Independent Literary Awards

Some recent writerly chat about the benefit of getting your book reviewed in the blogosphere, as opposed to trying to get mainstream media such as newspapers to show interest, has been given some extra pause for thought by the announcement of this year’s Independent Literary Awards. When I first saw the title, I thought it was awards for books published by independent publishers, but no, the independent refers to the judges themselves: bloggers. Bloggers with blogs concerned primarily with books. Readers, in fact. Avid ones. Not writers, not publishers or publicists, but the folks who we write books for. (Note: there is a conference coming up in Brisbane devoted entirely to readers.)

The beauty, and perhaps it’s a two-edged beauty, as with POD and e-pub, of the internet is that anyone can not only have an opinion, but they can voice it. And unlike newspapers, for instance, there are very few gatekeepers on an indie blog. Biased? Parochial? Slaveringly devoted? It’s all out there, and it’s up to the reader to read between the lines: why is this person saying this? Is it fair? Is it informative? I like to think that, in both blogs and publishing, the quality will rise to the surface. Call me naive.

This is the technological age where we see reviews being used, not just by readers wanting to pass judgement, but by those looking for political clout. We’ve seen this in an ugly form, where readers sacrifice the reputation and skill of writers to protest against the price of e-books — something over which the author has, unless self-publishing, got very little if any control. (cf the Jacqueline Howett debacle, covered neatly by Kirstyn McDermott here.)

Times, they are indeed a’changing…

But back to business: the Independent Literary Awards, now in its second year, shows a new flexing of muscle from the ranks of not just fandom, but a rising and genre-spanning sector of the publicity machine. And these guys are taking it seriously — the list of last year’s winners shows that with a worthy to-read list. It makes sense; literary discourse is increasingly moving online, where it can become not just an essay, but a discussion. Look at the number of podcasts nominated in recent Australian spec fic award shortlists, for instance (Alan Baxter provides a neat overview here). The ILAs are juried by lit-minded bloggers, and accept nominations (Sep-Dec 2011) only from their peers — you have to pass their muster as a lit blogger (‘independent’ from the publishing business) to be considered eligible to nominate. Guidelines are on the website. It’s a step towards recognition and professionalism in what is still, to some extent, frontier territory. Good luck to them!

Booked in Bundaberg

From left, Stephanie Laurens, Sue Gammon, Jason Nahrung,Kirsty Brooks, Sandy Curtis at Booked in Bundaberg

From left, Stephanie Laurens, Sue Gammon, Jason Nahrung, Kirsty Brooks, Sandy Curtis at Booked in Bundaberg

There really is nothing like country hospitality. I had the good fortune to be a guest at Booked, the first such event hosted by the Bundaberg Library at the weekend. Also appearing were Stephanie Laurens, Kirsty Brooks and Kim Michelle Toft, and what a fascinating group they were. The day began after a coffee with all of us answering questions from our awesome library host Sue Gammon.

I was particularly interested to hear that all of us were inspired to write our initial books by self-interest: interested in telling the kind of story we each wanted to read, rather than as a marketing exercise or commercial venture. The theme of passion for writing and storytelling was one that ran strong through my own presentation later in the day. But that followed a superb presentation by Kim of her gorgeous silk painting of underwater scenes, some she uses in her children’s books, others she sells through her gallery in northern New South Wales. Then Stephanie blew us away with her work ethic and description of her amazing house in Victoria, tailor-made for a full-time writer. Then I was chuffed to field a bunch of questions about horror and vampires and writing in general, before Kirsty charmed the crowd (and it *was* a crowd, what a great turnout!) with her sheer enthusiasm and zaniness.

I have two goddaughters in Bundy, so being able to catch up with my dear friends there as well as rub shoulders with writers and readers really was a lot of fun. And then there was the generous barbecue held by Bundaberg writer Sandy Curtis

We forget, in the city, just how many stars there are. Even a country boy like me forgets from time to time. A walk on the beach away from the city lights can do wonders for our perspective. Life is a fleeting thing. Best to indulge those passions while we can, methinks.

Me, blabbing on. Pictures: Kirstyn McDermott

Me, blabbing on. Pictures: Kirstyn McDermott