Introducing the Readings New Australian Writing Award and Readings Children’s Book Prize

One of the things I’ve always liked to do is support Australian writing and publishing. Over my career, it has been a thrill to see how the local publishing industry has grown, and how Australian readers have embraced the exciting writing being produced. However, it has always been a struggle for Australian writers to gain an audience and secure a living from their works. Of course, there have been well deserved success stories where debut authors gain almost immediate recognition: Favel Parrett’s Past the Shallows, Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites and Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project come to mind, but they are very much the exception.

A cynic could argue that there’s good reason first-time authors struggle – they just aren’t good enough – and this might be true in some cases, but anyone familiar with the vagaries of creative recognition knows that excellent works are often overlooked or have limited commercial appeal. I know that recently at Readings we have tended to concentrate on those books we feel have the greatest sales potential. It’s been a natural reaction to the vicissitudes of the book trade, though this was something that gnawed at me. I have been trying to figure out how we could give new and emerging Australian writers, particularly, better attention and support. I had the thought of a Readings award, judged by our experienced staff, which required us to seriously consider the new Australian books published each month and commend them to our readers.

I discussed this with some colleagues who were equally excited about the concept and over a few months the idea was debated and refined. Martin Shaw, our books division manager, pointed out that for many authors it was their second book that was the important one, as if that book failed then their writing careers were often over. Children’s author and one of our children’s specialists, Emily Gale, also made an impassioned plea to include a prize dedicated to children’s literature. It was harder, she argued, for children’s writers to gain recognition even after their third or fourth book. A prize could make a real difference.

So, it is with great pleasure that I announce the inaugural Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction and Readings Children’s Book Prize for 2014. The New Australian Writing Award will be for a work of adult fiction that must be the author’s first or second published book, and the Children’s Book Prize is for an author writing for children aged 5 to 12 who has published no more than four children’s books. We have committed to fund the two awards for the next three years – hopefully it will continue indefinitely!

Mark Rubbo is the Managing Director of Readings