Folio Prize has a huge “pay to play” element, with shortlisted publishers being asked to contribute £4000 per shortlisted book. This is a huge obstacle for self-publishers, though, I would argue, far from insurmountable, not one to quibble at. As in all aspects of elf-publishing, if we want to play on the same stage we have to play by the same rules, and fees are a barrier to small presses as much as to self-publishers.
What tiny, innovative press And Other Stories showed, though, when Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home was Booker shortlisted last year, is that the door needn’t be slammed shut. They partnered with larger publisher Faber and Faber to meet Booker’s demands and this, together with crowd-sourced funding and other funding options, seem viable.
In addition, unlike Booker, the Folio Prize gives publishers the option of applying for a fee waiver.
So while the set up might not be perfect, and while we may have reservations about the place of prizes in the literary landscape, there is not doubt this is a massive step forward for removing the last stigma of self-publishing: its artistic weight.
I both welcome it wholeheartedly (personally and as ALLi's Open Up To Indies Campaign Manager) and I hope that it will pave the way for other prizes.
Now it’s up to us to step up to the plate. I, for one, will be throwing everything behind getting my novel Evie and Guy onto the shortlist.
The Academy’s selections will be announced in Mid September. Submissions of 300 word pitches will then be open until early November. For full details see http://www.thefolioprize.com.
ALLi's Open Up To Indies Campaign is a varied and ongoing series of initiatives, aiming to persuade literary prizes, festivals, events, media, reviewers and others to find ways to include self-published works.