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The Small Press Debate

In my previous post about the Aurealis Awards, I purposefully left off making any commentary about the plan, once again, to make publishers shoulder the cost of submitting to the awards by cutting out email submissions (though the get out of jail free card of any "individuals or small/independent publishers who face difficulties in supplying hard copies of nominated works should contact the Awards Coordinator for assistance," was added.)

Of course, the only people such a ruling has any influence on are those in the independent press, and in the days since then, Alisa Krasnostein (girliejones) and Jonathan Strahan have weighed into the debate with the cost of sending work from their various projects to what could be anywhere between twenty to thirty-five judges. Of interest to me are not the posts themselves, but the replies that each have been getting, and the debate within that. There is, at the start, some amusement in noting the different tones between Kate Eltham (electricalphabt) on both blogs, where on the latter, she says, "Jonathan, I encourage you to contact the Awards Coordinator at coordinator@aurealisawards.com to discuss your needs. As with last year, we can arrange for copies to be shared among judging panels (especially if you submit well before the deadline) and Ron can also assist with copying and distributing individual story print outs," and while on the former, she posts:

That's exactly what is said, right on the home page: "However, individuals or small/independent publishers who face difficulties in supplying hard copies of nominated works should contact the Awards Coordinator for assistance."

And on the Rules & Conditions page: "...when multiple printed copies of the work/s are difficult or expensive to obtain, nominators (particularly individual authors or small presses who face financial hardship) are encouraged to contact the Awards Coordinator to discuss. We endeavour to do all we can to assist the nomination process. Contact the Awards Coordinator at coordinator@aurealisawards.com."

And on the How to Enter page: "Electronic Magazines and Publications
Works published in electronic form are eligible. However, hard copy versions of the nominated works must be submitted to judges for consideration. One copy of each work must be sent to EACH of the judges on the relevant panel/s. In the case of multimedia or mixed media works, please contact the Awards Coordinator to discuss your requirements.

When multiple printed copies of the work/s are difficult or expensive to obtain, nominators (particularly individual authors or small presses who face financial hardship) are encouraged to contact the Awards Coordinator to discuss. We endeavour to do all we can to assist the nomination process. Contact the Awards Coordinator at coordinator@aurealisawards.com."

Picking up on one sentence in the entire website (ie. about the Coordinator exercising discretion in the sharing of works between judges) and choosing to ignore all these other messages mentioned in multiple places on multiple pages makes it a straw man argument, Alisa.

I wonder why her tone is so different?

In case you're wondering who Eltham is, and why she has an opinion worth quoting, she's listed as 'the conjure chair' at Fantastic Queensland, who are responsible for the Aurealis Awards, as well as other things such as Clarion. I could be wrong, but I assume that conjure chair is a way of saying that she's the person in charge, as much as anyone is in charge at these kind of places. Other members of Fantastic Queensland inlcude her partner Robert Hoge (roberthoge), who appears on Krasnostein's blog to tell her that, "if awards are what tips a small press into the red, then it sounds like it may be a marginal enterprise to start with," thus suggesting that you ought not be putting out books in the first place.

Which is nice, of course, and very community related of Hoge to say. I was further impressed by the argument that both he and Eltham put forward that they do not see, in this case, Krasnostein complaining about the cost of having to submit to the World Fantasy Awards, of which Hoge himself is one of five. Yes, that's five judges, rather than the forty five who are involved in the Aurealis Awards, but why would you make such a point out of the numbers difference when you're making a point that people don't complain about?

Returning to my original point about the cost, however, it strikes me as strange that Fantastic Queensland and the Aurealis Awards are not actively trying to support and promote the independent scene here in Australia, which has run for years on the budget of elastic bands and matches. I don't need to link to a publisher discussing the fact that you will not make a profit in being in the independent press: that fact is of such common knowledge that it is the first thing that dozens of people will tell any person thinking of starting up their own press. You are considered doing well if you are breaking even in this industry, which makes it strange that unnecessary costs such as submitting books to judges who have email is being pushed forward and defended on such a public scale.

Still, if you were to make a stab at what motivates Fantastic Queensland, you could perhaps argue that it was the attempt to grab professionalism. The reference to the World Fantasy Award is, on their part, an attempt to brand the two together in importance, which is somewhat amusing since the World Fantasy Awards has a certain reputation that, if we were to reverse the comparisons around, the Aurealis Awards does not have. The World Fantasy Award does not, year in and year out become the cause of laughter or derisive comments when fine graphic novels such as Shaun Tan's the Arrival win a short story award, or when half the country's established authors are ignored by the award because the judges did not go out and look for new material, or did not know about what was then the top paying market for short fiction in spec fic. I could go on, but it will only be the equivalent of kicking a puppy to make the comparisons between the Aurealis Awards and the World Fantasy Award, though perhaps I'll allow such reviewers as Martin Lewis (ninebelow) to share his scathing opinion of the Aurealis novel winners in previous years, and ask him what the cultural weight of the AAs have over there, in sunny Britain. But, to return to the original start of this paragraph, it is clear that a certain professionalism is being attempted, though why of course that professionalism needs to toss an unnecessary cost to the independent press is a question that you might well ask, considering that it is there that the interest and involvement in the community is born.

I'm not quite sure why I felt the urge to post on the topic. My response to Eltham and Hoge would simply be to laugh and then boycott the award. If you could organise the rest of the independent scene to do the same, it would make a mockery out of the short story divisions, since it is in the independent press that such work is primarily produced, but that's me, and I don't have much interest in the award so my responses involve burning it down and living in a utopia.

I do, however, want to see a strong independent scene and that is the cause of my interest. It is here that the interesting projects take place, here that the boundaries are pushed. At the moment, the scene here is known more for being a place in which authors start their career, a place where you can watch them learn their skills, which more often than not, they take outside the country or into novels. But outside the small spec fic scene, interesting books are being done. I did a review for Overland recently in which I got to sample the collection Sleepers, the novels put out by Black Pepper, and a few others, and while there were flaws--Sleepers, for example, is a rip off of McSweeneys--I liked the fact that I was seeing different things, seeing people pushing the edges, and that could be seen in a production such as Cock. Such opinions that are given out by Hoge and Eltham do not, to me, encourage people to become involved with the scene, does not support them, does not draw the interesting and different projects out of people, and ignores the fact that, as everyone who has been round an independent scene for five minutes will know, such projects are done at a considerable personal cost.


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Jun. 20th, 2008 01:59 am (UTC)
Jun. 20th, 2008 02:27 am (UTC)
'conjure chair' is a reference to Kate being the chair of the 2006 National SF convention, which was called ConJure. And a fine convention it was too. I suspect her still being listed with that title just indicates that the Fantastic Queensland contact page has not been updated since 2006.
Jun. 20th, 2008 02:42 am (UTC)
ah. cool. thanks.
Jun. 20th, 2008 03:05 am (UTC)
45 to 5?

Banana benders are perhaps as slow as we think? ;-)
Jun. 20th, 2008 04:13 am (UTC)
well, either that or they like a good committee ;)
Jun. 20th, 2008 07:30 am (UTC)
It seems a rather odd decision to refuse e-subs for short fiction. Novels, I can understand. No one wants to read a 100K fantasy novel on screen. But short stories? Apart from anything else, it's such a waste of resources to mail hardcopies around to all the judges. That's not just paper (in standard MS format?) but also the envelopes, the stamps, the diesel for the Aussie Post trucks who'll need to lug them around the country, the jetfuel for the Aussie Post planes from far flung areas, the extra labour cost all along the way, and so on and so on.

As opposed to emailing a file to someone who may or may not actually print it out on their own paper and, even if they do, might go to the trouble of double-siding, size-reduction, using scrap, etc, to conserve paper. In this age of diminishing resources, it's an odd decision.

Jun. 20th, 2008 07:30 am (UTC)
Sorry, the above is mine. Didn't notice I wasn't logged in.
Jun. 20th, 2008 08:52 am (UTC)
cool, thanks.

and yes, you would think emailing would be, i dunno, easier for all considered, but hey...
Jun. 20th, 2008 08:34 am (UTC)
Yeah I tried to suggest that the AAs go carbon neutral last year .. no go!
Jun. 20th, 2008 08:27 am (UTC)
Only yesterday I was thinking about posting that NYRSF review since it isn't available online. I just need to find my copy of the final draft.

And it is sunny today!
Jun. 20th, 2008 08:52 am (UTC)
it's just all coming up roses, innit?
Jun. 20th, 2008 11:43 am (UTC)
Ben, could you please point me to where I said I "do not see, in this case, Krasnostein complaining about the cost of having to submit to the World Fantasy Awards" or anything remotely like that?

I'm interested to hear Alisa's thoughts about the World Fantasy Award nomination process. I haven't seen any complaints from her about that nomination process but she hasn't submitted anything she published or edited last year to the World Fantasy Award judges.

I'm assuming that she's made the decision as a publisher that it's not worth the investment to send works to the AAs or World Fantasy Awards. And that's her right as the proprietor. And it's consistent.
Jun. 20th, 2008 12:34 pm (UTC)


"I also think publishers should have a plan for how they handle promotional, review and award copies. Either things like the World Fantasy Awards and the AAs deliver value for publishers, editors, writers and readers or they don't. And on that basis, publishers need to plan for how to handle them. I would have thought the oportunity to share one copy of a book or send judges galleys or print outs was a sensible compromise to all of this."


"Evidently, you think there should be no cost at all to small press publishers in participating in the awards. I'd love to know what the response was from the Children's Book Council of Australia when, as publisher of Shiny, you made similar complaints about them not accepting electronic publications (to be eligible, let alone to be read by judges). I don't recall you mentioning the CBCA awards on this blog. But of course, how much you're willing to invest in participating in the awards is up to you, just as how much you're willing to invest in promoting the books you publish is up to you. We don't happen to think there should be a cost to the volunteer award judges, and that is up to us."

"I don't think the awards process is overkill nor do I think it is unreasonable. Five copies is in line with almost every literary award I can think of and is actually at the lower end of the scale and doesn't, as in many other cases, come with an entry fee. Have you emailed or blogged similar complaints about the World Fantasy Awards process? Because that is six copies and no electronic submission. And no coordinator there is offering to print and post copies or to assist small presses."

i don't believe we're actually talking about the world fantasy awards, however. that just appears to be the comparison that is made to tell alisa to shut up. to follow the logic that the pair of you present, if you're not complaining about the WFA, don't complain about the AAs.

which is perhaps not how the pair of you ended it to come across, but it does, nonetheless.
Jun. 20th, 2008 01:34 pm (UTC)
Kate's a big girl and can speak for herself but nowhere do I even remotely suggest that "if you're not complaining about the WFAs, don't complain about the AAs."

And given Alisa has not submitted anything she published last year to the World Fantasy Awards I think she's entirely consistent in her approach to both awards.

But more than one person made the point on her blog that the AA coordinators would try to find a way to make it easier for her to submit works that reduced her costs. The responses were made publicly on a blog because that's where the issues were raised, rather than in a query to the coordinators.

I think you're actually going out of your way to suggest there's more disagreement than there actually is. As a small press publisher, Alisa is wanting to find a way to submit works and reduce her costs. That's entirely resonable. Nothing wrong witjh that at all. And given that the coordinators helped her do that last year and the website says they're amenable to helping small press publishers who face financial difficulties I'll bet they'll do so again this year.

But the whole discussion was had in public because it started with a blog post rather than an email to the award coordinators. Are you suggesting the coordinators don't have a right to respond?
Jun. 20th, 2008 04:41 pm (UTC)
I don't think Ben Peek is suggesting that at all. He is asking why Kate E is using a different tone of voice to Alisa K, as opposed to Jonathan S.

One is short and encouraging, the other is not.

I agree with Ben Peek about the reference to the World Fantasy Awards. This is unnecessary. The AA can and should stand up in it's own right.

A passerby

Jun. 21st, 2008 12:23 am (UTC)
well, actually, i would say that your comment about not complaining about the WFA and the AAs is in fact implied. perhaps reading between the lines is a skill you've missed, but there is something quite condesending about your whole comment to alisa. though, as you say about kate, she's a big girl and can defend herself.

you seem to have missed the point about my post, however, since i am not talking about a larger agreement, but rather the different tones that were used between the replies. there is nothing actually polite or reasonable about those replies on alisa's blog, and I have not even made commentary about angela slatter's passive aggressive deletion over her blog over the incident, which further supports the idea that someone with not an entirely large opinion was being bullied and bitch slapped back into place.

like you said, though, the coordinators do have the right to respond. yet, i am curious as to how the professionalism strahan recieves--for was his post not as public?--is lacking in alisa's. wouldn't it have been better if the people in charge had kept the public, professional face on for both?
Jun. 21st, 2008 02:03 am (UTC)
If you're going to critique the responses, Ben, shouldn't you at least contextualise them? People should read both blogs and make up their own mind but a short precis of the material Ben has conveniently left out:

Both blogs had posts from editors raising concerns about the submissions process for the AAs. Both blogs had responses from more than one person saying if editors contacted the AA coordinators there would probably be an easy way to sort it all out.

Alisa asked why, if that was the case, didn't they just say so on the website. Kate pointed out the several places where the website says exactly that. You quoted that response in full but not the question that directly elicited it.

But the blogs differed because Alisa also suggested maybe the awards should be boycotted, that guidelines were an attempt to impose "ridiculous authority" over small press, and (most upsetting to a number of people) that those running the awards were only doing it because they we're interested in "empire building" not developing the community. And I acknowledge that some of the comments have since been edited, which shows an understanding that they caused some offence.

Why is it okay for vigorous discussion to come from one side, Ben and not the other?
Jun. 21st, 2008 07:37 am (UTC)

if i thought vigorous discussion was going on, i'd be all for it. what you guys gave instead was a bitch slap.

i dunno, robert, you seem to want me to sit here and go, sure, it was okay that you guys treated people different, and slapped round one kind while treating another like delicate china. anyone reading alisa's blog--as no doubt you have done in the past--will be able to identify that her comments were in keeping with the tone that she has on it. it's your job, then, as the people who manage the talent to take part in their award, to understand the personalities and phrase your responses accordingly. i, for one, don't understand how you could take her boycott comment serious, given the larger context of her blog.

but ultimately, what does it matter? comments have been edited, offence recognised, and i imagine bridges mended to some degree... but the point still stands that in this moment, fantastic queensland did not support the independent presses within australia, and was in fact more interested in keeping the internationally recognised names happy.


perhaps next time it'll be different.
Jun. 22nd, 2008 08:17 am (UTC)
Hi Robert

I read the full blogs of both Jonathan S and Alisa K before I posted my earlier comment.

I would only say both posted about their own thoughts and feelings about the AAs.

However, for the AA's to be respected, any response really needs to be positive, professional, and understanding.

For example, Kate E could have replied by saying we try to make it clear on our website about points 1, 2, and 3. But if it's not clear, please send me a email and I would clarify.

A passerby.
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