Following up on award pressures, here’s an article in the Guardian that claims British literary fiction is actually being undermined by a handful of powerful book prizes. You’d think that high-profile prizes would be good for the industry, as they recognize excellence and point readers to where the best fiction is. Winning the prize generally gives a big boost to sales for the book. However, this article suggests that the costs associated with entering a lot of books into the larger competitions tend to limit the submissions to publishers with deep pockets. That means small, independent publishers that might actually be publishing the most cutting-edge work are sidelined and the larger publishers set the standard for what the public reads.

According to literary agent Jonny Geller in this same article, “Literary fiction is under threat…due to a combination of factors – reluctance by major houses to take risks; a bottleneck in the distribution chain [and] diverse voices being ignored by a predominantly white, middle-class industry.” Geller goes on to note the pressures on the prize juries. “Every major literary prize is under the same pressures – the balance between picking books that break new ground, challenge readers and those books that will be popular.”

There are other issues, as well. Past literary judge Tom Leclair notes in another article that the different tastes, criteria and loyalties of judges mean that disagreements can lead to horse-trading type compromise. He also relates experiences where fellow judges tried to give awards to their friends or to other authors represented by their own literary agent.

These people are talking about large, national awards, of course, which are normally juried. However, one can draw parallels with the SFF industry awards. We’ve seen the recent move by the Puppies to promote Hugo slates. This is very visible promotion, but how much does less visible promotion affect who wins? And what effect does author/publisher reputation have?

Brandon Kempner at Chaos Horizon notes the tendency of award winners to be re-nominated. In a similar vein, Natalie Luhrs recently completed her annual “slice and dice” of the influential Locus Reading List and commented on repeat appearances. Her review notes that white men continue to dominate the list, while the same small group of women and people of color appear year after year. Is this a tribute to their reputations, or just a form of tokenism?