Friday essay: the remarkable, prize-winning rise of our small publishers


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Four of the six shortlisted books for the 2018 Stella Prize were from smaller presses, as was the winner, Alexis Wright’s Tracker.
Stella Prize

Emmett Stinson, Deakin University

It has been a big 12 months for Australian small publishers, who have swept what are arguably the three most important national literary awards. Sydney press Giramondo published Alexis Wright’s biography Tracker, winner of the 2018 Stella Prize; Melbourne’s Black Inc. published Ryan O’Neill’s Their Brilliant Careers, which won the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction; and Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions (University of Western Australia Publishing) won the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award.

Alexis Wright’s Tracker is published by Giramondo.
Giramondo

Another work from a small publisher, A. S. Patric’s Black Rock White City (Transit Lounge) also won the Miles Franklin in 2016. Small publishers have dominated these awards’ shortlists as well, comprising 80% of the shortlisted titles for the last Miles Franklin and Prime Minister’s awards and 66% of the shortlisted titles for the last Stella.

This is a significant reversal: these awards have historically been dominated by large publishers. Since 2000, for example, only 21% of shortlisted titles for the Miles Franklin have been published by small publishers.

There are dozens of important and respected Australian literary prizes, which help to solidify authors’ reputations and subsidise their writing (this is not an exaggeration; as Bernard Lahire has demonstrated through sociological surveys in France even most “successful” authors draw the majority of their income through other, and often unrelated, work).

The first edition of Monkey Grip, originally published by McPhee-Gribble in 1977.
Wikipedia

But these three awards — the Stella, the Miles Franklin, and the Prime Minister’s — are particularly important because they have broader recognition among the media and the reading public. These three prizes not only increase authors’ and publishers’ status within the literary field but also tend to increase book sales. This is particularly important for smaller publishers, where one successful book can cross-subsidise the publication of many others.

Small publishers have a long history in Australia, and have played a culturally important role. Many of Australia’s most famous contemporary writers started out at small publishers. Peter Carey’s early books were all published by University of Queensland Press. Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip (1977) was published by the influential small publisher McPhee-Gribble, which launched the careers of many other notable writers before being wholly acquired by Penguin in 1989. While large multinationals dominated much of the market for Australian literary fiction in the 1980s and 1990s, small publishers started to become particularly important in Australian literature again in the 2000s.

Retreat of the large publishers

There are many reasons why larger publishers have moved away from literary publishing, as Mark Davis discussed in his 2006 essay The Decline of the Literary Paradigm in Australian Publishing. As Davis argued, the big drivers of this change were increased competition and the rise of data-based decision making among publishers. With the appearance of book data provider Nielsen BookScan in Australia, publishers suddenly had good and fast data on what kinds of titles were selling and which weren’t.

Larger publishers are increasingly chasing bestselling titles, rather than investing in literary works.

Moreover, the rise of literary blockbusters in the 1990s, including series such as Harry Potter and, more recently, Twilight, has had a huge impact on the way publishers do their business. Blockbuster titles are worth an inordinate amount of the market. For example, Fifty Shades of Grey, at one point, sold one million copies in four days; a novel in Australia is usually considered successful if it sells 6,000 copies in total.

Not only do blockbusters sell in greater numbers, but the marginal costs associated with manufacturing books decrease as more are sold. For these reasons, large publishers have increasingly chased bestselling titles, rather than investing in literary works. The latter, although culturally important, rarely become blockbusters, unless they have won a major award or been adapted into a successful film or television series.

The retreat of large publishers from literary publishing is particularly visible in their virtually non-existent investments in low-selling but culturally significant forms, such as short stories or poetry. While large publishers occasionally publish high-profile collections of short stories, like Nam Le’s The Boat (Penguin, 2007) or Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign Soil (Hachette, 2014), they rarely bring out more than one or two such collections per year. Large publishers have basically no investment whatsoever in contemporary poetry publishing. Australian poetry, in particular, is kept in circulation by a handful of small publishers, such as Giramondo, Cordite, UWA Publishing, Five Islands, and Puncher & Wattmann.

Large publishers’ withdrawal from these areas of literary publishing has also left space for smaller ones to flourish. On the one hand, it has meant that a number of well-known Australian writers have decided to publish their later works with smaller publishers. J.M. Coetzee, Helen Garner, and Murray Bail, for instance, publish their books with Text in Melbourne. Gerald Murnane and Brian Castro publish with Sydney-based Giramondo, while Amanda Lohrey has published her last several books with Black Inc.

Rights to The Town, published by Brow Books, have been sold to Faber & Faber in Britain and Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the US among other publishers.

On the other hand, small publishers have also been very good at identifying new and unique voices. Steven Amsterdam’s first novel, Things We Didn’t See Coming (2009), was published by the (now-defunct) Melbourne small publisher Sleepers Publishing, and went on to win the (also defunct) Age Book of the Year award. More recently, the Melbourne-based literary journal The Lifted Brow has entered into book publishing, and had great success in selling overseas rights to Shaun Prescott’s The Town (2017). It has just published a new work, Axiomatic, by the lauded author Maria Tumarkin.

Small publishers have become so important within Australia that, as I have argued elsewhere, they now publish the majority of Australian fiction and probably have done so for about a decade. Despite their significance, they have not had particularly great success with major awards like the Miles Franklin and Prime Minister’s until quite recently. But these trends appear to be changing.

Crunching the numbers on major prizes

The chart below shows a strong upward trend for small publishers over the past two years in relation to titles shortlisted for the Miles Franklin. While the historical average since 2000 was only 21% of shortlisted titles coming from small presses, this jumped to 40% in 2016 and 80% in 2017. This is a particularly dramatic spike, and I would be surprised if small presses continued to dominate at this rate, but there are good reasons to believe that the general trend is real.

Indeed, the shortlisting data from the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction shows a nearly identical trajectory to the Miles Franklin data over the last two years, as the chart below illustrates. Like the Miles Franklin, this award saw a jump in shortlisted small press titles in 2016 (40%) and 2017 (80%). In 2017, in fact, both awards shortlisted the same four small press titles: Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions (UWA Publishing), Ryan O’Neill’s Their Brilliant Careers (Black Inc.), Mark O’Flynn’s The Last Days of Ava Langdon (University of Queensland Press), and Phillip Salom’s Waiting (Puncher & Wattmann).

On the one hand, this suggests an enormous shift in the way that the Prime Minister’s award values small publishers; on the other, the unusual — and even bizarre — correlation between the shortlists of the Miles Franklin and the Prime Minister’s awards suggest that this particular instance of small press dominance may be to some degree anomalous. Regardless, the trends are clear, and are also supported by data I have collected on longlisted titles for the latter two awards, which match the trends in the shortlist data.

The Stella Prize longlists and shortlists have also recognised small publishers, as you can see in the chart below. Moreover, despite a lower result for small presses in the Stella’s inaugural year (33% in 2013), at least half of its shortlisted titles have been produced by small publishers in every year since.

Small publishers comprise a slim majority of Stella Prize shortlisted titles, with 19 of the 36 shortlisted works (53%) coming from them. Similarly, three of the six winning titles have been produced by small publishers (Text, Giramondo, and Affirm Press). In other words, the Stella Prize has recognised small presses at effectively double the rate of both the Miles Franklin and the Prime Minister’s awards. The dominance of small publishers in the Stella is also replicated in the longlists, with 40 of 72 titles (55%) being produced by small publishers.

Small publisher acceptance

There are material reasons why the Stella Prize has probably been more open to small publishers. Co-founder and former executive director Aviva Tuffield is a highly regarded editor, who has worked at small publishers such as Scribe, Affirm, and Black Inc. Current General Manager (and original Prize Manager) Megan Quinlan previously worked at Text Publishing and The Monthly (which has the same ownership as Black Inc.) Many of the Stella Prize judges past and present, such as Tony Birch and Julie Koh, have published their fiction solely through small publishers.

It is also not coincidental that a prize championing women’s writing and gender equity would recognise small publishers. Indeed, these publishers, as Sarah Couper has demonstrated, have a significantly higher proportion of women in executive roles than large publishers do.

I suspect, too, that small publishers are probably more inclusive both in terms of the authors they publish and the kinds of views and perspectives they present. In this sense, the dominance of small publishers’ titles in the Stella is unsurprising given that it is an award that seeks to champion diversity as well as literary quality.

The ConversationThe Stella’s tendency to recognise small publishers has probably influenced the other prizes to do the same. The routine appearance of such works on the Stella lists has normalised the recognition of small press books by prestigious prizes and thus made it more acceptable for other such prizes to do so. While it’s unlikely that small presses will continue to dominate the major prizes at this rate, I nonetheless suspect that they will continue to be taken much more seriously by such awards than they have been in the past.

Emmett Stinson, Lecturer in Writing and Literature, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Man Booker International Prize shortlist a boon for small publishers



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Man Booker International Prize

Amy Rushton, Nottingham Trent University

Six books, six languages, two former winners and a bonanza for independent publishers: the Man Booker International Prize – the UK’s most prestigious prize for translated fiction – has announced its 2018 shortlist. Whittled down from a longlist of 13 titles spanning the globe, the six titles to make the cut are translated from Arabic, French, Hungarian, Korean, Spanish and Polish.

This year’s nominations have been selected by a panel of five judges, chaired by novelist Lisa Appignanesi with fellow writers Hari Kunzru and Helen Oyeyemi alongside poet and translator Michael Hofmann and journalist Tim Martin. The shortlist includes Han Kang and Deborah Smith – who won the prize in 2016 for The Vegetarian – and László Krasznahorkai – who won the prize in its former iteration in 2015 – when it was awarded for an achievement in fiction evident in a body of work.

The winner of the 2018 prize will be announced on May 22 at a formal dinner at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London – and the £50,000 prize will be divided equally between the author and the translator of the winning book.

The Booker Prize Foundation has rejigged the flagship award in recent years. An awful lot of handwringing has been devoted to the decision to include US authors as contenders for the “main” award, The Man Booker Prize. But very little attention has been paid to the decision to overhaul the group’s international prize. Originally introduced in 2005, the Man Booker International Prize was intended as a global-facing sister award – with a twist. The original version of the International prize was a biennial award honouring an entire body of work by a living writer of any nationality and in any language (as long as their work was available in English).

Ahmed Saadawi has been shortlisted for his award-winning book, Frankenstein in Baghdad.
Man Booker International Prize

The original format was a noble pursuit, but the Man Booker International was inevitably overshadowed on the global literary stage by the Nobel Prize for Literature. As of 2016, the Man Booker International Prize now awards a single book – but one that has been originally written in a language other than English, then subsequently translated and published in the UK.

The International Prize’s unique selling point is the emphasis on collaboration between author and translator, even down to sharing the prize money. The focus on collaboration is what makes the International Prize, for me, a truly exciting event in the literary awards calendar.

Focus on translation

Arguably, the change has been for the better but the comparative lack of attention on the international award is still indicative of mainstream publishing’s general disinterest in translated fiction – bar the occasional bestselling “Scandi Noir” and international phenomenon such as Italy’s Elena Ferrante, of course, the latter shortlisted for the prize in 2016, along with translator Ann Goldstein.

Although we shouldn’t be tempted to see the commercial popularity of Jo Nesbø and the relative success of Ferrante as a sea change in translated fiction’s fortunes in UK publishing, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Adam Freudenheim of Pushkin Press suggests that “there’s definitely greater and wider awareness of fiction in translation as a result of such successes”, pointing to the new format of the Man Booker International Prize as “doing a great deal to raise the profile of such books”.

Small publishers to the fore

Crucially, the prize is raising the profile of those small presses and independent publishers who are at the vanguard of translated literature. As well as the aforementioned Pushkin Press, notable small publishers specialising in translated literature include Tilted Axis Press and And Other Stories. This year’s shortlist is dominated by titles from independent presses, including two books from Tuskar Rock Press, and one each from MacLehose Press, Portobello Books, Oneworld and Fitzcarraldo Editions.

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The role of independent publishers in supporting translated literature is not lost on the judges for the International Prize: announcing the longlist earlier this year, Appignanesi declared: “I think we have to raise our hats to independent publishers. It does cost money to translate, it’s harder to publish, harder to sell.”

The International Prize has even had a direct impact on the range of translated literature available in the UK: Kang and Smith’s inaugural win in 2016 for The Vegetarian meant that Smith had extra funds for her non-profit small press, Tilted Axis – which is “on a mission to shake up contemporary international literature”.

Translated fiction may be a small part of the British reading diet but it is one that is steadily growing. In 2015, The Bookseller reported that translated fiction only accounted for 1.5% overall and 3.5% of published literary fiction. Yet translated fiction provided 5% of total fiction sales in 2015.

The ConversationOnly time will tell if the appetite for translated fiction in the UK can continue. In the meantime, let’s toast the shortlisted authors and translators. If you’ve yet to enjoy translated fiction, this year’s shortlist is a good place to expand your global reading life.

Amy Rushton, Lecturer in English Literature, Nottingham Trent University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Article: Do You Read Ebooks on a Smartphone?


The link below is to an article that looks at reading on smartphones – do you? To small to be useful as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps a little now and then in the future – haven’t yet. I do have the Kindle app and Adobe Reader installed, so a little may be possible at some point. But not a lot.

For more visit:
http://www.teleread.com/smartphones/reading-e-books-on-smartphones-how-popular-is-it/

Book Review: Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson


Treasure Island was the first major novel of Robert Louis Stevenson. It was first published in 1883 and has remained a much-loved book. First penned as a story for boys, it was as a young boy that I first came across Treasure Island. It was the first real book that I ever read – certainly of my own choice. If I remember correctly, the copy I had was a small book, not much bigger than my hand and illustrated throughout. The illustrations weren’t coloured as such, but I think I may have started to ‘colour them in’ as I read the story several times. The name of the ship, ‘Hispaniola,’ came back to me in one of my first compositions at school. In that early attempt at writing I wrote a story about piracy and a ship called the Hispaniola. I believe I was written into the story, along with several of my classmates, though the original composition has long since been lost and the
plot a thing of the past.

Treasure IslandNot until the last couple of days however, did I take up the novel once again and begin to read the story of Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins, and the journey to Treasure Island. It has been a long time now, since that first book I read and my taking it up again. It must be at the very least thirty years and then some by my reckoning. Remembering this book as the first I had really read, was the reasoning behind my picking it up again for another read.It is an easy read. It is not a long read. But it is an enjoyable read. If it is that then the author has achieved his goal in fiction I believe. To be sure there are many things that can be learned in reading a novel and many lessons that can be taught through a novel, but without enjoyment all else is lost. This is a short novel that can be enjoyed greatly.

I read this book by way of a Kindle, which shows that the future of Treasure Island lies assured into the digital future and beyond. I also own Treasure Island in traditional form and as part of a set of works, being the entire works of Robert Louis Stevenson. One day I hope to read more, if not all of this man’s printed contrinution to English literature and I look forward to doing so.

Treasure Island is the classic pirate story, coming fully equiped with the pirate talk which is so popular even to this day and the vivid description of a pirate adventure. The story is a great one that may well bring younger generations to read and pull them away from the Xbox and other gaming devices. It is a short read, with short chapters, which may be a useful tool in getting a young one to start reading – but it is the adventure of a life time for Jim Hawkins that will really draw them in and the promise of buried treasure.

If you have not read Treasure Island, pick up a copy and have a read. It is free in the Kindle Shop at the time of posting this review and well worth spending a couple of hours a day reading this classic – by the end of the week the story of Treasure Island will be completed and you will be the richer for having read it.

Buy this book at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Treasure-Island-ebook/dp/B0084AZXKK/

Website: Pinterest and Pin A Quote


How to Use Pinterest for Quotes

The link below is to a website that allows you to highlight any text and pin it to a Pinterest board. There is a small cost for using the service. The site provides a video on how it works and also examples of how people use it. Pinterest is becoming even more useful.

For more visit:
http://pinaquote.com/

Ebooks: Not There Yet?


The following article Wired lists five reasons as to why ebooks are not there yet. I would say that ebooks will never be the same as traditional books and they probably are never meant to be the same. I would also say you should probably never expect them to be the same. Television is not the same as going to the movies and never will be. I think waiting for ebooks to be the same as traditional books is to ensure you never use ebooks all that much. Just my opinion.

There are some useful considerations in the five points raised in the article – but there are also some fairly ordinary ones also, which suggest to me a bias against ebooks from the start. Being concerned that ebooks don’t allow you to use them in home design – I mean, really??? If that is a major concern with ebooks – you have to be kidding.

Some years ago I never thought I would ever like ebooks – I love them now and I don’t even have an ebook reader (I use by laptop) at this stage. I can see myself buying one in the near future – that would make ebooks so much more convenient to me. I could read one on a bus or ferry, I could read at work without too many difficulties (in my breaks of course), etc.

How many books can I now own? For a bibliophile like me ebooks are a dream come true. I have well over 1000 traditional books and I will soon eclipse that number in ebooks – many of which are old and out of print works which are very precious to me. These brilliant old books are now so accessible to me and I can store them all in such a small place. Fantastic I say.

See the article mentioned above at:
http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/06/ebooks-not-there-yet/all/1

 

Amazon: Ebooks Outselling Printed Books


Once upon a time I was never a fan of ebooks – that has changed. I love them and I don’t even have an ebook reader (I use my laptop). I am thinking of getting one though. The number of books available now (in print and out of print) and the number that can be owned in such a small space has convinced me otherwise.

It would seem that the world is seeing the ebook revolution in a similar type of way, with the world’s largest bookseller (Amazon) now telling us that they sell more ebooks that printed books.

For more visit:
http://thenextweb.com/media/2011/05/19/huh-amazon-com-announces-for-a-second-time-its-selling-more-kindle-books-than-print-books/

 

History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent, by George Bancroft – Volume 1


Some time ago I began to place on my website – ‘Kevin’s Family – Online History Site’ – a work by George Bancroft entitled ‘History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent.’ Progress on this project has been painfully slow and I am only now returning to it. What small progress has been made and what progress will be made as time progresses can be monitored at:

http://particularbaptist.com/matthewshistory/library/UnitedStatesHistory_Bancroft_Contents.html

Changing the World: November 10 – Prevent Genocide


 

Today’s suggestion for changing the world is to prevent genocide – what a truly noble suggestion and aim. Is it possible? Sadly, history would say no, none-the-less we should be doing what we can to stop it. Wouldn’t it be great if world leaders did more to prevent it?

Is there really any serious action going on to stop the Darfur genocide in Sudan? It seems to me that most of the action by western world governments has been reluctant at best. Perhaps there isn’t enough oil? Who knows what the real reason is – but a reason there is for not doing enough.

A web site with more information in Australia:

http://www.darfuraustralia.org/

So what can I do? I certainly can’t storm Sudan – but is there something I can do? Perhaps something that is symbolic will play a part, even a small part to get something done. Perhaps it will help to get the ball rolling (or keep it rolling)?

I can sign the pledge against genocide at Genocide Watch – that is something that I can do. It is also something that you can do. Just have a look at the links below:

http://www.genocidewatch.org/

http://www.genocidewatch.org/getinvolved/pledgeagainstgenocide.html

 

A response to reading ‘365 Ways to Change the World,’ by Michael Norton