Paying for Literary Prizes

This year will be the first that see an entry fee for The Guardian First Book Award.  Publishers who want to submit books will have to pay a fee of £150 and, if the book they submit gets on the shortlist, 100 copies have to be provided free for the reading groups involved.

But it’s not the only prize that charges an entry fee (including demands for contributions towards publicity) or demands publishers provide copies of books free of charge:

  • The Man Booker Prize – publishers must contribute £5000 towards publicity if the book reaches the shortlist and a further £5000 if the book wins a prize plus be able to provide 1000 copies available 10 days after long listing.
  • Whitbread/Costa – publishers must provide 20 additional copies of shortlisted books and a further 30 copies of award-winning books, with publishers of the 5 Costa award winners required to make a contribution of £3000 towards promotional costs with the publisher of the overall winner making a further contribution of £4000.
  • The Dylan Thomas Prize – publisher/producers must supply 40 copies in addition to the 3 submitted on entry for publicity purposes, if shortlisted supply a further 40 copies and contribute £2500 towards publicity.  If the publisher’s submission wins, they get to spend an additional amount of not less than £1000 in media advertising within 3 months of the announcement of the winner and all adverts have to have the prior approval of the event organiser.

There are costs involved in running prizes and competitions.  Administrators are needed to get the entries to the judges, check the judges have received them, remind the judges of deadlines, run the publicity, deal with press enquiries and the easiest way of paying these costs is to charge an entry fee. 

However, a balance has to be maintained between what the costs are and who can enter.  Small, independent publishers will struggle to find the costs demanded in the prizes listed above and some will struggle with providing required extra copies within a short timeframe.  Remember too that copies supplied to prize administrators are copies not sold and not paid for.  Independent publishers will find themselves priced out of competing.  Some smaller poetry publishers don’t bother submitting books for the Poetry Book Society’s recommendation scheme because of the proscriptive deadlines and costs of re-printing a book with the ‘Poetry Book Society Recommendation’ flash on.

Does it matter?  Depends if you want your literary awards to be given on merit or on the basis of whether the publisher can afford to enter.  Thoughts welcomed.

This blog is likely to go very quiet during June.  I’m judging the Lawson-West Poetry Competition to raise funds for LOROS, a Leicestershire charity.  Entry is free but restricted to one entry per adult resident in Leicestershire and Rutland (because that’s where the charity is based).  Entrants who make a donation to LOROS will get a critique of their poem.  So far 100% of entries have made a donation, so lots of critique-writing looms…

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