Saturday, August 17, 2013

Why No Awards for Self-Published YA and Literature?

Even the biggest doubters of the meteoric rise of self-publishing over the past few years can’t deny its increasing legitimacy in the industry and among consumers. When indie and self-published offerings are filling the NYT best-seller list, sitting side by side with the big hitters like Dan Brown and James Patterson, the sneering suddenly stops.

Well, it almost stops.

I’ve written before on my apprehension and cynicism in regards to self-publishing, primarily in terms of quality and editing, but even I can see how popular such books have become. They don’t fill the YA bestseller list in the same way they fill the adult list, and when they do it’s with familiar names like Abbi Glines, but the market is there (plus it’s become harder and harder for new books that aren’t Divergent or John Green related to break through to the top 15).

Why no awards for such books? Not just in YA but literature in general? First of all, the simplest explanations are usually the right ones, so let’s remember good old fashioned snobbery. Many awards committees across literary genres, including big hitters like the Man Booker Prize, immediately disqualify self-published novels from even entering consideration, regardless of quality. After all, being traditionally published is not an automatic indicator of quality or expert editing. Anne Rice, anyone? For many, including the most traditional minded in publishing and criticism, the old way remains the true way.

The genres self-publishing have really risen in are also not ones traditionally given much attention by awards bodies, such as romance. Once again, snobbery reigns supreme, as expected. Self-publishing hasn’t really been the scene for the awards friendly literary fare yet. That’s not to say such a scene won’t grow over the next few years as the big 6 tank and authors look for more control over their work, but as it stands it’s not the case.

For readers, writers and awards bodies, there is seen to be less risk and more legitimacy of quality in going through the tried and tested process of agents, editors and the like, even when the sales and critical word don’t back such claims up. For a lot of people, self-publishing automatically invokes images of “50 Shades of Grey”, which, for all its massive sales and pop culture conversation starters, was hardly Anais Nin.
Self-publishing may offer creative control but one must also deal with total control over promotional efforts. Even the old way of things doesn’t guarantee publicity by the cartload. There’s the Catch-22 situation for many authors: awards help get publicity and readers but you also need publicity to get awards.

For YA readers, a scene where blogging plays a huge part in the circle of author promotion, interaction, etc, there’s a wider scene to interact with, more people to connect with. YA bloggers can be stubborn and dedicated sorts who adore a book so much that they want to bang on doors and let everyone know about it. When a book clicks for the right audience, it can become unstoppable regardless of its origin. How can readers translate this to awards attention? Is such a thing possible?

So what’s the solution? I’m not sure there is one, at least not an immediate one. Attitudes need to dramatically change first. Committees like the Man Booker team need to widen their horizons and as more authors take the plunge into self-publishing, I have no doubt that the awards scenes will reflect that. It may take a hell of a lot longer than the rest of the industry moves, as is expected, but it’ll get there.

This also raises the question of whether awards really matter. We’d all like to pretend that our favourite things, be it books, TV shows, movies, etc, are going to win all the awards and everyone as a result will discover them and love them. Sadly, such things are Tumblr dreams (yeah, I had plans to eat the Emmys committee when Hannibal got zero nominations). We like to get defensive and pretend such things don’t matter and the rest of the world is just stupid for not getting it (and they are stupid for not nominating Hannibal, dammit!) It’s important to remember that the awards bodies, particularly AMPAS and the Emmys ones, are made up of demographics that don’t quite represent the average TV and film viewer. I cannot account for the boards of ALA or the changing faces of the Man Booker judges’ panel, but intersectional representation seldom happens in practice, as much as it is needed. So if we want the awards to actually mean something to the average reader, perhaps the committees should look into having their membership reflect the average reader.  

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