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'Short-termism in publishing' - judging the Desmond Elliott Prize

6 July 2015

‘With a shortlist so splendid and accomplished, it was not surprising that in the end our final decision came down to taste...

The issue of taste is important here because it is one that affects the decision-making process not only for prize judges but for the industry as a whole: and that's something all authors have to come to terms with throughout their careers. You can't please all of the people all of the time - even hugely well-known authors have some books that do better than others: the failures are painful, the successes often seem arbitrary. Given that no author has a uniform career, it's vital that they are given long-term support from an industry that relies on them for regular transfusions of new blood.

The amount of publicity given to those first novels that become instant bestsellers distorts the reality for the majority of debut novelists, even very gifted ones: a moderate advance, a small amount of acclaim, a continuing battle to get their next book written and then published. Ian Rankin famously succeeded with his seventh novel - and Hilary Mantel wrote brilliant, strange and wonderful books time and time again before Wolf Hall, her tenth. It is worth noting not just the number of books that Mantel wrote before she hit the big time, but their variety: contemporary satire, historical epic, memoir and black comedy. Her publishers not only kept publishing her, they kept faith with her as she wrote the books she wanted to write.

It's easy for a publisher to support an author when she sells well and wins prizes. In the literary world, as elsewhere, nothing succeeds like success; but short-termism in publishing is not only devastating for the authors who don't get the support they deserve, it's bad for business. We call on the publishers of all books on our wonderful shortlist to support these writers not only with their sparkling debuts but with their fourth, fifth, sixth novels. We expect to see Emma Healey, Carys Bray and Claire Fuller on prize nominations, bestseller lists and in the literary pages of our newspapers for years to come, and if they aren't, we're going to be asking why not.

Publishers, we are watching you.'

Louise Doughty, author of Apple Tree Yard and chair of the judges for the Desmond Elliott Prize