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Ether for Authors: What’s Important in the Man Booker Debate?

17 September 2013 iStock_000022554693XSmall photog GoranQ texted story image

Table of Contents

  1. “Global Expansion” of Man Booker Prize Confirmed
  2. New Zealand’s New Wor­ries About Publishing
  3. Eye of the Wom­bat: Gin­ger Clark’s Frankfurt
  4. McCarthy, Marketing, Match­Book, and Oys­ter
  5. Conferences
  6. Last Gas: Entrepreneurial Authors and…“Compauthors”?

“Global Expansion” of Man Booker Prize Confirmed

man booker prize 2013

Update on Wednesday, September 18, 2013:
In a news conference today in London, officials of the esteemed Man Booker Prize have announced that the program, as rumored, will begin accepting entries from beyond its traditional range of the UK, the Republic of Ireland, and the Commonwealth. American authors and others working in English will be eligible for entry by their publishers.

In his official statement, Jonathan Tyler, Chair of the Prize Foundation, calls this a “global expansion” and says that it will see the prize program “celebrate and embrace authors writing in English, whether from Chicago, Sheffield or Shanghai.”

He writes of this highly controversial change this way:

Initially the thinking was that we might set up a new prize specifically for US writers. But at the end of the process we were wary of jeopardising or diluting the existing Man Booker Prize. Instead we agreed that the prize, which for 45 years has been the touchstone for literary fiction written in English of the highest quality, could enhance its prestige and reputation through expansion, rather than by setting up a separate prize.

In an interesting element of the thinking behind the change, Tyler writes:

The prize is now regarded widely as the most important and influential award for literary fiction in the English speaking world. But paradoxically it has not been allowed full participation to all those writing literary fiction in English. It is rather as if the Chinese were excluded from the Olympic Games- I appreciate this analogy is not entirely appropriate. I think Sam Leith in the Evening Standard a couple of days ago captured the essence of what we are doing; he wrote ‘The territory of the English novel is the English language.’

Traditional constraints remain in place, as he writes: “All novels entered for the prize must be published in the UK and entered by their UK publisher; timings and processes will be unchanged; longlists and shortlists will continue; and above all the requirement that all judges consider all entries will remain.”

The issue reflects an important difficulty in the accelerating globalization of the books business. Certainly the international rights hall at Frankfurt Book Fair in three weeks will hum (or roar), an annual celebration of international commerce in all things books and publishing.  

  But where do national character and legitimate concern for cultural frontiers come into play, if not in how various societies evaluate and honor their leading creative work? Prior to this latest round of debate, there already were concerns voiced for where current short-listed Booker nominees reside. In a Sunday Times story from Richard Brooks, it was mentioned:

Four of this year’s six short-listed authors, who were announced last week, live and work in the United States. Three were born in either a Commonwealth country or Ireland. Another was born in America of a US father and a Japanese mother but holds both US and Canadian passports.

The Book Globe Sidwell and Beresford 16 September 2013

Nick Sidwell and Madeleine Beresford have mapped the central locations in the 267 winning and shortlisted Man Booker Prize novels.

A welcome diversion right about now might be The Book Globe project, which Nick Sidwell of the Guardian and his associate Madeleine Beresford have launched, pinpointing the central locations—story settings, not authors’ residencies—of the 267 books to have either won or been shortlisted for the Man Booker.

Nick Sidwell

Nick Sidwell

In his post about it at The FutureBook, Mapping the Booker Prize, Sidwell writes:

I would like people to visit the map of course and to explore it. I hope they find it as interesting as we do. But I also hope that it shows a glimmer of the enormous potential that data can have for books when combined sensitively. Insensitive use of data to create a conveyor belt for the creative process is unwelcome.

Sensitivity is a fine thing for us to carry away from that map, too, as we look at the controversy around the alleged intentions of the Man Booker rules people.

 

Gaby Wood

Gaby Wood

When unconfirmed reports of the planned changes surfaced, one of the quickest retorts came from Gaby Wood, head of books at The Telegraph. Her headline’s question: If Americans can win the Booker Prize, should Britons qualify for a Pulitzer?

In the past, the argument in favour of excluding Americans has been, essentially, that they would come here and take all our prizes – that British authors would inevitably lose out.

 

My own response to that is two-fold. On the basis of quality, I believe there is nothing to fear: the work now being produced by those already eligible for the Man Booker easily stands up against the work of their American contemporaries.

 

On the basis of diplomacy, it’s a little trickier: why shouldn’t Britons then be eligible for American prizes? At the moment, no one but an American can win the Pulitzer or the National Book Award. The only American literary prize open to British authors (albeit those published by American houses) is the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Good point. But if we are, then, to start opening once-nationally defined prize programs to other nations’ artists, do we know why we’re doing it? Commerce, certainly. What of art?

And is it possible that UK, Commonwealth, and Irish readers put more stock in their awards programs—and so do seasoned American readers do the same?—than US readers may put into their own prizes? I don’t sense the same breath held for news of the Pulitzer or the National Book Award, although I’m speaking with nothing but personal observation here. (See Publishing Perspectives’ Dennis Abrams’ report here and here on the first two of four National Book Award longlists being rolled out this week.)

 

Scott Pack

Scott Pack

Scott Pack, HarperCollins’ The Friday Project publisher, gets into it at his own blog site, “Me and My Big Mouth,” writing 10 Thoughts On: Americans and the Man Booker Prize. He looks at pros, he looks at cons, and arrives at Point 10 this way:

I don’t care what sex an author is, what country they come from, what language they write in, what sexuality they are, whether a book is their first, their third or their twenty-fifth, whether they received a grant or a massive advance, what genre they write in or any other variable. I, like most readers, just want to read wonderful books and if this move brings a more varied range of books to my attention then it is fine by me.

Since, indeed, the Man Bookerites plan now to open the program to the wider English-speaking world, they might want to keep Pack very close by, and in front of them.

Because other reactions, perhaps quite understandably, are likely to run along the lines of Profile Books’ Michael Bhaskar, in Keep it special, a blog post he has provided to The Bookseller.

Opening the Man Booker Prize to US writers is a bad idea.

Michael Bhaskar

Michael Bhaskar

Having put his thesis right onto the table, Bhaskar may surprise some by shortly jumping to the very diversity of the Man Booker’s Commonwealth-y status as its strength:

It’s the Commonwealth mix that so appeals about the Booker; yes it always has a fair few British writers but it’s so much more than that. Its richness lies in that blend of voices from Canada to Malaysia, Ireland to India (even though Ireland isn’t in the Commonwealth). Adding the States could just swamp that balance and actually end up reducing the variety. It’s unique and makes the Booker Prize different.

And Bhaskar sees an opening of the Booker to US writers as having perhaps less impact on American readers than some would expect.

What would US letters gain from the change? Precious little. They already have big awards, the National Book Award and the Pulitzer. I’m sure the Booker would count for something but it would never amount to the prestige of home-grown awards and the media just wouldn’t be as interested. It’s hard to imagine the Booker being more than a second tier prize for the big names, bookshops and readers of the US.

What might sound politically incorrect to some ears, Bhaskar is willing to say outright:

Prizes are defined by what they exclude as well as what they let in. There is nothing wrong with celebrating writing from certain areas. Indeed, the focus that brings is hugely beneficial in highlighting writing that might otherwise get glossed over.

 

 

For her part, Wood probably offers the best “It’s a Small World” argument, and does it graciously:

In publishing terms, the US is not as foreign a country as it once was. Books are often published in the US and the UK simultaneously, and when they’re not, it’s now possible to buy American books from the US arm of Amazon and have them delivered to the UK. In that sense, considering American novelists for prizes is only a reflection of how we read.

I like the fact that she discerns how different the Man Booker and its reception seems to be from the US awards. This is what I was suggesting earlier in my own observations. Wood:

Most positively, on this side of the Atlantic, it may well recharge our thoughts, enable us to see intriguing differences of style and even be influenced by each other in productive ways. But as for the other way round…Readers of the New York Times currently accord enormous respect to the Man Booker, possibly because it’s so different from their home-grown awards…If the same book were to win, in any given year, the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award AND the Man Booker, the American cultural conversation would be, if anything, a little duller.

 


Although this debate was predicated on some trigger-happy reporting prior to the official announcement, the question of cultural provenance and the national concept of creative excellence is a worthy one.

Is all globalization good? As usual, allowing the always impatient distributional drive of the digital dynamic to rush us into things that once were meaningful may not be smart.

Back to Table of Contents

 

New Zealand’s New Wor­ries About Publishing

 

Take out Hachette’s 30 titles, cut HarperCollins’ list by half and factor in the likely rationalisation of Random House and Penguin’s publications following their July global merger, and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that fewer Kiwi writers will end up in print.

The Dominion PostJournalist Nikki Macdonald’s headline leaves little to guess at in terms of the stakes. In Is This the End for NZ Publishing? at Wellington’s Dominion Post, Macdonald takes a thorough look at a small market in potentially big transition.

According to Publishers Association figures, about 2,000 new Kiwi books are published every year. About 1,200 are educational books like primary school reader series. Or they were, until one of the country’s biggest educational publishers, Pearson, decided to cease publishing here. It’s not yet clear if it will still produce New Zealand-tailored titles from overseas.

Hachette NZ, Macdonald writes, is “abandoning its New Zealand publishing arm with the loss of 15 jobs.”

And “what of HarperCollins? Industry insiders agree moving warehousing to Australia is unremarkable. What does matter is what happens to its New Zealand list.” And according to comments from executives, Macdonald reports, the HarperCollins New Zealand output will drop from some 50 books per year to “20-plus.”

Geoff Walker

Geoff Walker

Macdonald turns to the country’s former Penguin publishing director Geoff Walker for a straightforward assessment of what New Zealand authors have to worry about. Quoting Walker:

“We are actually starting to get fairly close to the wall. If you’re a New Zealand fiction writer and you’ve been turned down by Penguin-Random, and you don’t live in Wellington so you probably won’t get published by Victoria University Press, you’re not Maori so you won’t be published by Huia, then goodness, gracious, where are you going to go?”

 

With ebooks and online retail seen as major culprits in the New Zealand—along with a dependency in recent decades on the multinational publishers now lightening their commitments—independent publishers, Macdonald writes, may be the last resort. Awa PressAnd  yet, as one observer, the chief of indepdendent Awa Press, says: “It’s still a damn hard thing to produce a book in New Zealand and sell enough copies to break even. I think independent publishers in New Zealand are in some sort of heroic position of self-sacrifice…it is pretty unprofitable.” Many questions, no ready answers. The disruption continues to make its way around the world. Back to Table of Contents

 

Gin­ger Clark’s Frankfurt

Ginger Clark

Ginger Clark

Curtis Brown literary agent Ginger Clark is among the most seasoned and astute of Frankfurt Book Fair-going agents. One thing (of many) that makes Frankfurt so big is the fact that more than 600 agents from 30 countries or more are there to work on deals with international publishing partners. Of special interest: the Frankfurt Academy’s 27th International Rights Directors Meeting on October 8 (Hall 4.0, Room Europa) will focus on two themes: “Understanding New Digital Financial Models” and “Exploring Licensing to the Arab World.” And when we asked Clark for her own best advice for other agents headed to the Book Fair? We got that special blend of good guidance and humor that makes Clark a favorite of many in the industry! the industry! Without further palaver, here are Ginger Clark’s Five Frankfurt Insights for Agents:

1. You’re going to have meetings where an editor doesn’t want anything on your list. That’s OK, we’re have all had those meetings at every single fair. 2. Do not jaywalk in Frankfurt. Obey the walk signals for once in your life. The trams are silent, too, so don’t just dash across their tracks without double checking that they are not heading towards you. [Editor's note: look both ways when crossing the bike paths as well — the Frankfurters WILL run you over.] 3. If you’re pitching a book and an editor says “oh, sounds a bit like BLANK,” steal that and use it in your future pitches. Steal any material you think is better than what you came up with on your own. 4. The Swiss and Dutch like to kiss on the cheek three times, not just twice. 5. The Movenpick hotel has a cab stand that usually doesn’t have a line. Great bar, too.

So far, no small creatures of the Rhineland seem to have made it so deeply into her affections as have the wombats. I’m guessing she hasn’t yet been introduced to a Black Forest marmot. Back to Table of Contents

 

McCarthy, Marketing, Match­Book, and Oys­ter

 

To what extent do publishers have the underlying IP rights to allow [ebook bundling with print purchases] in the way Amazon has outlined? And, if they do — what sort of (and how many!) conversations will need to occur with agents and authors?

Peter McCarthy

Peter McCarthy

As he works with Mike Shatzkin and Michael Cader to prepare the coming Digital Book World Marketing + Publishing Services Conference & Expo for September 26 in New York (see Conferences below), Peter McCarthy is looking at quiet but potentially tricky questions around the newly announced Amazon Kindle MatchBook program. Not unlike other moves by Amazon, the bundling program—which Publishing Perspectives’ Edward Nawotka cleanly parses in Datapoint Discussion: “10,000″ Titles Offered Through Kindle MatchBook—this one seems to have caught some in the business by surprise, an earlier-than-expected marketing move some seem unready to confront. (More on the issue is in Thursday’s Ether at JaneFriedman.com.) Underlining that sense of surprise, McCarthy points out, “This can be viewed in so many ways,” not just from the matter of the rights details to be handled. For example, he notes, there’s the business-model question: Does the low-cost ebook edition provide “incremental revenue via a ‘second sale’?” And:

From the consumer product view: does this [low-cost or free ebook-bundling] “devalue” ebooks, increase the value of print books purchases through Amazon? From a marketing perspective, it reminds me a bit of the early days of “free” and “price promotions” for ebooks, in that the data on consumer adoption and usage will flow back. I suspect that marketers will look at that data for macro- and micro-trends that offer opportunities to sell more books via positions and messaging, as they always do. If it works, it works and will be worth the effort. I expect experimentation from the majors.

 

McCarthy, now based in his own consultancy, McCarthy Digital, is formerly with Penguin and Random House and sees the question of the newly launched Oyster buffet-style (all you can read) subscription service as another development panelists will be discussing, “under the rubric of ‘consumer data.’” When Nawotka considered the news in Oyster Shows Promise, But Overlaps Too Often With Daily Deals, he pointed out both potential weaknesses and strengths—at least in customer attraction—in the concept:

Though the site claims some 100,000 titles are available, one wonders just how many of those account for the deal that the company did with Smashwords. Indeed, from the traditional publishers the selection appears somewhat shallow.. That said, it should be adequate for most readers for now, because it’s going to be the rare individual who has read all of the quality books that are on offer. What is seductive on first glance is that there is, indeed, a rather a high quality of book on offer front-and-center. After all, the publishers who are working with Oyster put out a top notch product, for the most part. For now, at least, this isn’t an app overloaded with a lot of DIY/self-pub genre novels crying out for your attention.

Marketing + Publishing Services Confab of DBW and PubLaunchFor his part, McCarthy sees a push-pull argument, himself:

Subscriptions fascinate me for two reasons: 1) small-storage devices and the cloud would seem to lead inexorably away from digital unit ownership models but 2) books are different in that they are consumed very intentionally, for relatively short periods of time, in specific places, and often just once — unlike, say, music.

This is a point many have tried to make when Oyster has been called a Netflix or Spotify for books: books are consumed differently from films and music. “Again, there are all of the underlying business model, rights, author/agent relations, perceived-value issues.”

But, says McCarthy, follow the data.

Here, I think the consumer data could be so valuable to publishers—especially marketers—that eventually they may look at the ROI of subscriptions very, very differently. Knowing how people consume books can provide extraordinarily actionable insights on how to position future books. That understanding could so enrich publishers’ understanding of consumers as to be worth every penny on foregone revenue because it will be made up for in applying the data gleaned from subscribers to other sales channels and formats. In a sense, a modicum of success for Oyster is perfect for publishers—enough subscribers to give them meaningful data but not so many to “cannibalize” the core.

Back to Table of Contents

Conferences

A who’s who in world publishing convenes October 8 at the CONTEC Conference produced by the Frankfurt Academy.

A who’s who in world publishing convenes October 8 at the CONTEC Conference produced by the Frankfurt Academy.

If you have a publishing conference in the offing, let me know about it via my contact page, and I’ll be happy to consider including it in my site’s listing and in columns as I have the chance. Here’s a look at conferences coming in the near term. Please note that a listing here is not my endorsement of a conference or other event, but an informational inclusion. As a service, I also list any discount codes that might be of use to readers.

September 26 New York City (Metropolitan Pavilion): Marketing + Publishing Services Conference & Expo: “This innovative conference & expo is really two related shows, held together. The Marketing Conference is a full-day dedicated event that presents a comprehensive strategy for marketing in the digital age. The Publishing Services Expo offers three finely-targeted “mini-conferences” for important and often-overlooked publishing constituencies. Each track is an affordably priced, efficiently programmed two-and-half-hour session that pairs concise educational sessions with vendor speed dating to learn about new solutions.” Produced by Digital Book World and Publishers Launch (Publishers Lunch’s Michael Cader and Mike Shatzkin). (Hashtag: #DBWMP) Save $25 on registration with code PORTER at checkout.

Bookseller Children's ConferenceSeptember 26 London (Southbank Centre): The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference. “Building an international children’s publishing company in an internet age…current and future technologies that are driving change in children’s market…a whistle-stop overview of the market using Nielsen BookScan sales data. Are the biggest writers continuing to dominate? Are sticker books still selling? And what’s up with YA?” (Hashtag: #kidsconf13Registration is open.

September 27-29 Los Angeles: Writers Digest Conference West: “You’ll make real connections with fellow writers, experience the thrill of pitching your work to literary agents and editors, and get practical publishing-industry advice and writing inspiration from successful authors at Writer’s Digest Conference West.” Speakers include: Jon Fine, Nina Amir, Philip Athans, James Scott Bell, Lisa Cron, Eric DelaBarre, and more. The program this year includes boot camp sessions, a one-day self-publishing conference, and the regular conference with agent pitch slam. (Hashtag: #WDCW13) Save $25 on registration with code PORTER at checkout.

Screenwriters World West 2013 - #SWCW13September 27-29 Los Angeles: Writers Digest’s Screenwriters World Conference West: “Scribes from around the world unite at Screenwriters World, the annual destination for both professional and aspiring screenwriters to come together to discuss the craft, share ideas, and network with fellow creatives.” Speakers include Erik Bork, Ruth Atkinson, Josie Brown, Karl Iglesias, Jeanne V. Bowerman, and more. The schedule this year includes optional boot camp sessions. (Hashtag: #SWCW13) Save $25 on registration with code PORTER at checkout.

CONTEC Frankfurt 2013 with dateOctober 8 Frankfurt Book Fair: CONTEC Conference: “A new, highly-engaging event experience created by the Frankfurt Academy to address the complexity of the needs of today’s publishing business. CONTEC gathers stakeholders from across the publishing ecosystem – from STM and trade publishers to service providers and tech startups – in one arena to redefine and redesign the experience of publishing.” (Hashtag: #CONTEC) Save 20% on registration with code CONTEC13KPTW20 at checkout.

Frankfurt Academy All Access TicketAnd consider the Frankfurt Academy’s All-Access Ticket, which includes unlimited access to events including CONTEC Frankfurt 2013, Publishers Launch Frankfurt, Rights Directors Meeting (RDM) 2013, First Timer Seminar, Rights Express, Digital Resume, Frankfurt StoryDrive, Experience the Exquisite, Business Breakfasts and more.

Publishers Launch Frankfurt 2013October 8 Frankfurt: Publishers Launch Frankfurt 2013: “Publishers Launch returns to the Frankfurt Book Fair for the third year in a row, now moving to the natural pre-Fair “conference day,” Tuesday, to make it easier for you to attend. This packed event will continue and expand upon today’s key themes of scale and consolidation across the publishing world, while also looking at scaling strategies for vertical publishing – a natural way to prosper in the shadows of publishing and retailing giants. We’ll also look at the implications (and opportunities) of the explosion of digital publishing from non-traditional players and authors and agents publishing directly.

October 12 San Francisco: Writing for Change Conference: “The Fifth San Francisco Writing for Change Conference is the place to discover whether your book can change the world. The theme of the conference is “Changing the World One Book at a Time,” and the goal is to encompass business, politics, technology, social issues, the environment, culture, the law, and much more.” The event will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Center at the corner of Geary and Franklin in San Francisco.

Books in Browsers 2012 2October 24-26, San Francisco: Books in Browsers: Produced by the Frankfurt Academy and Hypothes.is, this is among the most advanced of conferences dedicated to bringing designer and code savvy into contact with editorial and content leaders, Books in Browsers is produced for a fourth time by Peter Brantley in generous association with the Internet Archive and Swissnex San Francisco, produced and sponsored by Hypothes.is and Frankfurt Book Fair. Speakers include Kate Pullinger, Baldur Bjarnason, Bill McCoy, Justo Hidalgo, Richard Nash, and more. (Hashtag: #bib13) General registration now is open.

Get Read conferenceNovember 13-14, Online: Get Read – Marketing Strategies for Writers: Dan Blank’s We Grow Media presents this two-day Internet conference for authors, “focused on helping you ensure your books get read.” Speakers are to include Jason Ashlock, Claire Cook, Elizabeth S. Craig, Jane Friedman, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Ami Greko, Rachel Fershleiser, Richard Nash, MJ Rose, Therese Walsh, Chuck Wendig, and more. (Hashtag: #GetRead) Early Bird pricing runs to September 20.

November 21, London: The Bookseller FutureBook Conference: Once again at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, the conference is industry-focused and usually includes both plenary and breakout sessions during the course of the day. Details as they become available. (Hashtag: #fbook13)  Now open for bookings.

February 13-16, 2014: San Francisco Writers Conference: “Attendees have access to more than fifty “how to” sessions, panels, and workshops.  An Independent Editor consultation and Ask a Pro are included in the registration fee. Our famously popular Speed Dating for Agents is still only $50 to pitch to a room full of agents.  And you will find there are plenty of one-on-one opportunities to pitch your work to well-known publishing professionals during the weekend. The Conference features large and small traditional publishing houses, but also gives attendees the latest e-publishing, social media, and self-publishing information.”

Back to Table of Contents

Last Gas: Entrepreneurial Authors and…“Compauthors”?

Unlike most cultural future gazers, whose gaze is actually fixed on the past or the present, I’m trying to explore the ultimate future of literature by exploring the nature of beings who will create it.

Peter Swirski is telling Hope Leman at Kevin Eagan’s Critical Margins about his new book.

If my scenario is correct, “biterature,” as written by computer authors or “computhors,” will be a manifestation of the beginning of the end of the cultural world as we know it. In that sense, From Literature to Biterature is really a book about our human future in the age of thinking machines.

Peter Swirski

Peter Swirski

And for so dystopian-sounding an encounter, Leman’s Interview with Peter Swirski, Author of From Literature to Biterature, Leman draws several delightful comments from Swirski. Such as:

Dan Brown is a spectacularly ungifted robot.

That comes from Swirski’s ranging concept of “literature.” He tells Leman:

From Literature to Biterature employs the term “literature” broadly to encompass fiction, biography, philosophy, and other forms of writing (nonfiction is no less a form of creative writing than fiction is). As I argued in another book, From Lowbrow to Nobrow, popular and canonical literatures are all species of literature (much of the canon IS or WAS popular literature when it was created). Dan Brown is a spectacularly ungifted robot.

Hope Leman

Hope Leman

Some will say that Swirski’s idea of the “compauthor” could make even the most hardened legacy-publishing executive see today’s self-publishers as old buddies:

Computhors, i.e. thinking machines, will be independent entities with their own desires and their own agenda: it’s a mistake to think of them as causally dependent on us in any way. Instead, they will behave in the same way we do: going after their goals in the manner that benefits them…computhors will be able to create any kind of literature — or anything else, for that matter — and do so spontaneously, without human causal input.

What Swirski is describing is, he says, as far out there as it sounds.

There are no emphatically computhors around yet, although they will come to pass, of this I am sure.

Leman wants to know how Swirski knows that she, Leman, isn’t a compauthor at work. Swirski:

 I do NOT know for sure that you are not an android, just like you do NOT know that I’m not. Matter of fact, I AM an adroit android — I confess to it on the pages of From Literature to Biterature. Don’t believe me? Prove me wrong!

From Literature to Biterature by Peter SwirskiProving himself right may just be a matter of time, during which he’s gratifyingly straightforward about his intents:

I try to write what I call beach books for intellectuals — highbrow content, lowbrow style — and From Literature to Biterature is no different. It’s a book for everyone with a hungry mind who cares about the future of books and the future of humankind (and likes to be entertained while being enlightened). I probably just described every reader of Critical Margins.

And, as if in proof of his modus, Swirski has no problem offering his opinions, when asked, of several science-fiction authors who were or are, as far as we know, entirely human:

  1. Dick was a science-fiction visionary but an extremely sloppy one.
  2. Some of Le Guin’s ideas are as inspired as her prose isn’t.
  3. Bradbury was not writing science fiction as he himself stated on numerous occasion (I cite one such disclaimer in my book Of Literature and Knowledge).
  4. Atwood is an excellent writer but not of science-fiction.

Back to Table of Contents


Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, a 32-year journalist with several newspapers and three networks of CNN, as well as a producer posted to the Rome headquarters of the United Nations’ World Food Programme. This column, Ether for Authors, appears here at Publishing Perspectives on Tuesdays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is read on Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com, and he is a regular contributor to WriterUnboxed.com. His all-new London on the Ether for The Bookseller was inaugurated during the London Book Fair. More about him is at PorterAnderson.com. Find him at Google+


Main image: iStockphoto – GoranQ / St. Pancras

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4 Comments

  1. Posted September 17, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I was at a this weekend conference myself and missed this news about the Man Booker. But I have to say, as an American, I kinda like the MB the way it is. (Speaking from 2013 and looking backwards), the longlist always exposes me to books I might not otherwise have seen at all in an American bookstore or might not have seen reviewed in the (American) media I generally see. I like having a collection of books in my language with a completely different “flavor” than the culture I live in.

    Sure, I get the arguments in favor. But to be frank, this is why I like to travel—I enjoy seeing other societies, other cultures. I like traveling around the US, too, but we are rapidly losing our regional distinctions when you can find a Walmart in every small town and a mall—with Vicki’s Secret and all the rest—in every medium-sized one. Personally, I delight in the contrasts; vive le différence and all that. Books are a convenient way to “travel” when I cannot do it physically.

    So please don’t interpret this as a personal resistance to change, but … I’d be just as happy to see the Man Booker continue as it has. :)

    • Porter Anderson
      Posted September 18, 2013 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      Hey, Jamie,

      You know, I get what you’re saying so well. it makes me realize that I, too, look to the Man Booker for books I’m not seeing otherwise, things not on my radar without that boost from another culture’s literary world arraying them for me. The longlist this year was fascinating (as is the short). You have a great point — “travel” through reading, or reading as travel across various societies and worlds. It’s part of what might make nationally based awards programs the special events they are.

      Thanks for reading and jumping in, great to have you and this good thought on the Ether.

      -p.
      On Twitter: @orter_Anderson

      • Posted September 18, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

        This was actually the first year I’d read two of the titles on the longlist before it was even announced. One of those made it to the shortlist. Feeling a bit smug. :)

  2. Posted September 17, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Um… at a conference this weekend. Good grief. Must have another cuppa.

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