A search for Britain’s best work of literature reaches its conclusion tomorrow night with the announcement of the Costa Book of the Year. Winners in the novel, first novel, poetry, biography and children’s categories will produce a book of books, the author of which will receive £30,000 plus a sales boost potentially worth much more.
Hilary Mantel is favourite to take the prize with Bring Up the Bodies, and needs no introduction. But for writers of lesser renown, for whom Costa is a place to slave away behind a laptop fuelled by coffee and dreams of making it, there are a growing number of alternative routes to recognition, not all of them flattering.
These are the literary prizes you’ve probably never heard of, but in some cases might stand a chance of winning, whether you want to or not. A host of quirky prizes, including those which aren’t exactly complimentary, join a flourishing scene of genre, regional, and decidedly niche gongs. Could you name the last winner of the Weird-ass Picture Book Awards? (It was Cowboy and Octopus, by Jon Scieszka.)
“Even at a time when people are decrying the state of the book industry, more and more titles are being published in more and more ways,” says Alysoun Owen, the editor of the Writers & Artists’ Yearbook. “There are also more and more ways of acknowledging the people writing them.”
Owen says the Yearbook adds several new prizes, including six this year, to its definitive annual list of hundreds of awards, including the Costa and the £50,000 Man Booker Prize, arguably the biggest in UK fiction (current holder: Hilary Mantel).
While awards can provide huge financial boosts, some of which may even reach the author, Owen says all but the silliest prizes are just as important for their recognition of writers.
“Olympians get their medals and what we’re saying is that being creative enough to write a book is jolly difficult and we’re happy to acknowledge those who do it very well,” she says.
Owen has observed a marked growth, too, in the number of awards for short stories, self-published books and works by young and first-time novelists. If there is one demographic not swept up in this prize-giving tide, however, it’s older writers.
“There is a proliferation of awards encouraging young writers,” she says. “But there aren’t particularly many for people over 50 or 60.” You can bet someone’s working on it.
Unusual literary awards:
Tweets win prizes in the awards for works of 140 characters
Weird-ass picture book awards
For books whose “strangeness reaches new heights of art and storytelling”.
Diagram prize for oddest title
Previous winner: The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories.
Costa Short Story Award
In the The Voice to the Costa’s X Factor, entrants are kept anonymous until the shortlist is decided. Announced tomorrow.