What’s the bigger story? The Miles Franklin Award plagiarism scandal or a self-published book being longlisted for the first time?

What’s the bigger story? The Miles Franklin Award plagiarism scandal or a self-published book being longlisted for the first time?

June 19, 2022

What a few weeks it’s been in the OzLit, indie author and Australian writing and publishing community since the announcement of the Miles Franklin Award 2022 Longlist.

To get you up to speed fast:

  • The Miles Franklin Award ‘celebrates novels of the highest literary merit that tell stories about Australian life, shining a light on some of the country’s most accomplished writers’.
  • On May 24, The Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s most prestigious literary award, announced its long-list of 12 books by Australian authors. (full list below)
  • In BIG NEWS for indie authors and the self-publishing community, for the first time in the award’s history, a self-published novel, Grimmish (by writer Michael Winkler) was longlisted for the award.
  • But then…another book on the list (The Dogs, by author John Hughes) suddenly sucked much of the air out of potential publicity for the other longlisted authors and their books due to an alleged plagiarism scandal. (That said…the controversy has also brought more attention to books, writing and the publishing process…perhaps there wouldn’t have been this attention if not for the ‘scandal’? Hmmm…)
  • Read on for a timeline of events, but also for my take on what I think writers and self-publishers can learn from both Michael Winkler’s efforts and John Hughes’ alleged plagiarism.

Miles Franklin Awards Longlist 2022

Image courtesy of Miles Franklin Literary Awards

Timeline of Miles Franklin Award plagiarism revelations related to John Hughes’ work, The Dogs

However, you know what I think is the biggest story to come out of the 2022 Miles Franklin?

Of course you do! It’s that of Michael Winkler’s self-published novel, Grimmish. Even though I feel sorry for all the longlisted authors (listed further below) who have had their limelight snuffed by the plagiarism scandal, to see people talking about Michael Winkler’s journey with Grimmish is a true delight. And to hear how he talks about it is even more delightful.

Michael Winkler’s essay No one would publish my novel and now it’s up for the Miles Franklin was published online June 16 and in print in the Sydney Morning Herald on June 18, 2002. In it he speaks of effort, hope and the ‘gutsy’ indie bookstores who supported his self-published work including Avid Reader, Fullers Hobart, Blarney Books and Brunswick Bound.

And, I loved this line: ‘This is why, when Grimmish was longlisted, it felt like more than just an acknowledgement of my efforts. It was a thumbs up for every battling writer who has backed their efforts through self-publication.’

XOX to that and a few more XOXOXO.

Yes battling writers and self-publishers! You can actually win the battle. And sometimes you don’t even need to battle, you can just pick up that pen every day, ink the page (or pixel your screen) with your creativity and do it with joy and a good (make that HUGE) dose of determination.

FYI: Grimmish has now found a traditional publisher who has reprinted the book and will organise wider distribution so Michael can do what he does best…more writing and hopefully basking in ‘that hoary cliche, overnight success decades in the making’.

What can indie authors and the self-publishing community take from the fallout from this year’s Miles Franklin longlist?

  • Always acknowledge and/or attribute quotes, text and inspirations in your work.
  • Be thorough noting sources when you are doing your initial research.
  • Don’t just copy and paste text as you may come back to it years down the track and not be able to distinguish your original thought from the words of others you were using for inspiration.
  • If you have a photographic memory or are a fabulous writer…it’s even more important to note your sources so you don’t end up thinking that YOU were the source.
  • And maybe you do want to cheat by copying the work of others, but…just…don’t. Do the work.
  • And, once you’ve done the work…and even if you get a literary agent, it doesn’t mean publishers will take you and your book on.
  • Even if your book is brilliant, it doesn’t mean publishers will publish it. Or bookstores will stock it. And according to Michael Winkler in an article in The Guardian, a publisher even rejected his manuscript calling it ‘repellent’.
  • Publishers don’t always get it right, but you can.
  • If you truly believe in the value of your work, learn all you can about self-publishing and do it well. (oh yeh, I might have a written just the book to help you with that.)
  • Be a good customer of indie bookstores, be a part of the writing community and be kind to booksellers. NB: Booksellers including BookFace, Avid Reader and the Yellow Shed in Bellingen have been great to me as an indie author, from advising me on my cover designs to giving me bookstore windows, hosting me for talks, workshops, launches and ordering my books…and even placing them face out 🙂 And don’t forget your local librarians either…they are amazing!
  • Once you’ve written the book, you will come to the next realisation: it is extraordinarily difficult to get visibility for a book, and even if you are longlisted for an award, you will need to work hard for any publicity. That’s why I’ve included lots of publicity and marketing tips in Look – It’s Your Book!
  • The antidote to all this difficulty…write a great book!
  • Then do all you can to promote your book.
  • And then…write another great book.
  • Self-publishing can be commercially successful for indie authors and you may never need or want a publisher. If you do though, self-publishing may be part of your journey to clinching that traditional publishing deal.
  • Be kind to yourself as a writer.
  • Back yourself, but if the challenge of writing doesn’t make you feel fulfilled and you get sick of wrestling with words, that’s okay too. Find something else to do with your time and energy.
  • If you really want to be a writer though, and indeed – and author – just write. Why? There are so many paths to publication these days (traditional, indie and hybrid models), BUT, you can only walk them with a manuscript in hand.

And congratulations to these brilliant Australian writers and their books who have made the Miles Franklin 2022 Longlist.

The shortlist for the Miles Franklin will be announced June 23 and the eventual winner declared July 20, 2022.

Full List of Miles Franklin 2022 Longlist

Michael Mohammed Ahmad  The Other Half of You  Hachette Australia
 Larissa Behrendt  After Story  University of Queensland Press
 Michelle de Kretser  Scary Monsters  Allen & Unwin
 Jennifer Down  Bodies of Light  Text Publishing
 Briohny Doyle  Echolalia  Penguin Random House
 Max Easton  The Magpie Wing  Giramondo Publishing
 John Hughes  The Dogs (withdrawn)  Upswell Publishing
 Jennifer Mills  The Airways  Picador Australia, Pan Macmillan Australia
 Alice Pung  One Hundred Days  Black Inc. Books
 Claire Thomas  The Performance  Hachette Australia
 Christos Tsiolkas  7 ½  Allen & Unwin
 Michael Winkler  Grimmish  Puncher and Wattmann

UPDATE: Grimmish by Michael Winkler went on to be shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award! The first time a self-published book has been boosted right into the top ranks. The eventual winner of the 2022 Miles Franklin Award went to another superb writer though, Jennifer Down with her remarkable novel, Bodies of Light. Congratulations to all the amazing authors for these extraordinary works.