The Miles Franklin long list for 2012 reveals something those of us in the writing business are never surprised about; all the long listed entries belong to major publishing houses. See below:
- Tony Birch for Blood (University of Queensland Press)
- Steven Carroll for The Spirit of Progress (Fourth Estate – HarperCollins Publishers Australia)
- Mark Dapin for Spirit House (Pan Macmillan Australia)
- Virginia Duigan forThe Precipice (Vintage – Random House Australia)
- Anna Funder for All That I Am (Hamish Hamilton – Penguin Group Australia)
- Kate Grenville for Sarah Thornhill (The Text Publishing Company)
- Gail Jonesfor Five Bells (Random House Australia)
- Gillian Mears for Foal’s Bread (Allen & Unwin)
- Alex Miller for Autumn Laing (Allen & Unwin)
- Charlotte Wood for Animal People (Allen & Unwin)
I have no doubt all of the books are great novels and better than my own, rather experimental ‘Twenty Seven Seventy’ but, can small press offerings and even self published titles get a look-in?
It is easy to allege that the work from a writer publishing their own novel or using a small press like my StreetWise Publications won’t produce a book of the same production quality and editorial standard. I challenge that and while I admit some of my earlier attempts were less than top rate the current product is as good as any from the big fellas. I do agree there are tons of rubbish books offered online from small and self publishing operations but then the big houses have pumped out their share of door stops also.
Another argument is that without the process of selection in place by big publishers who have to make a profit the odds are the small guy’s book is poorly written, not in demand and most likely little more than an icon of ego gratification. Again, I agree there are no doubt many books out there fitting that description but then again, there are many that are not. There is no reason the book can’t be well written and become a popular and profitable book just because it lacks the imprimatur of the big publishing house.
So, can the little guy get a lookin with the major prizes like the Miles-Franklin or is there truth in the rumours of big publishing having more influence than the independent end of town? I will make this a mission in life and each year I intend to enter a new novel. I plan to work on my writing and my publishing and bring them to the stage where it is obvious they are as good as they get. I don’t buy into conspiracies although I am pragmatic enough to accept that we do tend to favour those we personally like and the big publishers have employees whose task it is to create and maintain networks of contacts; but there is nothing to stop a small publisher or author making the same connections.
I also believe in the integrity of the judges chosen for the prize and I think this faith is neither misplaced nor more than they should expect. We need to have at least a basic level of faith in our literary institutions and these institutions are made up of individuals and unless they make it clear otherwise, they deserve the respect and common courtesy of the benefit of the doubt. As I said, my mission is now to write a better novel and to publish a better quality book. The ball is in my court and pointing fingers at ‘the system’ won’t do anything more than make invisible holes in the air.