The SYP 2012 AGM and Publisher’s Question Time

Posted on January 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

The 16th of this month saw young publishers from around the country gather at Stationers’ Hall for the Society of Young Publishers 2012 AGM. 2011 Chairman Ella Kahn opened the meeting by summing up the years events and achievements and thanking the outgoing committee, followed by the voting in of new amendments to the constitution and introducing the new 2012 committee. This years Publishers Question Time Debate event covered the subject of Prize’s, and Ella next introduced William Alden, Stationers’ Hall Clerk who was chairing the panel. William in turn introduced the members of the panel: Keren David, author and prize-winner; Gail Pirkiss, Editor and co-founder of the book review Slightly Foxed; Tim Godfray, CEO of the Booksellers Association, and Claire Shanahan, Prizes and Awards Manager at Booktrust.


The debate opened with the question, ‘Do literary book prizes encourage diversity in reading, or do the shortlisted books become a more ‘intellectual’ version of mass-market bestsellers that monopolise book buyers’ attention?’ Gail was the first to answer, arguing that only 4-5 prizes seep into public consciousness, and that the name of the award alone means very little. Claire explained that every prize has its aims; judges do not have a collective ulterior motive. In argument to prizes just being promotional tools, she pointed out that there are also literary festivals, blogs and reviews to promote books. Keren, as an author, had the view that prizes take the power away from the supermarket bookseller and the 3-for-2’s, and is another reason to buy a book other than price. Tim added that there is a noticeable increase in sales in books that win awards, and that prizes make people read books that perhaps they wouldn’t otherwise. He argued there is a lot of diversity in prizes, for example the Costa Prize, which encourages people to read different genres of books and with 151,000 new books published last year, prizes give books an edge.


The next question was: ‘Is a book prize’s longlist an effective sales boost alone?’ Claire explained that only a handful of prizes have longlists and that it is quite a new idea, giving a nod to an author that otherwise wouldn’t have been mentioned. It may however lead to promotional opportunities such as review by an agent or more money put into the authors marketing. For an author it is a huge confidence boost to be on a longlist, which may also give them more precedence to negotiate their next book deal. Tim argued that if the publishers let the consumer know about the longlist or shortlist by promotional material then it is a sales boost, but not the longlist alone. Keren reasoned that authors are ignorant of sales figures; in her eyes the longlist recognition gives authors themselves a boost, not the sales figures.


The third question regarded the justification of paying entry for a book prize: ‘How can you judge something on best of the year if there is no publicity budget to submit? Does this not fall into the power house publishers’ favour and neglect smaller publicity budgets regardless of how good their books may be?’ Tim defended the entry fees by explaining that prizes cost a lot to administer, being very time consuming, labour intensive and costly. Publishers gain a lot if they win so it is not unreasonable for them to contribute. Entry cost is also a deterrent, meaning that publishers won’t send in every book they have. Claire works with eleven book prizes and her budgets go into six figures which she comments make publishing a big economy. Booktrust doesn’t charge an initial entry fee and so publishers only pay if their books get through. She also mentioned that entries are limited for publishers; for example the Orange Prize only allows three books per publisher, so there is not a huge money gap between small and bigger publishers. Keren also pointed out that big publishing companies do not enter as many authors as they have more to choose from, if you are with a smaller publisher you are more likely to be entered.


Finally, on a more light-hearted note, the panel was asked:‘If you were to judge your own book award, what kind of book would it be?’ Claire answered that her prize would be short stories with colourful illustrations that were easily accessible in short instalments, perhaps with an exhibition accompanying the texts. Gail’s would be historical and beautifully written. Tim explained that he thinks prizes should be fun, and so his prize would be named the ‘wow-prize’, for books that were powerful enough to make the reader say ‘wow’. Lastly, Keren’s prize would be for series’, arguing that sequels don’t get as much attention as the first instalments do.


William opened a question out to the floor, asking if there are any gaps in the market for prizes, with the general feedback being that Non-Fiction prizes do not get much attention at all, with all the headline prizes being fiction, young adult and children’s books. The SYP’s Ella Kahn mentioned that she thought that prizes for Non-Fiction perhaps mean more because of this.


The SYP would like to thank Keren David, Gail Pirkiss, Tim Godfray and Claire Shanahan for taking part in the debate, to William Alden for chairing it, and to everyone who attended.