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Monday, February 18, 2008

Why All Really Is Lost

The delightful Ward Six blog dishes up some shocking news about Zadie Smith refusing to award the Willesden Herald fiction prize, an international fiction award for writers like you and me. Were you one of the 800 short story submitters for this prize? Now, do you wish you were (clearly, you would have won)? Well, too bad. According to Edward Champion's (also very good) blog, Smith didn't think any of the stories were worthy of the WH mug and the big wad of cash. No wonder there's no hope in the world; she got to the literary top, (looking glamorous I might add) and didn't reach down to help anyone else a hand. I guess because by her stnadards we all just suck. Depressing.


Anonymous said...

There's a word for taking money like this and awarding no winner: fraud.

They should at least give the entry fees back. That way, they--THEY--would be the ones paying for the integrity of their precious standards, not us.

The Shitheads.

Steve said...

Me again. Anon. I just read the Smith letter...lamenting about the lack of "quality" and "greatness" in the submissions. I wonder perhaps if the problem isn't with the finalist but the screeners. You think Zadie read all 800 entries? Fat friggin chance. My guess? Some college wunkerkind intern felt confused by a story of true courage and beauty...or was too lazy to really read or understand it...or was too influenced by someone's vita and publication history to give an unknown a chance.

And as far as Zadie goes--this confirms something for me. Success at too young an age will friggin ruin your soul.

Go on, let the chorus begin: sour grapes, sour grapes. I don't care. If LROD's last two posts aren't instructive enough to open your eyes to the BS that is publishing (the BS that is somebody like Smith crying about quality, etc, blech)then you may never understand.

And I still say the contest amounts to fraud. But I'm no lawyer.

Shit, I wish I was.

Anonymous said...

No sour grapes here.

If they decide not to award a winner, they SHOULD give the entry fee back. Otherwise, that's fraud, yes - and there should be a class action lawsuit. Seriously.

Also steve you make a great point: did Zadie really read all 800 entries? All the way through? Even just part way? Cue prerecorded voice here: "Not on your life!"

Another thing. You mention the last two posts on LROD. I love sharing in the revelry madness and sometime hilarity of rejections, but I notice some even bigger themes in comments over past few weeks. I kind of feel some good momentum building up. And the ideas, if only passing and brief - of a new for-profit publishing wing with all the thrill of early McSweeneys, of exposing the scam and b.s. behind-the-scenes of NY agent-publishing and academia-litmags, and of bringing to the mainstream a new kind of fiction with nice, smart stories that you actually get something out of - and that would never be printed in today's lit journals ... well all this is great, and I think it's time for the mice and subway rats to stand up and say aye ... and figure out how we're going to do this. We've got no alternative, anyway - they forced us in this position, we have no future otherwise. So I'm in it for keeps, gang.

To start, we've got to be counted. We need to stand up, open the windows and shout it to the world, scream it down Fifth Avenue and like Howard Beale in NETWORK: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!"

Let's hear you!

Anonymous said...

Gotta second tiv on this one (I'm one of the 850 entrants/losers): there was no entry fee. Three judges (not Ms. Smith) read all of the entries and picked the top 10 to make a shortlist. The shortlisters were contacted by email (I was not among these 10).

What ticked me off mightily was that the contest did not deign to let us 840 complete losers know that we'd lost the contest. Nothing lowers morale more completely by having to find out you were rejected by reading a website waxing long and *tedious* on the lack of quality of the shortlisted stories. Great to know *my* story wasn't even as good as *those* losing stories. Yup, I'm entering that contest again *reaaalll* soon (That's sarcasm, btw).

-Bitter Anon

x said...

It's just immoral of her not to go searching for a winner in the "losers" pile if there weren't any in the "winners" pile. First readers make mistakes all the time. They tend to be the least qualified people to make decent calls on good quality. Her laziness and the contest sponsors allowing her to get away with it is astonishing when so much work goes into writing the submissions. I have absolutely given up on sending submissions anywhere. It's not worth the aggravation to me. I'll be published posthumously. I'll put it in my will.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Anon! "a new for-profit publishing wing with all the thrill of early McSweeneys, of exposing the scam and b.s. behind-the-scenes of NY agent-publishing and academia-litmags, and of bringing to the mainstream a new kind of fiction with nice, smart stories that you actually get something out of - and that would never be printed in today's lit journals..."

Can we include some great rejected creative nonfiction as well?

I hate to say this here, but in my *ahem* MFA program (sorry, but if it makes you all feel better, there are many times I feel the buffoon for paying for it) they are strongly encouraging new writers to blaze the trail of small press
publishing. They see the sad trend in the big bad world of publishing and feel that the only way to get variety out in the world is by doing it ourselves.

Anonymous said...

I lifted this line from the prize announcement page: "No other competition offers the prize of immortality...."

Now I think I understand why Smith didn't pick a winner. If you're offering immortality you have to be very, very careful. There's a whole Highlander thing I won't even go into.

But seriously. Immortality. Imagine if Steve Martin kept pretending to be a serious writer for all of eternity....

Anonymous said...

Now I really get it. Here's another blurb explanation:

"Zadie was so disturbed by the idea of not selecting a winner that she even suggested she stand back and that the short-listing judges pick the winner. However, this would have deprived us of the patronage of a writer of Zadie’s stature and so this honourable offer was declined."

So the real reason was that Zadie didn't feel comfortable putting her name alongside any of the finalists stories, and rather than lose Zadie's brand-appeal (which makes her beer sponsorship comments very ironic indeed) the magazine pulled the trigger on the no-winner.

It should be remembered that the editors at the publication found worthy submissions...the alleged "Yes" votes received by certain stories. They just didn't want to lose Zadie's name.

Shows you how much they care about literary immortality. And not to diss Zadie...but maybe we need more books about stuffy New England academics? Ya think?

Anonymous said...

I agree that they needed to go back and dig deeper and doubt that out of 850 entries there were no good stories. It absolutely says more about the calibre (i.e. lack thereof) of reader, especially those reading the "first round".

I had a similar feeling when reading the latest judge's comments about another well known international UK short story contest with a huge cash prize, the Bridport Prize (which I didn't enter, but thousands did). Last year's judge Tracey Chevalier complains about the dearth of humour and the glut of depressing themes:

I suspect that the more overtly humorous stories (which are, as it happens, the kind I tend to write and generally prefer to read) are weeded out early on by eager, earnest under-or-not-at-all-paid readers. I hope I'm wrong, because to me the best way to say something serious is through comedy (although of course humour is subjective, failed comedy painful yadda yadda...) but anyway, I think it's interesting to note what the judge says.

x said...

I still say posthumous publishing is the way to go. No pressure. You have a lifetime to build up a body of work. Your work will be far more valuable and taken seriously and best of all, immortality is moot.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this is a travesty for sure. But, damn! That woman is HOT! I took one look at her and fell in love. She can reject me anytime. (And probably would!)

Anonymous said...

As one of the 10 finalists in this contest, I have to say that I respect Zadie's decision (even if I don't agree with it), but I was appalled by the tone of her letter, which was insulting and condescending. In some ways, it would have been better to be in the pile of non-finalists, because then I could have least said, "Well, mine obviously got lost in the shuffle; if Zadie had read it, she would've loved it!" There's something humiliating about being deemed not-good-enough by the brit lit queen herself.

I still stand by my story, which, before I entered it into this contest, had gotten encouraging letters from 3 different, and fairly prominent, lit mags. (And, by the way, it's a funny story!)Perhaps the fact that none of these magazine editors ultimately accepted it means that the story does indeed suck. I guess I was forewarned...