What is it worth?

<p>There was no sign of the &quot;current economic climate&quot; at the Galaxy British Book Awards the other week&mdash;it was a particularly glitzy event with celebs (the Mighty Boosh, Julie Walters, Jerry Springer, Michael Palin, Jerry Hall) galore, photographers, red carpet and free wine on tap. A (slightly more glam) bed-fellow beside the Man Booker and the Orange, arguably these big prizes are the best for raising author profiles, encouraging sales and generally getting authors into newspapers and on the TV&mdash;which can only be a good thing for the trade.<br />
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And despite the credit crunch, quite astonishing amounts of money are up for grabs: the <i>Sunday Times</i> Young Writer of the Year Award 2009 recently awarded its winner &pound;3,500, the <i>Independent</i> Foreign Fiction Prize awards &pound;10,000, the BBC National Short Story Award gives the winning author &pound;15,000. Small change compared to the mighty &pound;50,000 Warwick Prize for Writing, but no doubt welcome to a struggling writer, when a typical professional author&rsquo;s income is apparently 33% less than the national average wage.<br />
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But what is the practical effect of smaller prizes on the winners, aside from a handy grand or two, or perhaps a handsome paperweight? Barely a week goes by without news of another prize longlist, shortlist or winner&mdash;just recently the Wisden Prize, the Theatre Book Prize, the Desmond Elliott longlist&mdash;all worthy in their field and no doubt meaningful to those awarding, judging or nominated for them, but are they important beyond warming the cockles of an author or publisher? <br />
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A little while ago, at the World Book Day celebrations at Waterstone&rsquo;s flagship store in Piccadilly, I met a young author who had already won the Best First Book at the Commonwealth regional prize and lots of praise, but her latest novel was yet to find a publisher. It must be disappointing to get so far&mdash;but not quite be able to build a career out of such a high-profile accolade.<br />
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The cachet of a prize, even from the most esoteric of sources, is always going to be something of a boon to a minor author&mdash;and to their grateful publicist&mdash;but how aware are the public of such prizes? Without TV fanfare or (dare I say it, stickering and p.o.s.) would a member of the public be likely to walk into a branch of Waterstone&rsquo;s and enquire after, for example, the winner of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize? It&rsquo;s not that likely&mdash;and so the question remains, are these prizes worth it?<br />
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