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Forget the Awards, by IRON Press Editor Peter Mortimer

Editors have their own quirky likes and dislikes. I hate embossed text on a cover, especially if it’s in silver or gold. If you ever see an IRON Press cover thus adorned, you will know Peter Mortimer has been replaced by an alien, (hurrah, say some) and the extraterrestrial invasion has started.

I’m also not keen on individuals’ unattributed gushing quotes on the front or back cover.

Such quotes are often from the author’s mates, rarely spontaneous (the commercial publishing field has people who trawl round persuading people to supply the same) and are often agreed to even before the person quoting has read the material. Of course they feed the ego of that same person who gets his or her name on the cover of a new book without having to write it!

But for IRON Press, only quotes from credited reviews are allowed. And for small presses of course, such reviews are few and far between. These tend to come too late to be used in publication, unless there’s a reprint (we wish), so most of our books contain no cover quotes at all.

Another dislike is book prices of £5.99p, £6.99p or the like. Do publishers really believe the reading public is stupid enough to see a price of £5.99p and think, “Oh good! A book for only £5!” Treat your readers with the respect they deserve. Round the price up.

My major quirky dislike concerns a different matter. It is the deep hostility I feel towards the epithet award-winning. I have only to see or hear these two words preceding an author’s name to break out in to a rash of contagious spots consisting of various colours and hues.

Authors who employ award-winning in their biog notes obviously have a deep desire to impress their audiences. OK, so all authors have this same desire, otherwise they wouldn’t write. But that small consideration apart, the use of award-winning seems a slightly desperate attempt to gain often unwarranted credibility.

If you’ve won an award of some real stature, fine – say so. Name it. But arts awards are scattered far and wide these days and it is a pretty poor professional author who cannot lay claim to have been given some wretched award or other. I know I have.

The use of the description award-winning suggests great showers of accolades descending on the author from Olympian heights to the accompaniment of sustained and tumultuous applause from the populace at large.. The fact it could refer to the Grindthorpe & District Leek Growers Annual Short Story Award 1984 (two entries) or the East Grinstead Butchers Association Award for the Best Traditional Poem about a Sausage (one entry) is neither here nor there.

Though in fact it’s very much here. Can I suggest that our national language supremo, when appointed, uses his or her dictatorial powers to ban this vague term from all biog notes, book cover notes or other self-penned author descriptions?

Much better to be self-deferential when describing yourself. People will warm to you. Thus, ‘his books have been received mainly by a thunderous silence’ suggests to me a much more interesting writer than one sticking in the accursed epithet mentioned above.

I find an immediate rapport with a author describing herself thus; ‘her books have rarely received much critical acclaim and seem unlikely to start doing now’ than some boasting braggart throwing around the phrase award-winning.

I once read an author’s biog notes that were neither hyperbolic nor deferential but had a strange fascination. I quote: He is constantly startled by the grey rose.

Now there’s someone worth more than a cursory look – award winning or not.


By Peter Mortimer, editor at IRON Press