22 September 2012 - (2) Australian Book Awards - Fame or Farce?

Quote of the day:

"If it’s going to be,

it’s up to me."



- Fame or Farce?

G'day guys,

Now, where was I? Oh, book awards. Right. Before I summarise the key points I have been trying to make, let me make a few things quite clear.

1. Anyone who knows me, knows that I do not sweat the small stuff. However, on the big issues like injustice, human rights, social inequity and social justice issues, I call a spade a D9 bulldozer, but do try to be polite in the process ... and state the facts.

2. The contents of these two posts are not sour grapes. Read on ...

3. I am not the only one who expresses the same views as I have outlined in this blog. Sadly, very few step up to the plate and challenge the status quo. Having said that, here are a few recent quotes from others within the industry who have dared to challenge the system.


Emmett Stinson is a lecturer in Publishing and Communications at the University of Melbourne and president of SPUNC, the Small Press Network. His book of short stories, Known Unknowns, was shortlisted for the Steele Rudd Award in the 2011 Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards.

Emmett recently made the following statements via The Wheeler Centre's online newsletter.

1. “Is Australia’s literary culture too nice? Too clubbish? Is our critical culture based too much on who you know, and not enough on what you know? Writer and lecturer Emmett Stinson argues that it is – and calls for more ‘partisans, contrarians and heretics’.

2. "Social media makes visible the invidious networks of back-scratching and bootlicking that have always characterised the uneasy relationship between the publishing industry and literary journalism. Authors and publishers have always used indirect means to influence a book’s reception by ‘cultivating’ reviewers. I know many publishers who insist that taking certain book editors out to expensive lunches still results in better coverage."

3. "Reviews can be nasty without being intelligent or critical. I’ve seen many haranguing reviews that simply misread the book in question. Worse, many negative reviews serve as a pretence for exorcising the reviewer’s personal literary demons. Nor are we really lacking for negative reviews – but we tend not to notice them because they are overwhelmingly directed at newer and less-established authors, which actually brings me to my larger point.'

4. "In the Australian context what I object to is not so much this spate of ‘niceness’ that Silverman identifies; sincerity is nothing more or less than a rhetorical method for convincing people of things, and its characteristic manoeuvre lies in the need to mask the awareness of its objectives even from itself. What worries me is not this enthusiasm, as such, but what it signifies: a set of self-invested and uncritical attitudes that result in a consensus-culture where certain authors, who have become the literary equivalent of sacred cows, are placed beyond reproach. This is already apparent in the shortlists for our literary awards, which resemble the output of some centralised shortlist-generating algorithm."

5. NB: "In 2012, the 42 possible shortlist spots for fiction across the Miles Franklin, the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, the Western Premier’s Awards, the Age Book of the Year Awards, the Queensland Literary Awards, and the Victorian Premier’s Awards have been occupied by only 18 writers, who very much resemble the ‘usual suspects’. Aside from the obligatory nods to Peter Carey, Gail Jones, and Elliott Perlman there was enormous consistency across the lists: Anna Funder was nominated five times, Gillian Mears four times, and Janette Turner Hospital and Frank Moorhouse three times, as well as two nominations each for Kate Grenville and Alex Miller. Only a few nominated authors have not won major national or state-based awards already, like Wayne Macauley, Deborah Forster, Tony Birch, and, technically speaking, Geraldine Brooks (who has won a Pulitzer, of course)."

6. NB: "What’s notable about these lists is what is missing: the only debut author was Favel Parrett, and virtually all of the titles were published either by large publishers or very well-established independent publishers. Authors of ‘genre’ works and collections of short stories were once again largely excluded. It is particularly depressing that, after all of the scrutiny placed on the gender imbalance of literary prizes last year (resulting in the establishment of the Stella Prize), these lists seem not only safe but downright staid. And more to the point, why do we want so many literary prizes in Australia that all basically look the same?"

7. "Some may want to argue that these authors make the shortlists because they are the best writers in Australia, but such a position doesn’t square with history, which shows that literary awards rarely stand the test of time. What do Carl Spitteler, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Roger Martin du Gard, and Frans Eemil Sillanpää have in common? They all won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The list of authors who didn’t win the Nobel Prize is more impressive: James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Leo Tolstoy, Henrik Ibsen, and Virginia Woolf are among the eligible authors never honoured by the Swedish Academy. In a rare consensus, the 1955 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award both went to William Faulkner’s novel A Fable, now considered a minor work by a great author – but the year 1955 also saw the publication of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, J.P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man, Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and William Gaddis’s The Recognitions (my favourite book). History suggests that betting against the consensus has the better odds."

8. "But, rather than suffering from tall-poppy syndrome, Australia’s contemporary cultural cringe seems to manifest in a repression of any critique and a consensus of unquestioning support for Australia’s ‘best’ writers; literary darlings like Cate Kennedy and Nam Le are universally praised, and rare criticisms of their work are met with opprobrium. When big names like Jonathan Franzen or Bret Easton Ellis come to visit, the universal response is unbridled excitement – as if we were still little more than a bunch of unwashed colonials lucky to receive these great authors from overseas."

9. "But the problem with this literary consensus-culture is that it produces an anaemic and self-congratulatory provincialism as stifling as any cultural cringe."

10. "Australian literature should be embattled, passionately fought over, and contested because those – and not a tepid consensus governed by cultural elites – are the hallmarks of vitality and egalitarianism. Australian literature doesn’t need saving or preserving – what it needs are partisans, contrarians and heretics.”

Full article: Emmett Stinson


(Jacob is a contributing editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review and a columnist for Jewcy. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Bookforum, the New Republic, and many other publications. He lives in New York.)

“Against Enthusiasm”

The epidemic of niceness in online book culture

  4 August 2012 -  ‘The Slate Book Review”

 " I'd argue that it's the reason why the literary world—a famously insular community to begin with—has become mired in clubbiness and glad-handing."

You may be asking what's the big deal about self-published books? Great question. You may also be surprised to learn that in 2012, self-published authors, and there are swags of them, cannot enter the Australian Prime Minister's Award or the Victorian Premier's Award. After some fairly intense lobbying, the doyens decided to include a poetry award in the Prime Minister's Literary Awards 2011. There was no prior poetry award which I consider to be gob smacking, considering that Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson, one of our most revered poets and writers, is currently depicted on our ten-dollar note and was the author of 'Waltzing Matilda' - our unofficial national anthem.

Well here are some quotes from three people with whom I have communicated on this issue.

1. The Hon Simon Crean MP - Minister for Regional Development

and Local Government - Minister for the Arts

Quote: "The decision on why self publishers are not accepted in the Prime Minister's Literary Awards has been made for a number of reasons. These include the benefit of a screening process for a published work whereby someone apart from the author has considered the work to have merit deserving their financial investment. Books published by commercial publishers are also more likely to have been copy-edited by another party and to have received legal assessment prior to publication."

Date: 26th July 2011

Clancy's comment: Yes, Minister! Mine was copy-edited and screened by professional editors, and there was no need to have a legal assessment. The book I would have entered in your awards is not likely to defame anyone. Not only but also, Minister, self-published authors also have a financial investment in their work.

2. Sally Basser, First Assistant Secretary,

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Quote: "We review the guidelines each year and we are actively considering the future eligibility of self-published authors.”

“I can’t give you an indication yet of what the outcome will be, but want to assure you we are listening and we have taken your feedback on board.”

Date: 12 January 2012.

Clancy's comment: Sally Basser has made similar comments to me as Minister Crean has - via email and by telephone. On one occasion Sally rang me and asked a great question, 'What would a self-published book need to be eligible for the Prime Minister's Literary Awards?' My answer was simple, 'If it has an ISBN and CIP number, looks like a book and quacks like a book, then it is a book. Judge it on it's merits. If it has poor grammar, is poorly laid out and has no storyline, the judges will move on. Next!'

I have suggested to Sally that they, the powers that decide these matters, initiate a separate award for self-published authors with strict but simple guidelines, such as: the books must have an ISBN and CIP number and must provide proof that they have been edited by a professional editor. Mm ... I'd have thought that was a fairly reasonable idea.

3. Michael Williams, Director of The Wheeler Centre, Melbourne.

- Chair of the judges for the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards.

Quotes: "But all good authors must be passionate salespeople on behalf of their work, and if there were a Literary Award in that category the odds would certainly be in your favour!”

‘A Published book is any work that been released to the trade by a Publisher. A Publisher must have commercially released titles by at least two authors other than themselves within the calendar year. For the purposes of this definition, a Publisher may not fund the publication of any works through direct charges to the author. ”

Clancy's comment: I have also suggested that the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards adopt a new award for self-published authors, but that concept fell on deaf ears. Oh, by the way, as a matter of courtesy, I sent a copy of one of my books to Mr. Williams but have not heard a word as to whether he received it - let alone read it. On the inside cover I wrote this, "Michael, self-publishing is not vanity; it's necessity.' - CT


So, what are the main points I wish to make out of all of this?

1. It would seem that any book award in this country has no intention of offering an award, 'Commendation', 'Mention', 'Highly Considered' or 'High Commendation' to any self-published author.  If that is so, why do many book awards  permit self-published authors to enter their awards, take their entry fees and keep their books - in my case, signed books?

2. As I have stated previously in public, on this blog, to high officials in the Prime Minister's Department and to the doyens of the literary industry, 'Every child, parent, teacher, librarian, grandparent and member of the general public is NOT permitted to choose from the the FULL list of books available. No, the only books offered to them - US - are those books that have been preciously provided by the literary gatekeepers.'

3. Self-published authors are increasing globally and, with the advent of the eBook, mainstream publishers are feeling the pinch, not only by eBooks but also by the extraordinary increase in self-published authors.

4. Why is it not possible for the Victorian Premier and the Prime Minister to initiate a separate award purely for self-published authors?

5. Is it unconstitutional to disallow self-published authors to enter major book awards in Australia in 2012? Not sure, but I'd love one of my QC mates to advise me on that one.

6. I would not be surprised if at some time in the near future, a writer or group of writers, approaches the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner via the Human Rights Discrimination Act 1986, or serve a writ against the Premier of Victoria and the Prime Minister of Australia in the Federal court, based on discrimination.

7. Finally, one has to ask oneself a few serious questions: are these awards seriously looking for the next Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson, C J Dennis, Henry Handel Richardson or Henry Lawson? Are they attempting to encourage emerging writers? Well, Based on my experiences, I have grave doubts.

I take my hat off to Emmett Stinson and Jacob Silverman, and others, who have been prepared to challenge the status quo.

Oh, if you are a writer and feeling somewhat jaded by what I've written, here is a list of famous self-published authors, and those who were rejected.


Remembrance of things Past, by Marcel Proust

Ulysses, by James Joyce

The Adventures of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter

The Wealthy Barber, by David Chilton

The Bridges of Madison County

What Color is Your Parachute

In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters

The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. (and his student E. B. White)

The Joy of Cooking

When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple

Life’s Little Instruction Book

Robert’s Rules of Order


Deepak Chopra

Gertrude Stein

Zane Grey

Upton Sinclair

Carl Sandburg

Ezra Pound

Mark Twain

Edgar Rice Burroughs

Stephen Crane

Bernard Shaw

Anais Nin

Thomas Paine

Virginia Wolff

e.e. Cummings

Edgar Allen Poe

Rudyard Kipling

Henry David Thoreau

Benjamin Franklin

Walt Whitman

Alexandre Dumas

William E.B. DuBois

Beatrix Potter


Kathryn Sockett - The Help - 60 times

Pearl S. Buck - The Good Earth - 14 times

Norman Mailer - The Naked and the Dead - 12 times

Patrick Dennis- Auntie Mame - 15 times

George Orwell - Animal Farm

Richard Bach - Jonathan Livingston Seagull - 20 times

Joseph Heller -  Catch-22 - 22  times (!)

Mary Higgins Clark - first short story - 40 times

Alex Haley - before Roots - 200 rejections

Robert Persig - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - 121 times

John Grisham - A Time to Kill - 15 publishers and 30 agents (he ended up publishing it himself)

Chicken Soup for the Soul - 33 times

Dr. Seuss - 24 times

Louis L'Amour - 200 rejections

Jack London - 600 before his first story

John Creasy - 774 rejections before selling his first story.  He went on to write 564 books, using fourteen names.

Jerzy Kosinski - 13 agents and 14 publishers rejected his best-selling novel when he submitted it under a different name, including Random House, which had originally published it.

Diary of Anne Frank

During his entire lifetime, Herman Melville's timeless classic, Moby Dick, sold only 3,715 copies.

Thanks for listening. Have a hellova nice day!

Keep writing! Persistence overcomes resistance.


I'm Clancy Tucker