Global expansion for Booker Prize

 

BBC Arts editor Will Gompertz considers the likely impact of the new rules

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Authors writing in English from all corners of the globe will be eligible for the Man Booker Prize from 2014, organisers have confirmed.

"We are abandoning the constraints of geography and national boundaries," said Jonathan Taylor, chair of the Booker Prize Foundation.

At present, the £50,000 ($79,850) prize only considers works by writers from the Commonwealth, Ireland or Zimbabwe.

Rumours the Booker panel would expand their criteria began over the weekend.

A report in the Sunday Times claimed authors from the US would be allowed to compete for the first time - but organisers said the information was "incomplete".

Announcing the changes in London on Wednesday, the Booker Foundation said: "The expanded prize will recognise, celebrate and embrace authors writing in English, whether from Chicago, Sheffield or Shanghai."

"The Trustees have not made this decision quickly or lightly," it added, saying consultation with authors, publishers and booksellers began in 2011.

They had initially investigated setting up a new prize specifically for US writers, but decided such a move could "jeopardise or dilute" the main event.

'Commercial decision'

Reaction to the announcement has been mixed.

"I think it's an excellent idea," former winner John Banville told the BBC, discussing the move to permit American novelists in particular.

AS Byatt Former Booker Prize-winner AS Byatt says the changes will "make judging impossible"

"It is silly that it is not open to everyone - but God help the rest of us, because American fiction is very strong indeed."

Banville, who took the prize in 2005 for The Sea, added the expanded field would make life "very difficult for the judges".

"They will have to limit how many books can enter, somehow."

Author AS Byatt said she was "very strongly against" opening up the prize "because it will make judging impossible".

"At the moment the Booker is the best literary prize because all of the judges read all of the books," she said.

Byatt was herself a judge in 1974, and later won in 1990 for Possession: A Romance.

The Booker committee have made a "commercial decision," according to Dr David Brauner, an expert in contemporary American fiction at the University of Reading.

"I think what has forced their hand is the announcement of the Folio Prize - because they've made a big thing of that prize being eligible to any Anglophone novel, no matter what the nationality of its author".

"The Man Booker felt they didn't want to be outflanked. They want to retain their place as the most prestigious prize for fiction in this country and they felt this would steal the thunder of the Folio - the distinctiveness of that prize was that it was going to be more international, but now that's been blurred somewhat."

Some feel American novelists like Jonathan Franzen and Toni Morrison will come to dominate the prize, robbing British authors of the sales and publicity that come with the honour.

Even established writers can benefit. Last year's winner, Hilary Mantel, sold 10,605 copies of her novel, Bring Up The Bodies, in the UK in the week after the prize was announced.

The previous week, she had sold 1,846.

How winning the Booker Prize affects sales

Year Author/Title Week before Prize week Change

Source: Nielsen BookScan

2003

DBC Pierre - Vernon God Little

509

8,627

1,595%

2004

Alan Hollinghurst - The Line Of Beauty

422

4,390

940%

2005

John Banville - The Sea

601

6,327

953%

2006

Kiran Desai - The Inheritance Of Loss

534

4,726

785%

2007

Anne Enright - The Gathering

434

6,001

1,283%

2008

Aravind Adiga - The White Tiger

463

8,033

1,653%

2009

Hilary Mantel - Wolf Hall

3,146

17,703

463%

2010

Howard Jacobson - The Finkler Question

627

12,650

1,918%

2011

Julian Barnes - The Sense Of An Ending

2,535

14,534

473%

2012

Hilary Mantel - Bring Up The Bodies

1,846

10,605

474%

The Folio Prize will hand out its first accolade next March. The £40,000 prize will be awarded to a work of fiction written in the English language published in the UK - including American authors.

The prize was first announced in 2011 amidst a row in literary circles about the decision by Booker judges that year to focus on "readability", but organisers have denied it is a rival to the Booker.

It is backed by a 100-strong academy of authors and critics which includes Margaret Atwood and Philip Pullman.

The new eligibility criteria for the Booker Prize will necessitate some changes to the way books are submitted for consideration.

Currently, publishers can each submit two books. From next year, that will be reduced to one.

However, a publisher who has had one or two longlisted books in the last five years will be allowed two submissions; a publisher with three or four positions on the longlist will get three; and a publisher with five or more will get four submissions.

"The number of books publishers are allowed to submit has also long been a concern," said Taylor.

"Our new model, in recognising literary achievement, should encourage the traditional literary publishing houses while ensuring novels from new green-shoot publishers continue to be included."

It is thought the new submission guidelines could reduce the number of books under consideration from 151 this year to as little as 130.

Established 45 years ago, the Booker Prize for Fiction made its first award in 1969, to PH Newby's Something To Answer For.

The winner of the 2013 award will be announced on 15 October at an awards ceremony at London's Guildhall.

 

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