The Most Underrated Book Award 2012

A short post! I have just read on the SPUNC site that Kobo is sponsoring an award to highlight books that were released by independent publishers and members of the Small Press Network (SPUNC) and that did not receive wide recognition.

The shortlist for the inaugural award was announced this week, and the titles are:

The award apparently recognises both the publisher and author. The winner will be announced, the SPUNC announcement says, on 8 November at the opening of the Independent Publishing Conference during a special gala night and literary debate at the Wheeler Centre.

Good on Kobo I say. Books published by smaller presses are often overlooked in the major literary awards partly, I presume, because the authors usually aren’t well enough established to be noticed and partly because small publishers don’t have the marketing clout and distribution networks to get their books out to enough readers and reviewers. I hope this new award will help raise the profile of the authors and their hardworking publishers.

* I have a soft spot for Irma Gold, and not just because I’ve read and enjoyed her book. She lives in my city, and is currently coordinating the production of, and editing, The invisible thread, an anthology of works “by writers who have an association with the Canberra region”. The book represents a major literary contribution to Canberra’s 2013 Centenary Celebrations, and is planned to be the focus of many literary events over the coming year. Watch this space!

Monday musings on Australian literature: SPUNC has spunk

Having cried wolf, book cover

Isn’t this cover gorgeous? (Courtesy: Affirm Press)

Yes, come here for your wit. I bet I’m the first one to have thought of that line! SPUNC, in case you haven’t heard of them and you probably haven’t, is the Small Press Network (in Australia). The acronym actually stands for Small Press Underground Networking Community. It was formed in Melbourne in 2006 and its aim – as you would have guessed – is, in its own words, “to promote independent publishing and support the principle of diversity within the publishing industry as a vital component of Australian literary culture”.

Its definition of small is, I think, pretty broad. I suspect the key word is “independent” more than “small” as its members range from what seems to me to be well-established companies, like Text Publishing, which publishes some high volume works, to smaller more boutique publishers like Ginninderra Press and, a new kid on the block, Affirm Press.

In 2007, SPUNC commissioned a report into independent publishing in Australia. It was titled A lovely kind of madness: Small and independent publishing in Australia. Aha, there it is “small” and “independent” and it seems that for the purposes of this report the focus was on the smaller end of the scale.

In fact, definition is one of the issues the report confronted and so, using the evidence they gathered from their survey and overseas research, they came up with one. Their suggested guidelines for ‘small press’ is that they are independent publishers who:

  • Have published at least one book title or journal issue (in hardcopy);
  • Have an annual turnover of $500 000 or less;
  • Have print runs of usually less than 2000;
  • Have published more than one author;
  • Publish fewer than 10 book titles per year; and
  • Usually do not charge authors fees for production, editing or distribution.
Kill Your Darlings Issue 4

Kill Your Darlings

Guess what the report found? Well, in case you can’t, I’ll tell you: it’s that the main problems faced by smaller presses are publicity and distribution. Who’da thought it?! They do admit though, that distribution in particular is a problem for all publishers, not just the small ones, due to “the combined effects of a crowded market, a geographically wide distribution area, low margins and relatively small print runs”. It’s hard running any business in “a wide brown land”.

Why am I writing this? Because I do read books from small presses, including Affirm Press, Black Inc, Ginninderra PressGiramondo Publishing, Griffith Review, and Kill Your Darlings to name just a few. And because I want them to survive: they pick up new upcoming writers; they publish poetry; they publish essays; they, in fact, make the major contribution to the diversity of publishing in Australia; they foster local talent; and they are often simply just beautiful to look at and hold.

Do you read small presses? Do they contribute to your literary scene? What do you think they could do to lift their visibility?