Where are all the funny books?
It’s apparently a question being asked by the judges of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize (the only prize in the UK for comedy novels) as they have decided not to award the prize for 2018 because none of the entries was funny enough.
Can it really be true that there are no funny books, or is something else happening?
The doomsayers of the internet would have you believe that it’s a sign of the times. Writers can’t be funny in the face of so many bad things happening in the world. Jonathan McAloon asserts that comedy is now “found in books with the darkest, unhappiest subject matter”.
Perhaps the answer is actually much simpler. The growth of independent publishing is a well-documented phenomenon. There is a wealth of content that now bypasses the traditional part of the industry completely.
Those administering prizes have included specific rules to ensure that they are not besieged with self-published work. The rules for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize state that “self-published books are not eligible where the author is the publisher or where a company has been specifically set up to publish that book”. The message is clear; self-published novels are not allowed.
Heide and Iain asked some of the UK’s most successful independent comedy authors about their experiences with traditional publishing.
Stevyn Colgan was once a policeman, now he’s a writer. He worked for QI for 11 years, first on books and annuals then as a researcher and as one of the show’s scriptwriters. He found that traditional publishers “are so risk-averse now that they’re not signing comedy unless it’s by a big name or a celeb.”
Justin Lee Anderson who writes comic fantasy was told by a prospective agent that “bookshops don’t have a comedy fantasy section, they have a Terry Pratchett shelf” which very much echoes my own experiences.
What about Heide and Iain? We have been told on several occasions that “[insert publishing house] doesn’t do comedy” so we stick with independent publishing, where we know we can sell books to readers.
It should be noted that the writers mentioned here do sell books to readers – lots of books. The suspicions that persist about independent writers being those writers who aren’t good enough to get a traditional deal don’t apply here.
We wrote to the company who administers the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize to ask them whether they would consider changing the rules to include indie writers. If they do that they might just get to read some books that will make them laugh out loud.