What next for the Orange prize?

<p>And so the 2008 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction goes to Rose Tremain. Which is, excuse the pun, a turn up for the books. Quite simply because Tremain was the bookies' favourite, and until now, I was of the firm belief that literary prizes never went to the bookies' favourite. I always thought judging panels spent their final hours phoning up the likes of William Hill, Coral and Totes just to make sure they weren't going to give it to the public's favourite. But it seems, this time, they did.<br />
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Except they didn't.<br />
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Sadie Jones' critically acclaimed <i>The Outcast </i>(also Chatto) is the only title on the shortlist to have enjoyed an average weekly sale since publication over the 300 mark, while Tremain's Orange prize winner enjoyed its highest weekly sale back in June last year when it sold 465 copies in seven days. It finished 45th in the hardback fiction bestseller lists that week.<br />
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To date, total sales of all six nominees, in part due to the fact that three of them are d&eacute;buts, stand at just 37,905 copies. This figure is almost ten times lower than last year's set of six which enjoyed total sales of over 360,000 by the eve of the announcement. The figure was 335,000 in 2006. What gives?<br />
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Well, much has been made of the fact that in previous years the Orange shortlist has contained a couple of blockbusters that didn't really need any more help in attracting sales. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's <i>Half of a Yellow Sun</i> (HarperPerennial) received a spot on the pre-Orange &quot;Richard &amp; Judy&quot; Book Club last year, selling well into six figures before the time Orange came around, and Zadie Smith's<i> On Beauty</i> (although only in hardback) was on the list in 2006, selling well into five figures pre-announcement.<br />
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In 2008, the Orange judges took a slight risk in choosing three d&eacute;buts, hopefully answering some of the criticism levelled that is was rewarding authors already &quot;mainstream&quot;. But if there's one thing true about the book business and the commentators that come with it, it's that they can be fickle. And so criticisms came that 2008's shortlist lacked a star name came.<br />
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The Orange prize courted its fair share of controversy in recent history, not least because the likes of Tim Lott and A S Byatt have launched scathing attacks on the award, with Lott summing it up as a &quot;sexist con trick&quot; earlier this year. This followed the raising of eyebrows when it was announced that the musician Lily Allen was to be a judge, in December last year, and cynical laughter accompanied the announcement in April of Lily Allen's withdrawal.<br />
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I actually find it a shame Lily Allen isn't still around. If she had stuck around, at least the trade could have looked forward to throngs of her MySpace massive plundering copies of literary works over the coming weeks. <br />
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But given that the last two recipients of the Man Booker prize (Anne Enright, Kiran Desai) and the last four recipients of the Costa/Whitbread Book of the Year (A L Kennedy, Stef Penny, Hilary Spurling, Andrea Levy) have been women, many question the Orange Prize's validity. The prize was set up over &quot;concern that many of the biggest literary prizes often appeared to overlook wonderful writing by women&quot;. But that seems no longer the case.<br />
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However, championing literary works is surely what the industry is all about and major retailers, with kudos to Waterstone's and Borders in particular, have and will continue to support the prize in 2008 with as much vigour as they have in recent years, regardless of scoffers.</p>
<p>And I'm one journalist who's looking forward to seeing Tremain hit the charts over the coming weeks, as it will be proof positive that the book-buying public still hold the award in high esteem. The paperback edition of <i>The Road Home</i> is just around the corner. Here's hoping it'll do a <i>We Need to Talk About Kevin</i>.</p>