There. See that title? That's me taking the splinters out of my butt and coming off the fence.
I recently blogged about Brit Writers' Awards but, at that point, I didn't name them because of the threats of legal action that had been taken against anyone who blogged about them. I have, however, commented on most of the posts that I've linked to below.
I don't propose to go into a lot of detail here, as just about everything has been covered in those other blogs and the comments. For now, I just want to make my own position clear.
Back in 2010, I was proud to be associated with Brit Writers as one of their 'high profile' (their words) judges. I blogged about the gala awards night here. I had no problems supporting their stated ethos of encouraging a love of writing and finding new and innovative ways to bring books by talented debut authors into print.
Though alarm bells were ringing, I ignored the concerns I had about the judging process. Brit Writers' Awards were new. They were establishing a mould-breaking model. Teething problems were inevitable. They had been overwhelmed by the response. The problems, I told myself, were organisational.
Then we got to the point when BWA launched their Publishing Programme - an initiative that felt wrong to me on many levels. I could no longer ignore the anxieties I'd had about the judging of the 2010 awards. I was alarmed to see other judges speaking out in blog comments. Knowledge is power and the internet enabled full discussions to take place and information to be pooled. At this point, I decided I no longer wished to be associated with Brit Writers and felt unable to recommend them to new writers.
But that was far from the end of the story. BWA recently launched a new initiative from their 'Agents' Division' and blogs and forums started buzzing. All the posts and comments were asking questions. Not making accusations, you understand, just asking questions. Fair enough? Surely, BWA would respond and explain the thinking behind their new initiatives. They would want to announce who their partners were, which publishers and agents they were working with, how their schemes worked etc, wouldn't they? Not to do so would be counter-intuitive. Why on earth would they have a problem with this?
But they did have a problem. Instead of giving answers and allaying legitimate concerns, they lawyered up and began sending out solicitor's letters. First to receive one was Harry Bingham, swiftly followed by Claire King and Jane Smith. There may be others - I don't know. Private messages and emails started to flood in to my inbox from people who been involved with BWA. Award winners, people who had been shortlisted, participants on the Publishing Programme, recipients of that email who had received confusing offers of paid help for their synopsis and pitch ...
But - and here's the thing - these people didn't want to speak out and be named because they had all signed confidentiality agreements with BWA. Whaaat????
The internet won't be silenced though. Telling writers they can't write is always going to be a bad move. Telling internet savvy people that they can't raise questions and share info runs counter to the ethos of the net itself. Telling communicators that they can't communicate? It's never going to work.
So I've finally raised my head above the parapet. There's so much info available, in spite of the legal attempts being made to stifle the debate, that I thought I could be useful here and pull it all together in one place. If I've missed anything, please do let me know and I'll add the links in updates. I'm keen to present every angle, so if you know of any positive posts then I'd like to know about them too. Please also note, there are further links within all the posts.
How Publishing Really Works - 2010 post re the Publishing Programme
Writer Beware - re the awards
Claire King - re the Publishing Programme
Claire King - re the Agents' Division
WordCloud - message re deleted posts after legal threats
How Publishing Really Works - re Agents' Division
Claire King - re questions she asked BWA by email and their response
Writers' Workshop - Harry Bingham's response to Brit Writers' Awards
Harry Bingham's list of questions to Brit Writers
Discussion on Absolute Write - includes response re schools' programme
Sally Quilford - re removing BWA from competition listings
Caveat Scriptor - Max Dunbar's view
Writer Beware - re the legal threats
Writers Online - includes a response from BWA - discussion is here
Vanessa Gebbie - adds her voice
The BWA site is here. Many of the pages are still under construction. The old site had much more information.
I'm sure we're far from the end of this story. One thing it does demonstrate is that people should always do thorough research before getting involved with companies and organisations - and certainly before parting with any money.
UPDATE - LATER THE SAME DAY.
BWA have removed the threat of legal action and have sent a response to Harry Bingham which you can see here.
UPDATE - 17 NOV.
New post by Sally Quilford
Also, see the latest comments on the How Publishing Really Works post here
Harry Bingham's final post re Brit Writers (he hopes) dated today
Claire King's response - also today
UPDATE - 18 NOV.
If you checked the above link to Harry Bingham's post about Brit Writers yesterday, you might like to check again as he has changed the final paragraph.
It now reads as follows:
This article was originally written and posted on 17th Nov and relied in part on a number of written statements made by the BWA, who knew their statements would be scrutinised. Unfortunately, I now have incontrovertible evidence that the company lies, even in circumstances where its claims are likely to be closely examined. Nothing this company says can be taken on trust. Its financial promises are unreliable. The same is true of its literary promises. Writers should avoid having anything at all to do with this company. The whole thing is incredibly sad.
This paragraph replaces a previous, somewhat more upbeat, conclusion to this post.
Just found this post by Martha Williams who is trying to make sense of this whole situation.
UPDATE 21 NOV.
Pah! A ridiculous challenge to me personally on Harry's blog to reveal my email correspondence with Brit Writers. If I did, it would be extremely embarrassing to them - and reveal nothing about me that you couldn't find out on this blog.
UPDATE 25 NOV
There's an article in the money section of The Times tomorrow (Sat). It's at this link but you have to pay to view online. The title is: The guide: Eager for recognition and acceptance, beginners with a manuscript are dazzled by a promise of publication
UPDATE 1 DEC
Martha Williams has posted an interview with BWA's CEO.
UPDATE A YEAR LATER - NOV 2012
Feedback is coming in from some of the people who were on the publishing programme. See the Writers' Workshop blog here and here.