Thoughts On: Americans and the Man Booker Prize
1. Word on the street is that American authors will be eligible for the Man Booker Prize from next year but this is only if they are published by UK imprints so we won't suddenly be inundated by books from across the pond
2. This won't necessarily increase the overall number of books submitted either. At the moment publishers are limited to two entries per imprint and there is no suggestion that this will change.
3. With a few small exceptions, which I am sure some of you will point out to me, the USA is the only English-speaking country whose authors are not currently eligible for the Man Booker Prize.
4. This move will potentially make the Man Booker the most important literary prize in the English language. I can see the attraction of that to sponsors, organisers, publishers, authors and readers.
5. Some people are up in arms about the move, suggesting that this will result in British writers ending up as the poor relations in the new set up. If British, Australian, Canadian, Irish etc. writers carry on writing great books I am not sure what they have to worry about.
6. Others have argued that independent publishers will lose out. I don't buy this. In recent years, the Man Booker has been hugely supportive of independent publishers and I don't see why this should stop just because American authors can now be entered. A lot of independent UK publishers publish work by American authors.
7. I am quite excited at the prospect of authors such as Charles Baxter, Kent Haruf, Michael Kimball, Anne Tyler, Paul Auster (insert your own favourites here) and others appearing on Man Booker longlists. All of them could easily have appeared on long and shortlists in previous years if they'd been eligible.
8. Sure, publishers will now have to think that little bit more carefully about which authors they enter each year but it is already a process fraught with how abouts and what ifs and maybes anyway. Often publishers will deliberately leave out a major author in the hope/knowledge that the judges will probably call it in (publishers are allowed to plead the case for one or two books they haven't entered officially), making room for an acclaimed debut or an up-and-coming writer instead. It's a gamble but it often pays off.
9. One of the big potential losers if this change goes ahead is the Baileys Prize, or Orange Prize as was. It is one of the few really big literary awards that includes US authors alongside those from the UK and elsewhere. This may steal some of their thunder.
10. I don't care what sex an author is, what country they come from, what language they write in, what sexuality they are, whether a book is their first, their third or their twenty-fifth, whether they received a grant or a massive advance, what genre they write in or any other variable. I, like most readers, just want to read wonderful books and if this move brings a more varied range of books to my attention then it is fine by me.
Scott Pack is publisher at The Friday Project. This piece first appeared on his blog, Me and My Big Mouth.