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Self-publishing News: Literary Prizes Still Not Open To Indies

Self-publishing News: Literary Prizes Still Not Open to Indies

In this week's Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway looks at literary prizes and a new artificially intelligent sensitivity reader.

Dan Holloway head and shoulders

ALLi's News Editor Dan Holloway

ALLi’s new guidebook, 150 Self-Publishing Questions Answered: ALLi’s Writing, Publishing, and Book Marketing Tips for Authors and Poets, written by ALLi’s Outreach Manager M.L. Ronn (Michael La Ronn), is available now. You can read an excerpt in this blog post and you can purchase the book here. As with all our guides, ALLi members can access their complimentary e-book copy in the member zone. Members: just log in and navigate to “Guidebooks”.

Indies in Prizes, and Arts During Covid

It's apt that this week's main story is about Prizes. Tomorrow, after all, we will know that Haruki Murakami has yet again not won the Nobel Prize for Literature. One of the first things I worked on with ALLi was the Opening Up to Indie Authors campaign. For me personally the biggest area of concern was prizes. But as The Bookseller launches a new prize to discover new talent in Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction, many of the same barriers still remain. Mark Williams has a very good piece on the subject. He also mentioned on Twitter that the Audible National Short Story Award is about to open again. It’s the UK’s most prestigious award for short fiction. And unlike any other short story competition I can think of, it excludes indie authors from entering.

In the light of this, I wanted to give a quick survey of progress made. Back in 2013, The Rathbones Folio Prize launched as an alternative to the Booker. It admitted (and still does) indies. And when the Young Writer of the Year relaunched in the UK, it welcomed indies. The Arthur C Clarke Award even changed its rules to allow indies to enter as a result of Becky Chambers' originally self-published debut, A Long Journey to a Small Angry Planet. It's a start. But that early momentum has somewhat abated. And no indie has won, though Kathleen Jowitt made the shortlist for the very prestigious Betty Trask Prize.

Interesting thoughts on the subject also from author Sam Byers. He wonders if the whole process of prizes might not be outdated. Instead, he suggests long term grants. It’s a timely thought. In the news just today, as I write, the UK’s arts industry is gathering en masse (distantly en masse, as it were). This comes as the UK’s Chancellor (Finance Minister) seemed to suggest freelancers and self-employed people in the arts “get another job”. We know, of course, it’s not that simple. Most of us who write have one of those already. As well. But as the arts industry in general comes to its knees, this is food for thought.

An Artificially Intelligent Sensitivity Reader?

Artificial Intelligence is everywhere in the news. I’ve been reporting stories for a couple of years now on developments that might change our lives as writers. A story this week caught my eye in part because it’s topical. But also because it is about an AI company called Writer (the cheek!). Writer has just received $5million funding (that's how you know it's not “writer” like us). The company is, as far as I can see, a combination of artificially intelligent sensitivity reader and Grammarly. Run your text through it and it will tell you if you've used words about communities that those communities find offensive.

What to Expect from Digital Frankfurt

It feels a lifetime ago that we were talking about whether London Book Fair would go ahead or not. The publishing world, like the rest of the world, is very different now. And so is Frankfurt, which in usual years one would introduce by saying, “It seems like only yesterday we met in London.”

Of course the first thing we can expect alongside Frankfurt is ALLi’s own Self-publishing Advice online event, featuring a host of fascinating and expert speakers giving essential information for indies. Watch this space and the ALLi website in the coming week for full details.

And The Bookseller has announced that its regular daily update magazine will be available free online. So you can track events form many angles. Of particular interest to me will be the theme of academic publishing and open access, but I will bring you everything that matters for indies.

Print Figures: What do They Really Mean?

I’ve talked about print sales since the start of Covid a few times. I’ve tried to avoid over reporting. That would be easy to do because I don’t think they’ve been out of the news once. But I wanted to reiterate something from a previous column to give context to the latest figures. In the UK, print sales to the end of September were up over 10%. That, though, is very much not the complete picture. First, as I have mentioned previously, the main beneficiary of those sales has been Amazon. Bookstores, which we think of when we think of print, are suffering. For indies this is real pause for thought as we figure out what the landscape looks like for us post-Covid.

And, to bring us back to where we started, most of that increase is driven by young adult sales. This is a rapidly growing market. And rapidly growing print market at that.

Meanwhile Nate at The Digital Reader has a very interesting update from Amazon. Kindle Create, they have announced, will now enable you to produce print on demand ready files which you can upload direct to KDP Print. I have to say, I’ve not had any problem getting my books to work on KDP Print from a Word file. But I really like formatting. For the many who, I’m sure, don’t, this might be helpful.

Literary Prizes still aren't open for indies, and top #selfpub news stories for #indieauthors, in one quick read, by #ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway @agnieszkasshoes #digitaleconomy #publishingopenup Share on X

Upcoming Conferences and Events

Help us fill this with great online events in the coming weeks and months.

Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) – Zoom meetings the 2nd Saturday of each month


Frankfurter Buchmesse, 14-18 Oct


Society of Young Publishers, 9-13 Nov

Over to You

Let us know about online events of interest to indies in the comments below.

Author: Dan Holloway

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, which has appeared at festivals and fringes from Manchester to Stoke Newington. In 2010 he was the winner of the 100th episode of the international spoken prose event Literary Death Match, and earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transparency-Sutures-Dan-Holloway-ebook/dp/B01A6YAA40


This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. Thanks for all the latest news, Dan. As always I marvel (and at times shudder) at what’s happening. (wry grin) I’m thinking about how there are blind tastings for wine with often surprising (and humbling) results for the tasters involved who had definite ideas about which wines are better. (I was one of them. :)) What if there was a similarly blind contest for a book prize? Perhaps a contest where once the books were entered, all the judges got was the title, the subject material, and the content?

    1. Yes! I have thought about that a lot. In my day job I work in a university, and this is something we have discussed a lot in relation to job applications. It is a really good thing in many ways, but it can also be a very small world in which everyone knows what everyone is doing and what their style is. I would really love it if it could be done though!

  2. “Bookstores, which we think of when we think of print, are suffering. For indies this is real pause for thought as we figure out what the landscape looks like for us post-Covid.”

    When I think of print I think of online sales, because that’s where the game is for indies. Isn’t it time we embraced that fact? I’m constantly seeing new authors coming to the ALLi Facebook group asking “how do I get into bookstores?” and the only realistic answer is “you don’t”, due to limited shelf space, the need for constant stock turnover, and the pressure from trade reps to stock their books. For those indies that manage to persuade bookstores to stock their books, how viable is that model given the returns system? I suspect it’s more of a vanity move than anything else, the joy of being able to photograph your book on a bookstore shelf for Facebook.

    Furthermore, we approach bookstores as supplicants, begging to be allowed a tiny space on their shelves. When it comes to online POD (or even offset, if we can work out a distribution system) we are on equal terms with all other publishers. Indies with a small catalogue and zero to low sales are treated pretty much the same as any other small publisher; indies with large print sales have access to better terms, at least with Amazon. You can advertise a print book on Amazon just as easily as you can advertise an ebook. Online is where we come closer to true independence than anywhere else.

    It seems to me that if we want to be truly “indie”, online sales are where we should be concentrating our efforts, pandemic or no pandemic. As for prizes, they, like bookstores, are on the whole a jealously guarded privilege of the traditional publishing ecosystem designed to funnel some income toward nurturing good writers now that the publishers themselves have turned away from that role. After ten years of banging on the door, it’s about time indies stopped bothering. Let us focus instead on growing our audience by the considerable means now at our disposal. Let us support bookstores and read prizewinners for the sake of the authors and as an act of literary citizenship, but let us find some other way of nurturing our own burgeoning talent.

    1. Really, really good points. And this week’s news about Bookshop.org is one way that we can make the most of the print online potential as well as supporting bookstores.

  3. Re: Book prizes and awards not open to Indies. I’ve thought about this, too. A lot. We’re also often excluded from Book Festivals and Conferences who give trad published authors an open door to participate in seminars and sales booths. The same goes for reviewers who won’t look at Indie published work. I believe in my work, as I’m sure many of us do, to the point of spending good money to hire top notch editors to get our work to a high standard. However, I think I understand the reticence of the organizers of prizes and festivals. The established agents, and/or trad publishers serve as a gateway to vet their authors. We Indies don’t have a recognized vetting process available to us. And this, I think is a significant blockage in our path to wider acceptance of really top notch work by us. Perhaps this idea of a formal vetting process that moves our qualifying work up the scale to qualify at the very least, and compete with trad published books for the highest awards, and festivals and conferences etc. would be helpful.

    1. I absolutely understand but worry it might be a chicken and egg situation. One way of showing the amazing quality we have would be for us to win some major prizes, but we can’t win prizes we can’t enter because we haven’t proven our quality….

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