July 29, 2014

Some of the books on the Man Booker longlist aren’t out yet. Is that a problem?


The Man Booker Prize has embraced controversy in 2014.

The Man Booker Prize has embraced controversy in 2014.

Last week, the Man Booker Prize committee unveiled the thirteen books that made its 2014 longlist. Joshua Ferris, Siri Hustvedt, David Mitchell, and Ali Smith all made the cut; Donna Tartt did not.

But a number of the nominated books haven’t been released yet: Ali Smith‘s How to be Both; Howard Jacobson‘s J, David Mitchell‘s The Bone Clocks, Joseph O’Neill‘s The Dog, and David Nicholl‘s Us are all slated for publication in the next few months. As The Big Green Bookshop‘s Simon Key noted,  the Man Booker Prize actually stipulates that nominated books have to be available soon after the announcement of the longlist: “Each publisher of a title appearing on the longlist will be required to have no fewer than 1,000 copies of that title available in stock within 10 days of the announcement of the longlist.” Key, and undoubtedly other booksellers, are frustrated: “What’s the point in keeping it [the prize] just for the publishing industry?” he told The Bookseller. “How are booksellers able to make a song and dance among customers when we can’t offer them the books?” Prize nominations help sell books, but you can’t sell a book that isn’t out yet.

As a result, some publishers are pushing up publication. As The Bookseller noted in a dispatch yesterday:

Penguin has now agreed to bring forward the publication date of Ali Smith’s How to be Both (Hamish Hamilton) to the second half of August (exact publication tbc).

As Jonathan Cape has brought forward publication of Howard Jacobson’s J to the 14th August, while Fourth Estate is rushing Joseph O’Neill’s The Dog out at the end of this month, this leaves only David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks (Sceptre) and David Nicholls’ Us (Hodder) still scheduled for their original publication dates (2nd and 30th September respectively)

But that has, in turn, annoyed some in the industry. Here’s Caroline Mays, the managing director of Hodder & Stoughton, which publishes David Nicholls’s Us:

“The problem we have is that the two books not yet published are both books that have been literally a year in the planning. We have to balance the fact of that—the huge commitments to these books not just in the UK but all over the world – with the desire we all have to have them available for sale and all the publicity surrounding the Man Booker. We are talking about what we can do but the practicality of that is difficult—we need to juggle all these things.”

As a result, Ion Trewin, literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation has said “some flexibility” in dealing with release dates of nominated books. That may be true, but it seems like the way the prize is currently being run is frustrating everyone. That said, an immediate fix is not apparent.

This year’s prize has already proven controversial. Previously only open to books published in the U.K., British Commonwealth, and the Republic of Ireland, any novel written in English was eligible this year (provided it was published in Britain), which upset a number of people, including our British Correspondent Zeljka Marosevic. (I was also not pleased with the decision.)

The Man Booker Prize shortlist will be released on September 9; the winner will be announced on October 14, by which time every book on the longlist will have been published.

No Canadians were nominated for the prize this year. 

Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.