Booker shortlist prizes literary establishment

The shortlist for the Man Booker Prize was announced yesterday. But the year’s best novels share the literary world with a growing mass of self-published books.

The Man Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious of the literary world. With winners like Salman Rushdie, it is the touchstone for novels that are literary, challenging and experimental.

Yesterday, the 2012 shortlist was announced. It is a varied crop: a Tudor history shares the spotlight with novels about Mumbai’s opium dens and London’s oppressive mental hospitals.

In some ways, however, the books on the shortlist are similar. Each has been approved by a publisher, redrafted by editors, launched by a top-notch agent. All have been praised by leading newspaper critics. They come from conventional publishing backgrounds.

And increasingly, this is not always the case. Now, the Booker elite shares the literary market with a new breed: the self-published author.

Today, hundreds of thousands of ambitious writers are using the internet to create e-books and share them with readers all over the world. Many use social networks to share drafts and get feedback. E-readers like the Kindle even allow authors to make money from selling their work.

The benefits are obvious. Finding a publisher often means years of struggle and rejection. And after an editor’s redrafts and corrections, some writers barely recognise their work. Why bother, some say, when with one click anyone can share their novel with millions?

And self-publishing can mean real success. When Erika James first started publishing online, she was writing fan fiction inspired by characters from Twilight. But as her work developed, it spread fast through the self-publishing community. Eventually it was picked up by Vintage books, and became the steamy novel 50 Shades of Gray – the fastest-selling paperback of all time.

James is in good company: before they became successful, great writers such as Virginia Woolf and William Blake published their writing independently. And one international publisher seems to think self-publishing could create the next Booker winner or international bestseller: Penguin recently bought Author Solutions, one of the biggest self-publishing providers, for $116 million.

Vanity projects?

Some literary types are horrified by this rise. By allowing every average, arrogant ‘writer’ to throw their terrible work at an undiscerning world, they say, it lowers cultural standards for everyone. Publishers and editors exist for a reason: to ensure the books people read are quality, not trash.

But why should we rely on the experts to tell us what we should be reading? Anyone should be able to share the work they love writing, and to pick the books they like from a wide range of different voices. Self-publishing can only make the world of books more accessible, exciting and rich.

You Decide

  1. Has online self-publishing had a positive impact on the world of books?
  2. Who should decide what is good or bad literature?

Activities

  1. Make a shortlist for your own Man Booker prize. Pick the four best novels you have ever read.
  2. Write a plan for your next bestselling self-published novel. How might you make your book stand out from the others on offer?

Some People Say...

“A self-published book could win the next Booker Prize.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Is this something I can do?
Absolutely. In fact, many teenagers have achieved phenomenal success through self-publishing. Abbie Gibbs is one of them. The 18-year-old has just signed a two-book deal with HarperCollins, after her self-published storyThe Dark Heroine had more than 16 million views of Wattpad.
Whatpad?
It’s big news. Wattpad is a self-publishing platform aimed particularly at young people. Users can publish their stories, read other people’s, and chat about their work. It’s possible to publish one chapter at a time, or upload a whole novel.
Sounds amazing! How do I get involved?
Just visit the website – it’s free to get started. But do be careful when it comes to self-publishing; some companies can charge a lot of money for editing, publishing and marketing.

Word Watch

Man Booker
The Booker is awarded to the best full-length novel in English, written by a citizen of Britain or the Commonwealth. Previous winners include Anita Desai, William Golding and J.M. Coetzee. The award is named after the companies that have sponsored it.
Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie is a leading Anglo-Indian author. His books have dealt with issues like Indian identity and Islam, and they combine magical, fantastical scenes with real life – a genre called magic realism. Rushdie won the Booker Prize with Midnight’s Children – which later went on to win the prize for the best Booker winner of all time.
E-readers like the Kindle
E-readers – which allow people to download books to read on tablets, rather than buying paper copies – are already changing how we read. Many people are predicting paper books – and the bookshops we buy them in – will die out altogether; others are concerned that if people can download books, like music, for free, they will become reluctant to pay for them.
Virginia Woolf
Woolf is a 20th Century writer, famous for a ‘stream of consciousness’ that attempted to mirror people’s actual experience of the world. Her books include To The Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway.
William Blake
Blake was a 18th and 19th Century poet, who wrote deceptively simple verses about religion, the industrial revolution, and other subjects. In his life, he was not appreciated by the general public, so instead of turning to mainstream publishers he created his own books, complete with delicate, hand-drawn paintings. Today, he is one of Britain’s best-known poets.

Subjects

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