Agent Peter Strauss on the Man Booker Prize Rule Changes

The controversy over the Man Booker rumbles on. Agent Peter Straus argues the rule changes will create surprising submission scenarios and calls on the organiser to open its purse strings to reflect the broader canvas

If the reason to sponsor a prize is to get your brand in the news, the Man Group must be absolutely delighted. The coverage of the announcement about the change in rules has been phenomenal. A percentage of the British literary community has reacted with dismay, but it is worth noting this is not the first time there has been such a response. In 1975, when the Booker shortlist appeared, it consisted of just two contenders: an Indian lady, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and an Australian gentleman, Thomas Keneally. There was outcry in the British press then too: the concern was that the prize had turned its back on British writers.

One could, I suppose, argue that continuing a prize that only celebrates Commonwealth writing harks back to the “good old” imperialistic days, and is anachronistic—even xenophobic.

One could also step back and say what incredible sales and marketing opportunites there will be for what is currently the most celebrated English-language literary award to assume global English-language status. The impact of the Booker in the US—which is already strong—could increase in power dramatically. Isn’t that a good thing, and won’t it lead to more coverage and more sales around the world?


booker prize rule changesIt might, but the Booker’s uniqueness might also diminish. Its current rules had three distinctive qualities: (1) the territory covered, the Commonwealth, was unusual; (2) every publisher could enter an equal number of submissions (aside from previous shortlistees); and (3) this territory allowed the judges each to read all the books entered, rather than divide them up between them.

Over time the Booker became the most celebrated English-language prize globally, a prize which booksellers all over the world—particularly in the US—celebrated and promoted, often in preference to their own Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards and National Book Critics Circle Awards. They celebrated it because it stood for something different and special—no other prize had such a remit—and because over time its sales and publicity machine became unequalled.

The rule change means that this Booker distinction has gone and the same book can now win the Pulitzer, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as the Booker. Its territorial remit now marries that of the Folio Prize, too. [More…]

via The Bookseller

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