How strange it is that the business of publishing should be referred to as the publishing ‘industry’. Talk of publishing ‘product’ used to astonish me during my own career as an editor in said industry: ‘Product?’ I pondered, ‘but we’re talking about books. Each one is different and unique.’ Trade publishing is not, after all, an activity that lends itself to industrialisation.
In this issue of BfK we feature two important literary prizes. Julia Eccleshare discusses the Branford Boase Award and Morag Styles the CLPE Poetry Award. Both articles set out what the respective judges were looking for and thereby serve to underline the essential requirement of good publishing – that at least some of the books that result should not only demonstrate a grasp of technique and genre but have something new to say and/or have the capacity to say what is said in a new and original way. It is rightly for the judges of fiction, poetry and illustration prizes to pose the key questions: does this particular writer or poet really have their own voice? Does this illustrator have their own fresh and distinctive style?
The Branford Boase Award reminds us that the crucial underpinning to the publication of fresh new voices is good editing – as Julia Eccleshare puts it: ‘that all important editorial hand’. What is also needed these days, however, is the editor’s commitment to stick with and champion an author or illustrator’s career through what may be an initial period of disappointing sales. Increasingly in the big publishing houses, editors need political skills to be able to build their author or illustrator until their books come good in the market place.