November 8th, 2009


on awards and lists

So there have been lots of links floating around in the wake of Publisher's Weekly releasing their list of the Top 10 Books of 2009, in which no women apparently wrote anything remotely worthy of being on the list. It seems. I've been following the responses to that - Tansy wrote a great one as did Lizzie Skurnick and The Mumpsimus.

I was just reading threemonkeys's post about what he was reading, and this really struck me:

Thinking of awards as a result of reading a bunch of short story collections. It would be hard to count how many awards all the stories in these four collections have won but it would be a very large number. In one case the collection as a whole won a World Fantasy award too. The collections were The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians by Bradley Denton, Things will Never be the Same by Howard Waldrop, A Book of Endings by Deborah Biancotti and The Fantasy Writer's Assistant by Jeffrey Ford. You might think one of those collections doesn't quite fit with the others. Don't think that, they belong together. But here is the thing. All these collections come from small scale publishers. All those awards and all the quality and all that enjoyable reading and the big guys aren't interested. I don't blame the big publishers - they are driven by what sells and short story collections don't sell in great numbers. I blame all those people who proudly say "oh I don't read short stories". People are entitled to taste preference, but I don't get the attitude that seems to go with it so often that short stories are somehow lesser things. Where did that come from.

I didn't do the Biancotti book for sales. I produced the collection because I thought it was a book worth doing. It struck me that not only do women seem to be conspicuously absent from awards lists (though that is not true for Biancotti), or year's bests (also not true locally for Biancotti) but they also seem, at least in Australia, to be much less likely to be collected in single author collections (and yet?). Or collected a lot later in their writing careers, once they have "proved" themselves (ah). I wanted to change this somehow and it seemed to me that the best way to do that was to put my money where my mouth was, to believe in female writers and start producing their collections, which was one of the reasons for this book.

The thing though was the sales on A Book of Endings have been really strong and the book is holding its own financially. It's not a book I will regret doing on any grounds - working with Biancotti was a fantastic chance to work with someone so brilliant and driven, and I learned a lot in the process and grew as a publisher and editor. The book has sold well, and it's only been out just over two months. It has also received the most attention and publicity of all the TPP books, including Horn. I'm proud of this book. And I'm proud of it standing out there as an example of the kind of books that I want to produce at Twelfth Planet Press.

Many people told me that single author collections don't sell. Many other people told me that readers had been long waiting for a Biancotti collection. It's hard to know what is really true until you test things out. The thing that strikes me though is that ... critical acclaim, and literary criticism and awards and best of lists seem so out of step with sales figures. A book can be considered to be "the best of the year", but ... if it doesn't really sell, and readers don't embrace it, what does that mean? (This question still stumps me, I have thought about it a lot and don't really know yet.) You can't argue against a phenomenon like Harry Potter or Twilight, books that got people who don't normally read to read. Were they good books? Were they *quality*? Were they not good because men didn't like to read them? If only young girls bought and read them, is it suddenly unimportant? Even if they bought them in extreme, beyond comprehension, numbers?

It strikes me as so odd to constantly go round and round having the same simple conversation - that just because you cannot relate to material and thus it doesn't capture *your* imagination, it is somehow a lesser book/story, yet if the book/story you think is great doesn't capture my imagination and I cannot relate to it, then there is something wrong with *me* and not the book. It seems so obvious to me that different readers, with different life contexts, would appreciate different books to each other. And that it is not only ridiculous, but pompous, ignorant and selfinvolved, narrow minded and unintellectual, that for a book to be considered "best/good quality/worthy" it must have the perspective, gaze and appeal to/for and of a white male audience.

I feel embarrassed now for the people who compile homogeneous lists and present them to the world. It's kind of like wandering onto a packed train with your fly down or a bit of toilet paper attached to the heel of your shoe. Everyone else is trying not to catch your eye and is cringing just a little inside. But the more these lists kind of keep happening, the more I think, "wow, you don't represent or even consider me, and what I am looking for in a reading experience". And I devalue the worth of the recommendation and I move on.

And the big question, do single author collections sell? I think the right ones do. Are they worth doing? I think the right ones are.


lost my blogging mojo

I haven't felt like blogging in a while. Thanks to those who checked in, I'm alive and ok. And doing a lot of things, as usual. Thank you for your concern! I have some big thoughts bubbling away and that's taking up a lot of my brain space. Hopefully things will return to regular programming soon.


Getting Sorted Update

I think it's been three weeks since I last posted my progress, supposed to be weekly so I should get back into this.

36 tasks done (doesn't seem enough for 3 weeks!)

7 personal (3 household, 3 errands, 1 TV (UK Queer as Folk S1 and 2)
25 TPP (4 ASif, 10 General, 4 R/SB, 1 BoE, 2 novellas, 2 Sprawl, 2 Horn)
1 A4
3 Craft

13 sent to Did Not Finish

(Oh and started new job, and sat Job Interview for Application 2. Reading for Aurealis Awards and Last Short Story also not on this list.)