Eyes on the prize: Booker bounce vs spend

Eyes on the prize: Booker bounce vs spend

Good relationships with independent sales forces and distributors; helpful advice from fellow independents; small teams that can communicate quickly; and a modus operandi that is well used to paying attention to cashflows and finding solutions are all ways that independent publishers can cope when the happy madness of a Man Booker nod comes their way.

In the past five years, it has been noticeable how many independent houses have featured on the prize’s longlists and shortlists, with the sector’s rise seeming to run parallel with the rebirth of independent bookshops. When these publishers also hold foreign rights—as Scottish publisher Saraband does for Graeme Macrae Burnet’s (pictured) much-discussed His Bloody Project—it can be a special time.

“We had already sold German and North American rights as well as film and TV options before the longlisting,” says Saraband publisher Sara Hunt. “Since then we’ve had enquiries for an enormous number of territories and languages, which are all being handled by the Adrian Weston Literary Agency. There have been some exciting auctions already, but plenty of languages are yet to be concluded.”

Rights deals and book sales do come with upfront costs, however. If a title is longlisted, the Booker committee demands a minimum print run of 1,000 physical copies within 10 days of the announcement (if the book has already been published). Getting an author shortlisted means a publisher must give the Booker £5,000 towards publicity costs; should they win, there is an additional £5,000 charge. That type of money is a drop in the oceanfor the likes of Penguin Random House; for smaller independents, it is a not inconsiderable outlay.

Christopher Hamilton-Emery, director at north Norfolk-based Salt, which publishes Wyl Menmuir’s The Many, longlisted for the award this year, says that the trick to surviving when the orders start coming in is “to have the double overdraft ready and put a call out to obscure relatives for some readies”. More seriously, he adds: “The whole process does involve considerable expenditure and the best preparation is to keep the business financially stable. It’s an amazing opportunity to lift the business to the next level, so the pressure on cash is well worth it. You just have to be ready for it.”

A helping hand

Sometimes a house may feel that it does not have the structures in place in order to cope, and will take the co-publishing route to give them that extra support and reach. Stefan Tobler’s And Other Stories did this in 2012, joining forces with Faber to co-publish Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home after it was shortlisted.

Tobler, who is the company’s founder and publisher, says: “If we’d had a Man Booker shortlisting this year, we wouldn’t have done a co-publishing paperback deal. [But] we approached a number of publishers in 2012 because we were less than a year old and didn’t have distribution in most of the Commonwealth countries—places like Australia and India, where the Man Booker makes a big impact. So in 2012 it made a big difference in helping us get the book out. That joint venture is now over and we’re happy to be selling three of Levy’s books through our rep force, Compass.”

Juliet Mabey, publisher at Oneworld, which won last year’s prize with Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, accepts that cashflow might be tight for some smaller houses, but adds: “It is such a well-run prize from the marketing and publicity point of view that I think most shortlisted publishers sell through very quickly and reap in increased sales what they sow in extra printing and marketing costs. That has certainly been our experience.”