Every author knows that feeling of dread which can almost eclipse the sheer ecstasy of the arrival of their first copy of their new book.
Yes, it looks wonderful, but certainly in my own case I have to take a very deep breath before opening the pristine cover, separating the virgin pages and desperately hoping that I won't immediately spot a random literal, a misplaced apostrophe, a missing word or letter, a rogue caption error.
Don't even start me on the apparently lost battle to prevent the AmericaniZation of words which look far better with an 's' , or could do with having a 'u' inserted. We must, it seems, grieve in silence about such scandals.
But misspellings of straightforward words? That's a crime against books themselves, their readers, and their authors. They shouldn't happen. But to make sure that they are spotted and eliminated it is not always enough to have just the author casting an eye over their own work to check for errors. They have read it so many times that 'wood for trees' syndrome kicks in. Through repetition, they become almost blind to straightforward errors which may have crept in to their work.
It needs an expert, neutral, fresh eye to look forensically over the text to eliminate potential mistakes or to reconstruct untidy or unnoticed grammatical errors.
This year, in assessing the 131 books that were entered for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, my own observation from an early stage has been that there has been a noticeable and unwelcome increase in the sheer number of literals and the like. All of which are galling enough for the reader but devastating for the author.
Whether this is connected to the disappearance from publishing houses of a number of much-respected editors, whose work I have admired, and whose duties include not only spotting terrific ideas but helping to craft them in to great reads, I cannot say. But I certainly can agree with the many neutral observers who have brought that situation into conversations with me.
This year alone some very established and distinguished practitioners of this often unappreciated craft have bafflingly - to me - found themselves out of work. I'm not sure whether there is an element of cause and effect involved, but it certainly seems to me that there have been many more evident grammatical and spelling errors than in any other year.
This year's shortlist for WHSBOTY was as difficult to choose as any I can remember, but it resulted in us having a list containing as many first time sports book authors as I can recall, and almost certainly more than ever before. Only Jonathan Eig and Jenny Landreth had a previous, dedicated sports book to their names. This was not a deliberate ploy but I hope it acts as an incentive to anyone thinking of writing their first sports-related title to get on and progress their plan - and to publishers that it's worth taking a punt on new talent.
So, what was I like back in 1988 when the WHSBOTY idea first came to mind? How was I different to the person who, I very much hope, will be involved in the 30th award in 2018?
I'm certainly still the same happily married, Luton Town-supporting, vinyl record loving, dad with dodgy hair-do, to two boys that I was in 1988.
Back then, though, Luton Town played in the First Division, then the equivalent of today's Premier League. They are currently a League Two, (or, really, Division Four team); then vinyl records were facing up to the challenge of CDs, which threatened to turn them in to premature antique fading memories, today there is a vinyl revival which has made much original vinyl more valuable than antiques; back then my two boys lived at home with their Mum and Dad. Today, one of them is still at home, the other lives in New Zealand - where he has contributed to turning me from a dad to a grandad.
But, I am pleased and relieved to report, the dodgy hair-do is still in place (it's the only cut my barber - also still the same - knows. Well, that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it!) albeit in somewhat different, but natural, fetching shades of grey!
Judging a literary prize is an objective process. I trust it is widely agreed that WHSBOTY has established a reputation for producing a reliably high quality selection of contenders each year, without being over-influenced by reviewers, reputations and the bias of publishers and the authors' friends and relatives!
However, by definition, the final decision of all panels will almost invariably represent a form of compromise, even if those who made it will not admit as much.
I can recall only one occasion on which we ever sat down to decide our winner, only to realise rapidly that there was already a unanimous opinion prevailing. So, we just pretended that we might end up changing our minds, idly chatting for a couple of hours whilst enjoying a leisurely dinner...but that certainly was not the case this year. Having entered the room before 7pm, midnight was looming large when the (sober) panel finally agreed that the discussions, debates, and disagreements had disgorged a decision with which everyone concurred.
Graham Sharpe is co-founder and chair of judges of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year. The winner of the 2017 Award will be announced on Tuesday 28th November at an afternoon ceremony at BAFTA. Follow @BookiePrize and #WHSBOTY for news from the ceremony.
- 'We must constantly question what our own agenda might be'
- Reidy: 'We must uphold the value of our content'
- Jonathan Cape nets James Scudamore's novel about 'friendship forged in scandal'
- 4th Estate buys Innes' novel about silencing of women and celebrity
- 'We needn't be wed to pen and paper to truly appreciate fiction'