Friday, March 14, 2008

The Trouble With Literary Prizes and Non-Edited Books

Another literary prize judge joins former Booker judges in commenting on the onerousness of the task. At the Wrexham Library launch of the long list for the Wales Book of the Year 2008 (on which I'm delighted to report that fellow Salt author Carys Davies appears), writer and broadcaster Mavis Nicholson reported that she and her two fellow judges had had to read 200 books, all so very different from each other - some sad, some funny - that it was very difficult to turn from one to another and know that you would be giving it a fair reading.

Nicholson's suggestion to the prize organizers for a solution to the problem was that entries should be filtered before the judges take over. In this particular case she felt it was justified as so many of the entries had been what she called 'fluffy' - presumably by this she meant commercial and non-serious, and clearly this award is aimed at literary works. However, as a principle I think this too has problems, as I've written before, and as I was discussing recently with Jen Hamilton-Emery of Salt books. It is at this early stage that the most sophisticated skill in judging or editing is required, the point at which conventional expectations can miss the oddball and innovative.

Nicholson also made a very strong complaint on behalf of all three judges. Too many of the books they had looked at had hardly been edited she said, and were full of spelling mistakes for instance, and it was clear to them that publishers were no longer properly editing books.
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