Not Good Enough

An interesting piece, in which Zadie Smith says that entrants into a story competition aren’t good enough. So no one wins.

This is a difficult thing to write. Just like everybody, we at The Willesden Herald are concerned about the state of contemporary literature. We are depressed by the cookie-cutter process of contemporary publishing, the lack of truly challenging and original writing, and the small selection of pseudo-literary fictio-tainment that dominates our chain bookstores. We created this prize to support unpublished writers, and, with our five grand, we put our money where our mouths are. We have tried to advertise widely across this great internet of ours and to make the conditions of entry as democratic and open as we could manage. There is no entry fee, there are no criteria of age, race, gender or nation. The stories are handed over to the judges stripped of the names of the writers as well as any personal detail concerning them (if only The Booker worked like that!) Our sole criterion is quality. We simply wanted to see some really great stories. And we received a whole bunch of stories. We dutifully read through hundreds of them. But in the end – we have to be honest – we could not find the greatness we’d hoped for. It’s for this reason that we have decided not to give out the prize this year.

Do I agree with this…? Probably, actually. In an age where a significant amount of publishing works for a quick buck, this is interesting to see. Maybe it’s publicity for her, maybe not. Why give out a prize if there are no deserving winners? This ain’t a tombola. Sure, it’s difficult to get published, but it doesn’t mean sub-standard work should be, just for the sake of it. It’s sure to prompt a wee bit of debate though.


Share this Story

About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.


  1. I think the the problem is wider than literature. You only need to turn on the TV on a saturday night to see any number of wannabes trying to take the quick trip to fame and fortune without that most vital of ingredients: talent.

    In our society which encourages everyone to get what they want without necessarily putting in the hard work to get it, is it any wonder that the majority of authors are devoid of inspirational ideas and the normal offering is just a bland and pale shadow of the great authors of yesteryear?

    Just my ten cents. Mike

  2. Hey Mike!

    You could be on the money there. There is a culture of wanting to be a star, all perpetuated by the gossip rags. I’m still blaming Tony Blair or Gordon Brown.