Doubt is cast this week over the validity of The Guardian Self-Published Book Of The Month award, and some are even suggesting the competition is merely a device for rubbishing self-published books generally, as the mainstream further displays its belief that it alone can produce books properly.

Unfortunately for Alfred Hickling, though, self-publishing had the last laugh.  Tasked with the job of assessing this month's winner, Sheila Norton's Yesterday, he led with the strapline "An air of self-congratulation undermines this story of a journalist investigating her teenage past". His scanty research led him to the author's website, where Norton "reveals that she has written over a dozen novels and 100 short stories “published mostly in women’s magazines”. Such industry gives a general flavour of the book – it’s competently done, though there’s a sense that material which might have been sufficient for a magazine story has been eked out to 90,000 words. The diligent plotting and carefully planned denouement is the novel’s strongest suit, though it’s hard to overlook the lumpiness of the prose". Hickling summarised by quoting a line directly from the book in a way that seems purely designed to denigrate: "Writing down how I felt about the battles between the mods and the rockers was very therapeutic”, is [a line which is] unlikely to overturn the popular prejudice against self-published fiction".

Initial comments below the line expressed concern over the pattern of scathing reviews for several of the competition's winners; others implied that we should expect no better, since this must have been the best of the books submitted; and each side accused the other of scoffing and sneering while several expressed their relief at having either submitted books and not won, or having not submitted at all.

Then came the bombshell: the author herself threw in a comment. "Thank you for choosing my book as the self-published book of the month, and for the review. I had eight books traditionally published before taking the self-publishing route, and it's good to see self-published authors beginning to be given some recognition. Sheila Norton" 

Murmurs were made that self-publishing authors do take the trouble to have their books professionally edited at their own expense, and that this is a fact their opponents within the establishment seem to be ignorant of. Hickling failed to defend himself in the comments section after displaying his "popular prejudice" in a so-called liberal newspaper, and it may be some time before he manages to get over the memory of how he investigated Norton's website but at the same time somehow failed to spot that she has several bestselling novels on her Amazon page.

Another article appearing this week produced statistics that show women authors dominating self-publishing, that somewhere between a third and a half of self-publishers have a degree, and that 59% employ a freelance editor. Alison Baverstock, an associate professor in publishing at Kingston University, Surrey says that most publishers are being outpaced by a heady mix of democratisation and digital distribution, because they come from a “very limited gene pool … all agree on what they like … they know each other, and are not necessarily in touch with popular taste".

It can only be hoped that mainstream publishing will take the evidence on board from one of its own, even if it continues to ignore self-publishing authors themselves.

 

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