The Man Booker Prize has extended its criteria and will from next year accept any novels originally published in English by a UK publisher.
The move means that for the first time American novelists will be eligible for the Man Booker Prize. The rule change was announced today (18th September) at a press conference following a Sunday Times report that the prize was to include US authors in its remit.
A second rule change is around the number of submissions each publisher or imprint may make. From 2014, the number of books each publisher can forward to the judges will depend on their longlisting history over the previous five years. Each publisher will be allowed to enter one book, but a publisher who has had one or two longlisted books in the past half-decade will be allowed two submissions; a publisher with three or four longlistings three; and a publisher with five or more longlistings will be permitted four submissions.
Authors who have previously been shortlisted will still be allowed to automatically enter new titles, and there will still be a call in option for judges to request books that were not originally submitted.
Ion Trewin, administrator of the Man Booker Prize, said: "The winner of the 2014 prize will be able to say: 'I am the best in the English-speaking world'.” Trewin admitted that the prize had intended to announce the changes after the 2013 award had been made."
He said he expected the changes around submissions would reduce the number of novels submitted to "around 130", from 151 this year. However, some publishers, particularly new publishers, might lament the changes—at the moment publishers can submit two titles, plus any titles by an author who has previously won the prize (this remains unchanged).
Jonathan Taylor, chair of the trustees, said that Man Booker had "not made this decision [to extend the prize to all authors writing in English] quickly or lightly".
He said: "It was made after extensive investigation and evaluation with the help of specialist independent consultants’ research and consultation began in 2011. Over the following 18 months the views of writers, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and others were canvassed on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. Initially the thinking was that we might set up a new prize specifically for US writers. But at the end of the process we were wary of jeopardising or diluting the existing Man Booker Prize. Instead we agreed that the prize, which for 45 years has been the touchstone for literary fiction written in English of the highest quality, could enhance its prestige and reputation through expansion, rather than by setting up a separate prize."
Jackie Kaiser, an agent at Westwood Creative Artists in Toronto who represents Yann Martel, winner in 2002 with Life of Pi (Canongate), told The Bookseller the move to permit American novelists could lead to an "Americanisation" of literary culture.
Kaiser said: "Part of what made the Man Booker special is that fiction published in America hasn't in fact been eligible, so that the make up of its list was inevitably distinct from the make up of US prize lists.
"I suppose that this move will give the selected books greater publicity and better sales traction in the US, and these aren't bad things, but while America is clearly the biggest and arguably the most important book market in the world, it isn't the only one, and with publisher lists in the other English-language territories already allocating valuable fiction slots to US writers, it is hard not to fear that this move may lead to a further Americanisation of literary culture."
Anne Meadows, assistant editor at Granta, which has Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries in this year's Man Booker shortlist, said: "With the kind of writing that we publish, I think it would very much be able to hold its own against writing from America—we're not worried about that. We also publish strong books by American writers, such as A M Homes' May We Be Forgiven, and it would be amazing if that book were allowed to compete. The current rules seem to be an arbitrary barrier. It is hard to say that there is anything about this year's shortlist which represents the Commonwealth."
She added: "The Women's Prize for Fiction has been won by American authors, and it always does a great job of raising a book's profile."
Toby Mundy, chief executive of Atlantic Books, which published Booker-winner The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga in 2008, said: "The Booker has been very important to Atlantic, with four of our books shortlisted in nine years and one winner. But we publish American authors who write very fine books too."
He added: "The Man Booker Prize has become the biggest fiction prize in the world—the Nobel Prize is for a career, with the Pulitzers they reward more than one thing so are diluted, and the National Book Award has never had that big an impact. Winning the Booker means very significant commercial success around the world, and in the USA. If you think about the meaning of the Commonwealth over the next ten years, it makes sense for the organisers to ally their extraordinary brand to the biggest audience. It is a rational evolution."
However, he said that there could be a danger of letting American books dominate. He said: "Part of me thinks it's a shame—when American culture is introduced to something, it tends to dominate. But the Booker judges are famously capricious. They are very unafraid to leave a big author off the list. It still puts the pressure on publishers to select what they think are the best titles—ultimately, it's a level playing field."
Cathy Rentzenbrink said: "I can completely see that it is a bit of a heartbreaker for a previously eligible author to see an already unscaleable wall become even higher, bu, I think this is great news for UK readers—the people out there who are actually buying the books.
"What this means is that they can get their hands on what the judges consider to be the absolute best book written in English published in the UK in that year. It’s a very clear and compelling consumer proposition. We probably as an industry don’t think very much about the readers—when a publisher talks about a customer they mean a retailer—but this is a really reader-friendly move.
"It’s also about excellence. I feel excited about it and I think it’s gloomy in the extreme to think that American authors will dominate over our poor little home-grown authors. I don’t think anything would have or should have beaten Bring Up the Bodies. Bring it on, I say."
The winner of this year's Man Booker Prize for Fiction will be announced on 15th October. The winner in 2012 was Hilary Mantel for Bring Up the Bodies (Fourth Estate).