Archive for July, 2014

The Significance of the Man Booker for Authors (by Jen Huyton)


The Man Booker Prize is a great way for readers to find out about some of the most exciting, critically acclaimed books published in the last year, and for critics and the publishing industry to show their appreciation for some of our best writers, but the Man Booker prize is also very significant to the authors who are nominated for consideration, or who are lucky enough to win the prize. Winning the Man Booker can have a significant impact on an author’s career. The rewards are not just financial, although the prize money is important for authors who are trying to make a living from their writing. Being considered for the Man Booker means that authors will enjoy better book sales, be more widely read and catch greater critical interest. Past Man Booker winners have often enjoyed great success, not only with their prize winning novels, but also with all of their future efforts as writers. Given the impact that this prize can have on individual authors, it is little wonder that the Man Booker is one of the most significant events in the literary calendar.

A Rich Prize

The Man Booker is known as one of the richest literary prizes in the world, thanks to the large prize fund that rewards winners with £50,000. Such a large prize can make a huge difference to an author, given the difficulties of making a living from writing. The Authors’ Licensing and Collection Society recently revealed that the average earnings for a full time writer have now dropped to £11,000 a year, from £12,330 in 2005. At the same time, the proportion of authors who are able to focus full time on their writing has declined significantly, from 40% of writers in 2005 to just 11.5% today. Prizes like the Man Booker can give authors the support that they need to keep working and dedicating more time to their writing, although they can only help a very limited number of authors. Very few writers will actually win the Man Booker prize during their working lives, although a larger number will reap the rewards of being nominated for consideration.

Influence on the Book Trade

The financial rewards associated with a Man Booker win do not end with the prize money. The Man Booker also has a significant effect on the sales of books that win, are shortlisted, or even which only make it onto the longlist. This can provide an important financial boost to nominated authors, as well as gaining them a greater readership, which is valuable in itself. Writers create their works with the hope that they will be read and enjoyed by others, so the chance to reach a wider audience can be a significant part of the Man Booker experience for authors.

For example, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall had sold 13,129 copies before it appeared on the 2009 longlist. It then sold another 11,000 copies in the next six weeks before the shortlist was announced, before going on to sell 42,217 copies in the run up to the announcement of its win. As a Man Booker winner, Wolf Hall quickly went on to make sales in the hundreds of thousands, although the sharp 463% increase in its weekly sales did not match the 1918% increase experienced by 2010 winner, Howard Jacobsen’s The Finkler Question. Other novels recognized by the Man Booker have also gone on to become bestsellers, including Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, longlisted in 2010, and Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, shortlisted in 2007.

However, the sales effect of the Man Booker prize does seem to be in opposition to its critical impact. While the sales of books on the 2013 shortlist were 30% lower than for those listed in the previous year, the list was being lauded by critics as the best selection in a decade.

Recognizing Excellence

The Man Booker prize has had a big impact on the book trade since its inception, an impact that has often been the source of heated debate. Many of the disagreements over this prize, and its influence, stem from the broad eligibility criteria and the lack of clarity over the prize’s purpose and judging criteria. Simply picking the “best” original novel in English is often going to cause disagreements, not just over which book is picked, but also over what it means to be the best. However controversial some of the decisions have been, being selected by the judges remains an honour for many authors.

The Man Booker Prize is one of the oldest and most prestigious literary prizes awarded in the UK, so the prize is also significant to authors because of the guaranteed publicity and interest that a win will produce for the author, and their work. Man Booker winners will be discussed not just by literary critics, but also have items dedicated to their win on the general news and in the papers. Their name will become familiar to a much wider audience of potential readers, internationally, and may even be viewed more favourably thanks to the recommendation of the judges.

Authors whose work has been considered for the Man Booker will also receive more attention from critics and the industry, and while this can be a double-edged sword that often results in controversy over which books really deserved to win, it will often have a significant impact on an author’s career and reputation.

Contributed by reader, Jen Huyton.

July 31, 2014 at 1:40 pm Leave a comment

Man Booker Prize Longlist 2014

The longlist for the new, more global (i.e. 30% American) Man Booker Prize for 2014 was announced yesterday*. Here it is:

Joshua Ferris – To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Viking)
Richard Flanagan – The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus)
Karen Joy Fowler – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Serpent’s Tail)
Siri Hustvedt – The Blazing World (Sceptre)
Howard Jacobson – J (Jonathan Cape)
Paul Kingsnorth – The Wake (Unbound)
David Mitchell – The Bone Clocks (Sceptre)
Neel Mukherjee – The Lives of Others (Chatto & Windus)
David Nicholls – Us (Hodder & Stoughton)
Joseph O’Neill – The Dog (Fourth Estate)
Richard Powers – Orfeo (Atlantic Books)
Ali Smith – How to be Both (Hamish Hamilton)
Niall Williams – History of the Rain (Bloomsbury)

So four American authors – who would previously have been ineligible – made the list, alongside two Irishmen, six Brits and an Australian. 

It seemed sadly ironic that on the opening day of the Commonwealth Games, Man Booker announced a list almost completely devoid of Commonwealth authors. It looks like abandonment. 

Another change is that there are now six judges, so the chair of the judges might now have to wield a casting vote. This year that honour (perhaps I should be spelling that ‘honor’ now Booker has given in to the US of A?) goes to the noted atheist philosopher AC Grayling. He blamed publishers for the lack of Commonwealth writers, suggesting that fewer had been submitted. Surely an inevitable consequence of opening the prize up to American writers, who have far less need for the exposure. (Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler had previously been fêted by Richard & Judy’s book club, for example. As had Joseph O’Neill, and David Nicholls and David Mitchell, come to think of it. Richard Madeley may be looking even smugger than usual today.)

One of the other judges, Sarah Churchwell, hinted via her (very active) Twitter account that some books which appear to have been ‘snubbed’ by the judges may not have been submitted for them to consider. I suspect this is the most likely explanation for the absence of The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winner.

The other judges are: Jonathan Bate, Dr Alastair Niven, Erica Wagner, and Dr Daniel Glaser – who is a neuroscientist. China Miéville must be kicking himself. An actual scientist on the panel the one year he doesn’t publish a book! Howard Jacobson’s excursion into speculative fiction suddenly seems well-timed. 

Despite my misgivings with the rule changes, I really do like the look of this list, it seems to be full of novels exploring ideas, as we might expect from a panel chaired by a philosopher. However, for me, the best book of the year is one that was not eligible for their consideration, being ‘only’ a young adult novel. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan is one of the wisest and most beautiful contemporary novels I’ve ever read, and ought to be on every school’s syllabus. (Not something the UK’s new Education Secretary would agree with, judging by her track record of opposing LGBT equality.)

The shortlist will be revealed on September 9th, and the £50,000 prize will be awarded at London’s Guildhall on October 14th.

*Sorry for not updating the blog this year, this is partly my pique at the rule changes, but mostly a result of not having internet access at home since being liberated from the frustration of getting repeatedly ripped-off by a company who shall remain nameless, but can fly their spaceships up the seventh planet from the Sun as far as I am concerned.

July 24, 2014 at 4:03 pm Leave a comment


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