The Australian quarterly «Griffith Review» is published from Griffith University in Queensland. It is an excellent and widely-read magazine, though its grasp of spelling leaves something to be desired: “Enjoy this sneak peak into Australia’s literary future!” says the current internet page, which calls up a surreal image of Mount Everest creeping into your library. In a stab at a wider literary popularity, the magazine is running a novella prize competition in collaboration with the Melbourne publisher Text Publishing. It sounds like a good idea, but there are a few details that worry me.
An aside: the magazine is quiet about its status as a university publication: you have to search for a while to discover that it is officially published by Griffith University in Queensland. And you have to look even harder beneath the attractive designer clothing to discover that it is an academic journal that offers peer review: “An Editorial Board has been established for the «Griffith Review», to provide peer review of those essays submitted for inclusion in the journal by academics who need such endorsement of their work for Australian Research Council and other academic purposes. The Board comprises a group of standing members and an expert panel.”
But to the novella competition special edition of the magazine… they talk about it in a “Terms and Conditions” PDF document:
This edition of «Griffith Review» will be distributed to subscribers and to bookshops and e-book retailers under the contract between «Griffith Review» and Text Publishing Company (TPC). TPC, who has distribution arrangements with Kobo, booki.sh, Google Books, Amazon, ebooks.com, Ingram and Overdrive, will also handle the online distribution of eSingles. The edition and individual eSingles will also be offered for sale from the «Griffith Review» online store. Winning authors will also have the opportunity to enter into an agreement with TPC to consider publication of the work as a separate book.”
This novella project is a collaboration with the Cultural Fund of the Copyright Agency Limited. A link takes you to this page on CAL’s internet site: “Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund is happy to be supporting «Griffith Review»’s novella competition, The Novella Project, which will publish at least three new novellas in November 2012.”
How much money was passed on to the «Review», and under what conditions and limitations, is nowhere shown. Nor do we know whether the «Review» mentioned the entry fee in its application to CAL. This slight vagueness adds up to a little pebble in my shoe.
And that entry fee is not small change. I recently judged over two thousand entries to a poetry anthology; over six hundred poets entered. If six hundred writers entered the «Griffith Review»’s novella competition, that amounts to thirty thousand dollars.
So you’d think the first cost the «Review» would apply CAL’s grant to defray would be the submission fee, so they would attract more entries; but no.
And while the entrepreneurial publishing arrangements seem like a good idea, and look generally fair and reasonable to me, there is another little pebble in the other shoe. Let’s look at the entry conditions in detail:
Unless you have been contacted by «Griffith Review» and individually invited to make a Novella submission, you will be charged an entry fee of $50 (or $35 if you hold a current print or digital subscription to Griffith REVIEW) upon entry to this competition. The entry fee will be used to cover the administrative costs of conducting this competition. Shortly after you make your submission, you will be contacted by «Griffith Review» to arrange for payment of the entry fee. All payments must be made by credit card. To avoid any doubt, failure to pay the entry fee will preclude you from this competition, and your Novella submission will not be read by the judges.
The problem here is that if you are a successful, important and presumably well-off writer, the «Review» might contact you as a Very Important Person and invite you to submit your novella for free. Maybe this is where the CAL subsidy is going, I thought to myself idly: to the relatively wealthy writers who don’t really need it.
And consider the hypothetical noted author, who has a longstanding relationship with her publisher and who sells very well. She receives a special invitation to contribute to the novella competition. She says to her publisher (who would happily pay more than $20,000 to their top-selling author, as an advance against future royalties): “Hey! I must enter this novella competition — I don’t have to pay an entrance fee! Sorry I won’t be offering the novella to you, as my contract obliges me to do! But what a great offer! No entrance fee! Oh, wow!”
And imagine how pleased the publisher would be to realise that their favourite money-earning author may well be brought out by their rival publisher Text!
What do you think of this odd arrangement? I feel sure lots of authors would be pleased by the opportunities it offered, and consider the whole idea a very good thing. I must say I was delighted when I first heard about it. But then I had second thoughts. I suspect that a few publishers, editors and literary agents would also be puzzled by those two little pebbles.
Is it a good idea, or is it a slightly flawed good idea? Or does any of this matter? Over to you…