OK, so that’s the snapy headline – but what I really wanted to say was how I’d very much like to see a return to the previous restriction of the prize being open to British & Commonwealth authors only.
Let me go on record as stating I have no issue with American authors – at all – rather that I have a particular love affair with writing from Britain and the Commonwealth. It’s my heritage after all. I am British (albeit naturalised) and I grew up solely in commonwealth countries.
The marketplace for commonwealth authors is very limited, especially when placed alongside those from the US. So, even when putting my personal preferences aside, that’s an imbalance I’d like to see re-dressed. The impact upon sales for those who win the annual award is enormous – measurably so. Data provided by Nielsen demonstrates that the increase in weekly sales from the week before the win to the week after the win ranges from 473% for 2011’s winner to 1283% for the winner in 2007. Sales increases are especially significant for less well-known authors (by which I mean less well-known at that time rather than now). For example, total sales on Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” went from 6,287 before the win was announced to 1,312,221 after it (data as at 2012).
This positive impact spreads beyond simply the winners. Longlisted authors immediately see an uplift in sales upon its announcement. Following the shortlist’s announcement, longlisted authors not making the shortlist see a tailing off in sales, whilst those who do make the cut, not only see a continuation in the sales uplift, but a further boost.
In the four years since the prize was opened up to authors from the US, that country has provided two winners, so it could be suggested that I (and the deputation of publishers who expressed their concerns to the Man Booker organisation ) are over-reacting. And perhaps we are. By removing that last restriction, will the Booker finally take a place as the premier English language prize for a single book (rather than a body of work as per the Nobel)?
A case could also be made that the “The Sellout”, Paul Beatty’s winning contender in 2016 and last year’s winner “Lincoln in the Bardo” from George Saunders, are fairly ‘typical’ Booker winners, who may not have garnered prizes and acolades let alone acceptance (in the case of the former) in their own country. But this last is just a personal idea being floated … I have no evidence, nor have I done anything other than the most basic of google search to establish if any exists.
I’ll finish here with last year’s opinion piece from the Guardian which asks the question “British writers can’t win the big US prizes, so why can Americans win the Booker?”
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© Debra Carey, 2018