On Longlists

Permit to start this blogpost with a definition.

Long-list: noun, ‘A list of selected names or things from which a shortlist is to be compiled.’

A major short story award announced their long-list last week, with a number of really exciting names on it. There are writers I admire and books I absolutely adored on it, but one thing concerned me.

On the website for the award they announced that it was their biggest long-list ever. Interesting, I thought, although it was a dauntingly long long-list at 44 books. How did they ever whittle down their entries to those books? Well, it turns out that they didn’t. The 44 strong long-list is actually a list of all entries into the competition. Rather than adhering to the above definition in which a long-list represents a selected group of titles, instead the organisers of the award have released the names of all books entered.

To me, this seems odd. I don’t want to sound as though I am against the award, because I am not. Short story awards are few and far between, and prizes for collections are even less so. It is important that awards like this are taken seriously and that people take notice of the eventual shortlist (I for one will be buying the entire shortlist when it is announced in May). But, and here’s the important thing, I think that by outlining everyone who was entered into the competition, it detracts from the status that can come with the notion of being long-listed for an award.

The Man Booker 2013 had a long-list of 13 books, whittled down from 151 books which were eligible for consideration. In 2012 they had a long-list of 12. Those twelve or thirteen titles can and will be promoted as being ‘long-listed for the Man Booker Prize’, the authors can share that kudos too. It is an honour to be in the top pile of entries and be considered worthy of consideration for the shortlist.

Booker-Prize-Longlist-2013-Announced-How-many-can-you-read

To appear on the aforementioned long-list for the short story award, you needed to be eligible to enter, and follow the submissions process. Does it indicate quality? No. Does it indicate that the books entered are better than books that were not entered? No. It reduces the concept of the long-list, and makes it a badge that means more or less, ‘my publisher managed to post my book to an address’.

I say this, not as I say to detract from the award (which I am really excited by) but to highlight a wider concern which I talked about in my blog about self promotion. Being long-listed should be a sign to booksellers that a book is of a certain quality and good enough to be promoted and marketed more. Being entered into a competition does not indicate that, and the award, which should be marketed more, is unlikely to have the desired effect unless the long-list represents a smaller, more quality controlled selection of titles.

Another thing that the current long-list highlights is what isn’t there. If a book didn’t appear on the list, it means that the publisher didn’t enter it, presumably. That’s a shame for many writers whose collections I have read and loved this year, and whose publishers clearly didn’t feel the same about.

I understand that short story collections do not sell as well as novels, and that more and more should be promoted and talked about, but I also think that by not managing that first level of listing for an award, the reputation of a prize can suffer – and that is not something I would want to see happening to this particular award.

I asked for some comments on this from my social networks and the majority came back saying the same thing. A long-list to many people should be a representation of a selected group of entries. It should be, essentially, a list of Highly Commended entries, ones which stand above the others and which are the clear leaders of the pack. I agree with that opinion.

But how about you? What do you think a long-list should represent? Do you have a problem with a listing of all the entries of a competition? Let me know in the comments!

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One thought on “On Longlists

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