The Booker Question

The final panel of the day at BristolCon was supposed to be about the differences between SF and fantasy, an old and rather stale topic. However, Juliet McKenna derailed this rather cleverly by suggesting that instead we talk about the differences between speculative fiction and non-speculative (mimetic) fiction. Given the recent debate about SF and the Booker Prize, this was very topical.

As I have mentioned before (and thanks to Farah for the fine detail) publishers are only allowed to submit a limited number of books to the Booker jury. The limit is 3 books, but the key question, as Al Reynolds immediately identified when I mentioned this during the panel, is whether that is 3 books per publisher, or three books per imprint.

Why does this matter? Well, the book industry has consolidated heavily over the last few decades. There are now effectively only 4 main publishers in the UK. A small outfit such as CannonGate or PS Publishing might well submit something non-mimetic, but a big publisher like HarperCollins has more than 3 imprints. The chances of them submitting something from Voyager or Angry Robot are very small indeed.

So, does anyone know how the rules work? It makes a huge difference to what the Booker judges see.

I’d also like to know how much it costs to submit a book to the Booker jury. Because if it is expensive that would tend to discourage small presses from participating.

Update: As per the comments below, it appears that the rules are somewhat more complex. Publishers are allowed to submit 2 books, plus another 5 that they jury is not necessarily obliged to look at if they don’t want to. Also publishers who submit books have to agree to a fairly hefty financial commitment should one of their books make the short list. While the huge publicity surrounding the Booker probably means that such an investment will be covered by increased sales, it may still be enough to deter a small press.

18 thoughts on “The Booker Question

  1. The Man Booker rules say 2 titles per publisher, not imprint. They also can submit up to 5 additional titles each, but these titles aren’t officially entered until the judges okay them. Not sure exactly what that provision means.

    Cost appears to be nil other than providing gratis copies until a book is shortlisted. At which point the publisher has to provide £5,000 toward publicity.

  2. As it happens, I’m teaching a course called ‘The Booker Prize: Aesthetics and Commerce in Contemporary Fiction’ this very term, so I know the answer here. Publishers can submit two titles; plus any title by an author who has previously won; plus any title by an author who has not won but has been shortlisted in the last 5 years. Publishers can also, as King Rat says, submit a list of five further possibles, each with 250-word ‘why this book is great’ blurb, from which the judges are at liberty to request any number. Here’s the killer though: judges have perfect freedom to ‘call in any book published between 1 October 2008 and 30 September 2009’ that’s not otherwise been submitted or suggested. So the prize isn’t really at the mercy of what publishers submit; although it is evidently limited by what John Mullan and people like him consider worthwhile.

    Here are the actuals regs:

    a) United Kingdom publishers may enter up to two full-length novels, with scheduled publication dates between 1 October 2008 and 30 September 2009. In addition, any title by an author who has previously won the Booker or Man Booker Prize, and any title by an author who has been shortlisted in the last five years (i.e. since and including 2004) may be submitted.
    b) Entry forms must be submitted by 31 March 2009. At that date all available books, whether or not already published, should be submitted to Colman Getty. Proofs of any book published after 31 March 2009 should be submitted to Colman Getty the moment they become available, followed up by finished copies. Final texts must be submitted by 30 June 2009. The Literary Director of the prize in consultation with the Chair of the Judges reserves the right to reject any substantially revised proof or finished copy received after that date. Seven copies of each entry must be submitted to the judges of the Man Booker prize, care of Colman Getty and not direct to the judges.
    c) Each publisher may also submit, by 31 March 2009, a list of up to five further titles. These should each be accompanied by a justification for the submission of not more than 250 words written and signed by the author’s editor. The judges will be required to call in no less than 8 and no more than 12 of these titles.
    d) The judges may also, not later than 30 June 2009, call in any book published between 1 October 2008 and 30 September 2009, even if such a book does not appear on publishers’ lists referred to in 4b. In that event the publisher will be asked to submit seven printed copies of the book to Colman Getty and be required to conform to the conditions of the award as specified in the rules.
    e) No book entered by publishers or called in by the judges will be returned to the publishers.
    f) Each publisher of a title appearing on the longlist will be required to have not less than 1000 copies of that title available in stock within 10 days of the announcement of the longlist.

  3. Hachette Livre (UK) includes:

    * Octopus Publishing Group
    o Bounty
    o Conran
    o Gaia
    o Godsfield
    o Hamlyn
    o Mitchell Beazley
    o Miller’s
    o Philip’s
    o Spruce
    * Chambers Harrap
    * Watts Publishing Group
    * Hachette Partworks
    * Orion Publishing Group
    o Orion
    o Cassell & Co
    o Weidenfeld & Nicolson
    + Phoenix
    + Everyman

    Hodder Headline Group

    * Headline
    * Hodder & Stoughton
    * John Murray
    * Hachette Children’s
    * H&S Religious
    * Hodder Education
    o Hodder Arnold
    o Hodder Murray
    o Hodder Gibson
    o Teach Yourself
    o Philip Allan Updates
    o Chambers Harrap

    We can strike out some as obvious imprints, and some as not publishing books applicable to the Man Booker, but, still: what’s the definition of a single publisher?

  4. It actually says here and here (same thing):

    […] e) Online submissions will only be accepted from an established imprint […] g) Children’s books will only be accepted on the condition that they have also been published by an adult imprint within the specified dates.

    I’m unclear why King Rat asserts that “The Man Booker rules say 2 titles per publisher, not imprint.” Perhaps King Rat could specify exactly which clause says that?

    Or perhaps someone with experience of how the Man Booker administrators rule on such matters might clarify?

  5. What I’d like to know is how the judges get selected… As Adam Roberts says, that’s what makes the real difference. Why shouldn’t someone like, say, Neil Gaiman get onto the panel?

  6. Perhaps a better question might be: would someone like Neil Gaiman want to be on the panel? It would be an enormous and onerous reading load combined with a time commitments to judges’ meetings and the ceremony and so on, all to bolster the prestige of an award he may or may not feel merits bolstering.

  7. Fair point… Obv I wouldn’t want to speak for N Gaiman in that regard.

    Although, now I think about it, there must be a few people who would think it’s a worthwhile job… John Mullan, for instance, doesn’t need to be on the panel. He couldn’t be much more respected (at least, outside the SF community, following his recent comments!) It’s probably a pain for him. But he does it for the good of art and co and co… No reason a big SF name wouldn’t feel the same is there?

  8. I’ve just read over the requirements, and I’d have a though time coming up with a set of rules that is less friendly to small press. By submitting a book, you are potentially committing yourself to laying out 5000£ should your book be shortlisted, you also have to guarantee that 1000 copies of the book are available (which for small press is probably somewhere between 25% and 100% of their print run). Then if the book wins, you ave to spend another 5000£. Plus some of the requirements (two unbound, folded and collated copies to be send to a bookbinder should the book be shortlisted) are the kind of thing that erode any profit a small press may have on a book.

    Yes, I’m sure you can probably make your money back should your book win (you probably have a good chance of making your 5000£ back should your book be shortlisted) but how long would it take? Can you say cash flow problems from hell? Most small press don’t have the kind of financial stamina required to survive these requirements.

  9. Is this requirement for having a certain number of copies available common for juried or mainstream awards? Just wondering because the only juried award I’m very familiar with (the Endeavour) only asks for reading copies, but it’s organized a little differently from most juried awards.

  10. Petréa:

    World Fantasy also requires copies of submitted books to be sent to all of the jurors. However, the Booker goes well beyond anything I have seen in genre awards. It can get away with it because it is such a high-profile award. A publisher who wants the benefits of winning the Booker has to be prepared to pay the price. I’d love to be able to say that being part of the Voter Package is a condition of being a Hugo nominee, but if we did publishers who didn’t like the idea would just turn down the nomination. We are not important enough to throw our weight around the way the Booker people do.

  11. I wrote “2 titles per publisher, not imprint” because the rules state: “United Kingdom publishers may enter up to two full-length novels, with scheduled publication dates between 1 October 2OO8 and 3O September 2OO9.”

    The rules do use the word imprint in other places, and I have no idea how they define publisher. Perhaps someone could call or email the Booker administrators or a publicist for one of the major imprints and ask.

  12. A short digression into Hugo territory: I’m really curious to see if availability in the Voter Package will prove to have any correlation with winning. This year there were (based on the speculation I’ve seen) two strong favorites for the best novel Hugo, and the one not included in the Voter Package didn’t win. That isn’t of course by itself an indication of anything, but if this continues for a few years, then even if you can’t require it, you could at least hint to the publishers that being part might be a good idea.

  13. @petréa: The Sunburst Awards in Canada are juried and they require 6 reading copies of the book.

    @Tero: it’s hard to say, IIRC, the 2008 Hugo winner was not part of the package last year. That said, it really can’t hurt. And this year, for the first time) the package included much more than just novels.

    Speaking of Hugos, in another thread, Jeff VanderMeer said:

    Publicists and marketing people will take anything they can get, so putting “Hugo Award Winner” on a book doesn’t mean they think it sells a lot of books, just that it doesn’t hurt to put it on there. One editor in NYC I talked to a couple of years ago basically said they put it on there to mollify the author most times–writers being as little more naive than most as to what actually makes a difference. But a book is more than just a sale, it’s an advertisement for a writer, and even a book unbought is still potentially *seen* and thus more valuable to the author if there’s branding info on it, like “Hugo Winner”.

    Now what I’d be curious to know is, if winning the Hugo has no effect on sales, why would publishers spend money (in the form of reading copies, or, for the Booker outright cash) for their books to be considered for awards were the author gets a cash prize? I just don’t buy that only some awards will have an effect on sales. The extent of said effect can vary greatly, but I believe that, by now, the Hugos have enough history, respect and reputation to have an effect on sales, not as much as the Booker (duh!) but certainly enough to be noticed.

  14. “Now what I’d be curious to know is, if winning the Hugo has no effect on sales, why would publishers spend money (in the form of reading copies, or, for the Booker outright cash) for their books to be considered for awards were the author gets a cash prize?”

    Wild guess: Perhaps the sales gain is in having the book be part of the awards conversation, and it’s just that winning doesn’t produce any extra sales beyond that?

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