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9th October 2018

Changes to The Women’s Prize for Fiction could prove costly

A recent change to The Women’s Prize for Fiction entry requirements means that the publishers of the 16 long listed books will need to pay a fee of £1000
Changes to The Women’s Prize for Fiction could prove costly
The Women’s Prize for Fiction

A recent change to The Women’s Prize for Fiction entry requirements means that the publishers of the 16 long listed books will need to pay a fee of £1000.

While this change means little to big publishers, it could potentially become an entry barrier for smaller independent publishers. One publisher that has been vocal about the change is Galley Beggar Press, an independent press based in Norwich, who have published critically acclaimed authors like Eimear McBride and Preti Taneja. I contacted Sam Jordison of Galley Beggar Press, to find out how the increased long list fee could impact indie publishers.

“£1000 means an awful lot. It’s an advance. It’s a good part of a print run. It’s a lot of work. Spending that kind of money on a prize is an extra risk— it might mean we can’t pay the next print bill.”

The Women’s Prize for Fiction is one of the UK’s most prestigious literary prizes, with previous winners including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zadie Smith, and most recently Kamila Shamsie; who is a Senior Lecturer at Manchester’s Centre for New Writing. The winner receives £30,000 and until recently, this was funded by the prize’s corporate partners, Delloite, Bailey’s and Natwest.

In 2013, Galley Beggar Press published Eimear McBride’s debut, ‘A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing’, which went on to win The Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2014. I asked Sam if the novel would have been submitted if the current rules were had been in place then.

“It’s very hard to know. I like to hope that we’d have taken our chances – but we’d have been worried. We’d also have been concerned that the prize committee might not have long listed us because they might have assumed we couldn’t pay the £1000. My present fear is that other very small publishers will find this idea very off-putting.”

Not all prizes charge publishers for being on the long list. The Jhalak Prize is completely free to enter and as Sam noted, “The Republic of Consciousness Prize is a prize for small presses. They actually give money to the publishers who make it onto their shortlist. It feels like they are there to help and promote publishers and their authors.”

Not all readers will be familiar with Galley Beggar Press, so I asked Sam where someone should start in terms of their books. “Oh boy! I love all of our books equally. So for diplomatic reasons, let me just recommend the last three we published: Francis Plug: Writer In Residence by Paul Ewen, Lucia by Alex Pheby and Wrestliana by Toby Litt. They actually give a pretty good insight into what we do.

Lucia is challenging, intense and earth-shakingly beautiful. Francis Plug is hilarious and sad and curiously moving. Wrestliana is like nothing else – a daring book about masculinity, failing, failing better and Cumbrian Wrestling. Oh god, can I recommend some more? We That Are Young by Preti Taneja is amazing, Tinderbox by Megan Dunn is strange and brilliant, We Are The End by Gonzalo Garcia is a superb book about depression, making it in the world, rivers of shit… Just get them all!”

It’s clear from Galley Beggar Press’ varied back catalogue, that smaller presses are willing to take risks publishing new and exciting work. McBride’s Women’s Prize winning ‘A Girl is a Half-formed Thing’ was rejected for ten years by other publishers, before being picked up by Galley Beggar Press. Independent presses help ensure a place for adventurous and experimental writing, if they get priced out by major prizes, plenty of hidden gems might stay hidden. One change to one prize won’t make a difference to the overall publishing landscape, let’s just hope that it doesn’t become a trend.

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