ARTYFACTS: Day 3: Judging a book. What makes good writing?

Monday, May 03, 2010

Day 3: Judging a book. What makes good writing?

Five apparatchiks from the book world show how antiquated, inefficient and downright unmeritocratic the book industry can be. Nothing really new here – an audience of aspirant writers and same old, same old system. The greatest statement of self delusion is surely the phrase, “everyone has a novel in them”. They do – but it’s invariably a bad one.

Posh girls

So what did we learn? The most dispiriting statement from the audience was a posh mum whose posh daughter had been asked to read and select manuscripts on her work experience. That’s how much publishers value authors. The panel reiterated what everyone in the audience knew, that manuscripts arrive in piles, that there’s a slush pile (almost everything) and that you need a lot of luck and maybe some contacts to get through.

What was more worrying for me was that publishers seem to have some weird recruitment policy, whereby they only hire posh girls who surely have a limited, public school, cosseted, London-based experience of life.

Planet paper

It all went awry when technology was mentioned, which the panel confused with self-publishing. Technology has already shaped publishing. Amazon is one of the most powerful forces in the book world (remember Brighton Borders anyone?) and Apple promises to take a major role in publishing. Like a bunch of dodos they threw out some disparaging remarks about self-publishing and e-books. People read from screens all of the time, on laptops, mobiles, e-book readers, and with the iPAD we may see this exploding (I have my doubts here). Nonetheless, this bunch were about as knowledgeable about the future of their industry as an average 12 year old. Biblophilia goes hand and hand with technophobia.

I did learn one positive thing, that one of the winners of the West Dean prize. Check out her work online – it’s pretty good….


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