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

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

 

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.
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Man Booker Prize Longlist 2014 The Booker Prize – Notable Controversies (by Jen Huyton)

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