Prize Season

I was a book critic for many years, so I know November is a heady time in the book world. Because December is the month where the vast majority of books are sold (Merry Christmas!) if you can get a book noticed in November, through a spot on a shortlist, or better yet, a prize, you’ll sell more copies during that all important post publication window period. Writing federations and granting agencies often cooperate by holding awards when they’re likely to do the most good.

I’ve been through this cycle many times as a journalist, and even a jury member. This is the first time I’ve actually been on the receiving end of this ritual. Not with a book, but last week a non-fiction story I’d abandoned about a year ago was nominated for a prize at the Quebec Writers Federation gala. It was a story about my son’s little known learning disability, visual motor dyspraxia. For whatever reason I couldn’t seem to find the right place for it. I received several  thoughtful and sweet rejection e-mails, but no one willing to publish it. So, I shelved it. And as often happens, got drawn into some new subject.

Then late last summer the editor of Carte Blanche, QWF’s literary journal, prodded me to submit something. I sent “Bluefooted” (which, if you’re curious will also explain my website’s header.) And to my delight, not only was the story short listed for the journal’s best story of the year, but a couple of nights ago I won.

I even got a trophy, which I would not now have, had it been accepted in any of the magazines or newspapers I’d pitched it to.

In my acceptance speech,  I thanked the editor who prodded me, and vowed that I would use this huge trophy to prod everyone at the gala to remember those abandoned stories and projects and get them back out there.

And now I’m doing the same with you. Here’s the trophy (designed by urban sculpter Glen LeMesurier). Imagine me wielding that pointy trowel looking part, somewhere in the vicinity of a place you best be moving back to your favourite writing chair. I know it’s hard, and I know the rewards seem increasingly scarce. But when they come, for however long, it all seems worth it.

trophy

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Almost everything you need to know about the great e-book war, part 2

I tweeted my last post to Laura Miller at Salon.com.

Her reply, “@JulietWaters Good point, but so far they’ve had difficulty w/this because they lack physical stores: http://bit.ly/Yabi7d.”

Follow the shortlink and you’ll find Miller’s March article on Amazon’s problem convincing writers that they might want to give up print books, and bookstores that they might want to carry books published by Amazon.

This problem came to something of a head last March when Amazon published To Good To Be True, by Benjamin Anastas.  Bookstores refused to carry the print edition of this memoir by a once successful mid list writer who could no longer support himself and his young son.

But bookstores seem to have been mostly posturing. Three months later you can buy the book at Barnes & Noble. It’s listed as “Out of Stock” at their stores, but there are four copies of it at the Strand in NYC.

Miller is right. Writers want to see their books in print.  But  writers also want to feed their families. And maybe the first battles in this war are not going to be over bestselling writers. It’s not going to take a ton of investment by Amazon to pick up a few talented, but not as successful as they once were, mid list writers. If bookstores refuse to carry them, is the tide of public opinion really going to  stay on the side of bookstores, or the major publishers, and side against writers trying to make a living?

In a better world, this war that would be fought on content. Editors would set the size of advances, not marketing departments, and publishers would then be setting cultural standards that Amazon would have to fight to maintain. Talented writers would sign with the publisher that would help them write a better book.

But that would be world driven by cultural forces, not market forces.

So predictions of Amazon’s failure on this front are still very, very premature.