Inside the Booker Prize

<p><em>Alison Flood writes:</em></p>
<p>A wide-eyed and shell-shocked team from Myrmidon Books was down from Newcastle yesterday at a <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/news/43475-booker-addresses-retailer-concer... for publishers</a> longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Still reeling at having the third book they've ever published on the Booker longlist, they're trying to work out how to arrange publicity for their author Tan Twan Eng, who's currently in South Africa (where he's been cracking open the champagne). Tindal Street's Alan Mahar was a bit more sanguine&mdash;he's seen a title shortlisted before: Clare Morrall's <em>Astonishing Splashes of Colour</em> in 2003, and wanted to know what longlisted publishers could expect in terms of marketing and publicity.</p>
<p>The Random House contingent were looking very pleased with themselves&mdash;as they should with a total of four titles in the running&mdash;and were full of questions for the prize's organisers about how they would ensure titles, if shortlisted, would be available in store as soon as possible.</p>
<p>This is a key issue for the prize and one the organisers have hoped to address by bringing the longlist down to 13 titles from 20 in previous years. This means that publishers on the longlist know they have a 50% chance (roughly) of getting on to the shortlist-but publishers present still weren't convinced the problem had been solved.</p>
<p>With the shortlist announced on a Thursday there is little chance of putting through 30,000-odd print runs in time to get books in store for the weekend, when media will be focusing on titles. So what else can be done?</p>
<p>One suggestion was that longlisted publishers sign up to an embargo for the shortlist-this seems the best solution, and the organisers said they would definitely consider it next year. Another was to announce the shortlist on a Tuesday to give publishers time to get books out for the weekend; this will also be considered for next year.</p>
<p>It was obvious the organisers of the prize have done a huge amount of work this year, looking at how the prize is viewed by retailers (still important and culturally significant, apparently, but a little old-fashioned too) and at how they can keep momentum running throughout the year. They have also relaunched the website (<a href="http://www.themanbookerprize.com">www.themanbookerprize.com</a>-be sure to include the &quot;the&quot;, or you are directed to a sperm enhancement site...). It looks great and already includes a blog from chair of the judges Howard Davies as well as lots of extra content. They want it to be a destination for booklovers throughout the year-great in theory, my only concern would be how they are going to get readers to come there in the first place.</p>
<p>Gordon Kerr, who has been talking to retailers about how they plan to market the prize, is adamant that the shortlist has to be promoted together in shops. He's right-it's a huge opportunity that shouldn't be missed and, availability problems aside, the high street has been on top of this. If Tesco and other supermarkets get on board and actively promote the shortlist too it could be huge for the six titles.</p>
<p>But it is disappointing that the shortened longlist isn't also being more aggresively promoted. Comments in the press and from retailers have been lukewarm about the range of books picked but at a quick glance it looks like a remarkably accessible list of books, which might be easier to get to grips with than selections in previous years.</p>
<p>I have to admit I've only read one of them, Peter Ho Davies' <em>The Welsh Girl</em> (which I really enjoyed) but I've heard good things about others, particularly Catherine O'Flynn's <em>What Was Lost</em> (which our reporter Tom Tivnan loved) and <em>The Reluctant Fundamentalist</em> (our deputy editor Joel Rickett is a big fan).</p>
<p>So rather than complaining about the lack of big hitters why not get excited about these new authors (four debuts among them) who could be the big hitters of the future? The Coetzees and Coes of the world are already huge and less in need, perhaps, of the publicity, so let's give someone else a chance.</p>