Saturday, June 11, 2011

More Prizes Yay Happy Clapping

John Barber had an interesting piece in the G&B recently, about how the overabundance of literary awards has perverted the course of publishing by creating twisted incentives. Due to this, nobody really reads or reviews books regularly any more.

B.C. native George Bowering, Canada’s first Parliamentary Poet Laureate, notes that he has published 40 books since the inauguration of the B.C. Book Prizes 28 years ago – and has yet to win. But the attention he most misses is different. Books he published as a young man would routinely garner dozens of reviews, according to Bowering. “Now that I am older and a better poet, my books will be lucky to get more than one or two reviews in the papers,” he laments. “How did I know that 1970 was the golden age for books in Canada?”

Absent reviews, publishers need to look to somewhere for validation, and awards are it, now.

Nor do prizes properly honour writers, according to Baird. “For a lot of writers, it’s total agony,” she says. “If your book doesn’t make the short list, you might as well fold up shop and forget about it.” The message is reinforced by publishers who rely heavily on past and hoped-for prizes to shape their lists, according to Baird, often including bonuses for nominations and wins in writers’ contracts and discounting future advances extended to “failures.”

So that's where it's at? If you don't get the blue ribbon, Mommy and Daddy don't love you no more?


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