I've just started a small press. All very exciting and more anon but this post isn't about publicising that. Rather I wanted to focus on the primary reason for setting up eight cuts gallery press. I want a pplatform for creating some hoopla about the amazing writingout there that will never be a sure fire enough mass seller to land a mainstream deal without being substantially rewritten. And part of that platform creation is entering amazing books for top literary prizes.
That's a bit extreme, isn't it? Setting up a whole press so books can be entered for prizes? Afetr all, the Booker Prize, for example, is open to the best novel published in the UK, so people can just send their own in?
Well, no. It's awarded to "It will be awarded to the author of the best, eligible full-length novel." And in taht sentence is a whole world of things the literary world frankly needs to get its act together about.
Most writers will have entered a competition at some point, and will know that, in general, they are for previously unpublished work. The Bridport Prize, the acme fo the short story and poetry comp world, defines entries "must never have been published, self-published, published on any website or public online forum, broadcast nor winning or placed in any other competition." OK, no one wants recycled stuff wandering off with top prizes (er, I guess, though as an author who regularly posts my work online and on critiquing sites I find the rule perplexing).
Fine, so if we've put our stuff out there at all, we're published. We no longer have first rights, blah blah, end of. So, whatever we put out there we can enter for a competition for the best book that's been published, right? Wrong. The Booker rules state "Self published books are not eligible where the author is the publisher or where a company has been specifically set up to publish that book."
So published means something different in each case. You can see the Booker Prize's point, though, can't you? They don't want every Jane, John and whoever entering their precious pile of crap. After all, other competitions designed to find the best of the best have similar restrictins. You can't just enter your local football team for the FA Cup. Or pitch up as a golfer and hope to qualify for he Open. Oh no, wait that's wrong. You can.
So what's going on? Well, I'm not going to claim there's some kind of cabalistic conspiracy to keep us alternatives out. There isn't. Aside from anything else that would be to attribute to "the mainstream" a level of organisation it's just not capable of. Rather, it's systematic of an inbuilt prejudice that runs so deep it's barely even noticed.
The fact is it's just assumed in the mainstream that we know what publishing is (and assumptions are illustrative of the worst kind of prejudice). Only then us slippery awkward independent types come along and point out that means we're published, and we can play in the playground too. And each time that happens, a new lock is put on the gate to keep us out.
So we have two choices. We can either simply play in our own playground. Or we can keep breaking the locks and point out that something is amiss. I am greatly greatly in favour of the former. It's what I do at Year Zero, and what I'm doing at eight cuts gallery. But it's not entirely fair on the reading public at large for them not to be aware what's happening, unseen, to keep books away from them (admittedly most of them are awful, but that's not the point, the point is they are not being told they are there at al).
Which is where eight cuts gallery press comes in, a press set up for the express purpose of not hiding exciting alternative books under the carpet, and making our literary elite, our gatekeeping judges, not just ignore but actively reject them. Or, of course, say that after all they might actually have some value. But surely that would never happen...
Charcoal by Oli Johns and The Dead Beat by Daisy Anne Gree will be appearing at major competitions near you in 2011.