Size Doesn’t Matter, At Least When it Comes to Book Awards

In Ed's Perspective by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

While we were at the Frankfurt Book Fair,  we ran a cover story on one of our Show Daily asking: “Does Size Matter?” The suggestion was that that the changes wrought by digital publishing have begun to the level the playing field between small and conglomerate publishers. Sure, sales volumes may never be equal, but when it comes to awards — small is big.

First, Paul Harding’s Tinkers wins the Pulitzer Prize for Bellevue Literary Press, then, Canada’s Giller prize goes to Joanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists, published by tiny boutique publisher Gaspereau Press. Now we learn that the National Book Award for fiction went to Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule, from another tiny press, McPherson & Co. in Kingston, New York.

Last month, someone on our comment thread said that they would no longer pay any regard to the National Book Awards until they start considering self-published works.

That to me is a shame.

The truth is that, prior to winning the award, each of these small, independent publishers probably have as much operating budget and staff as your average deep-pocketed self-publisher. (It’s unlikely, had their books been shortlisted, that they would have been able to afford even a seat at the National Book Awards — which go for a hefty sum, I must say). Yet, despite being small, they managed to produce books to such a high level that they took the top literary prizes in the country, right under the noses of the big guys. What does this tell me about publishing? That everyone has the opportunity to impress. The system is in place to acknowledge talent and praise the praiseworthy. It also means that, at the end of the day, when it comes to book prizes: size doesn’t matter.

One more thing: success — in publishing as in life — takes talent, a bit of luck…and persistence. McPherson & Co. may be small, but is no overnight wunderkind. As a matter of fact, the press’ namesake publisher, Bruce McPherson, began his publishing career with Gordon’s debut novel, Shamp of the City-Solo — and that was over three decades ago.

Gordon’s win should serve as inspiration to us all. Bravo!

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.