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A Heartbreaking Move

30 September 2002

The latest move by Dave Eggers, the bestselling American author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, looks likely to cause heart failure amongst big American publishers and booksellers. Eggers has decided to self-publish his new book, You Shall Know Our Velocity, and, what's more, he has announced that he will only be selling it through independent booksellers, thus cutting out the giants such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Eggers himself is taking an experimental approach: 'It might work on this scale; it might not - we really have no idea - I think that if you care about writing, then you care about how it makes its way into the world, and self-publishing is one good way to make sure it comes out the way you'd envisioned. But we'll see. It could all go horribly, horribly wrong.'

Presumably Eggers' intention is to support the independent bookshops by making book-buyers go to them to purchase his book, but he is also striking a blow for the author's control of his or her own work. As the Wired columnist M J Rose comments: 'The self-publishing stigma has been replaced with high-figure advances and full-page ads in the New York Times Book Review.' In the last 18 months nearly 40 self-published novels have sold so well that they have subsequently been taken on by big New York publishers, so this really does seem to be turning into an alternative route to publishing success.

Booker Goes Popular

The Booker prize judges have astonished everyone by declaring 'the beginning of a new era' for the prize and their opposition to large literary novels with 'a kind of pompous pretentiousness about them' (judge David Baddiel). The complaints about the submissions from the judges have sparked off a wave of fury from literary publishers, since even those with the biggest lists can only submit two books for the prize and they therefore have no recourse but to hope that other worthy titles from their lists will be 'called in' by the judges.

This cri de coeur from the judges may be the result of the exhausting task of wading their way through 130 heavyweight tomes, but many fear that the Booker will get caught up in a tide of populism and may more closely come to resemble the W H Smith 'Thumping Good Read' prize. This year's shortlist is however entirely respectable, in spite of the omission of various much-fancied titles such as Zadie Smith's The Autograph Man.