Lit Idol. A battle to the death between six unpublished authors! A top agent to the winner! Oblivion for the vanquished! Watch controversy flare as publishing battles with showbiz!
Or that’s nearly how it was. Almost.
It was well-organised: A voting handset on each seat; dramatic lighting that shouted ‘MONEY!’ and ‘TV!’; and a huge video screen that looked ready to show which of our cities were about to be hit by Soviet missiles. Apart from the slight smell of onions in the area near the door, we were impressed.
We got the sense the flash, technology and spectacle was trying to goad the press into treating this as a event to spark debate: a reprise of that venerable, tired scrap where ‘popularising books’ goes three rounds with ‘vulgarising literature’. This time we ought to stop it in the first: there’s a rotten fix on. The public didn’t matter, since the web-based vote was irrelevant. The prize went to whomever we in the hall chose.
So, the revolutionary populism consisted of the following process: 1,500 entries were examined by a team of professional readers; a longlist of 31 was then passed to the judges, who were publishing professionals; they produced a shortlist of six, which was in turn judged by three hundred invited industry types.
In essence, it’s the slush-pile route to publication with a hall of tipsy agents, editors and journos standing in for a commissioning editor.
We can’t whine too much about the industry’s deceitful attempts to conjure publicity from indifference, as there’s no complaint about the writing. The winner of the popular vote was *Jennifer’s Friend*, by Tom Easton. It seems like a fun read – it’ll be published, and enjoyed by many. The winner of the industry vote, *Northwest Passage*, by Paul Cavanagh, seems to be a fully-functioning literary novel. Our favourite was *Dirty Women* by Karen Barichievy: sharp, funny, and clever, with no verbiose thesaurising. It’s not just a kinky sex romp with SJP-friendly brand-dropping, though that’s how they’ll try to sell it. Ms. Barichievy wants to be the female Henry Miller – a noble aim, even if Anias Nin snagged the job a few years back.
Finally, two suggestions for the organisers. Next year, when you announce the winner, don’t play ‘Paperback Writer’. It’s a lazy choice of song, and its lyrics mock author and publisher alike. Also, try to collect the magic handsets from any empty seats, otherwise I will again use them to vote four times.