by Alison Flood)
The Guardian is set to become the first national newspaper to champion self-publishing on a regular basis with the launch of a new monthly prize that aims to find the best DIY novels.
The paper is teaming up with publisher Legend Times to support and showcase what it said was "the fantastic quality of writing that can be found from independent authors", as the sector continues to boom. New figures from Nielsen's Books & Consumers survey show that self-published books accounted for one in five of the 80m ebooks purchased in 2013. "No longer can the mainstream industry ignore what the general public have been reading and enjoying for a number of years, with many self-published authors outstripping the sales of novels published traditionally," said the Guardian.
The success of authors such as Hugh Howey, who hit the bestseller charts with his self-published dystopian novel Wool before landing a traditional deal, and Barry Eisler, who turned down a huge advance to self-publish, means that, far from being seen as a dirty word, self-publishing is increasingly viewed as a viable option for authors. Major names including Steven Berkoff and David Mamet have chosen the DIY route, and almost 391,000 books were self-published in the US in 2012.
Independent authors are now crying out for recognition from the mainstream., with a campaign from the Alliance of Independent Authors calling for booksellers, reviewers and literary festivals to open their minds to the quality that can be found in self-published writing. New data compiled by Howey, meanwhile, claims that Amazon's ebook genre bestseller charts are being dominated by titles that are either self-published or from a single-author publisher.
The Guardian and Legend's new prize is open from today to self-published novels written in the English language – translations are also welcome – with submissions to be read by a panel of Legend's readers. The panel will draw up a shortlist of up to 10 titles a month that will then be read by expert judges, with the winning entry to be reviewed in the Guardian, online or in the paper.
Claire Armitstead, literary editor of the Guardian, said the paper had decided to launch the prize because "the phenomenon of self-publishing over the last couple of years has become too big for any of us to ignore". The Guardian has until recently run a regular "self-publishing showcase", combining reviews and interviews with recommended self-published authors, and Armitstead said the partnership with Legend Times would now allow it "a chance to find the brightest and the best in this dynamic new sector".
"We are hoping to be a magnet to find the needle in the haystack," agreed Tom Chalmers, managing director of Legend Times. "Everyone has a computer these days, and everyone is writing, which is brilliant, but it also means the market is completely flooded. That makes it quite hard if you don't have a natural social media presence to get your work to the top, and to get noticed."
The prize, he said, was aiming to find the "brilliant" self-published books that are out there, and to "bring these gems to the forefront". "People in the publishing industry and literary awards in general are often too quick to disregard the work of self-published authors, missing the wealth of creativity and innovative writing there is out there," said Chalmers.
Submissions for the Guardian Legend Times Self-Published Novel of the Month will be open for the first fortnight of each calendar month, with the exception of this month's submission period, which will run from April 8-18. Authors can submit one novel a month, in any fictional genre. The book must have been self-published after 31 December 2011.
"We're slightly nervous as we prepare to open the flood gates," admitted Chalmers. "But everything will be read. Even if there are 1,000 submissions, that will be fine – we already get several hundred manuscripts a month, so we're experienced at dealing with a deluge."
Legend's panel of readers already numbers 20, and Chalmers said more readers will be called on if necessary. "The process will have to be fairly brutal, however," he said.
Once the readers have winnowed submissions down to a shortlist, a panel of experts, featuring the literary agent Andrew Lownie, Legend Press's commissioning editor Lauren Parsons, traditionally published author Stuart Evers and HarperCollins-author-turned-DIY-poster-girl Polly Courtney, will choose each month's winner.
Chalmers said the press – which includes its own self-publishing arm, New Generation Publishing – would be eyeing the best titles selected with interest. "Part of the reason we're doing this is that we'll maybe find an exciting novel we can do something more with," he said. "This is a way for writers to have people from the industry and from the self-publishing world look at their work, pick out the best, and give them a bit more of a fair chance."
Armitstead added: "It's all too easy to dismiss the self-publishing sector as a wilderness of elves, sex and high-school romcoms, but we know from the emergence of novels such as Sergio de la Pava's A Naked Singularity – a book we'd love to have discovered – that 'there's gold in them thar hills'. So we're embracing the frontier spirit and setting off to pan for it."
• Entries for April should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 18, with "Self-Published Book of the Month Submission" in the subject line. You can find more details of eligibility, terms and conditions here.