Penguin Random House is printing 40,000 paperbacks of Ali Smith’s How to be Both (Hamish Hamilton) following its triumph at the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Smith was named the 20th winner of the prize last night at a ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
Her win was warmly welcomed by the trade. Chris White, fiction buyer for Waterstones, said: “I think it’s a wonderful book by a remarkable writer which will surprise and delight the many new readers it will find following its victory.” Sheila O’Reilly of Dulwich Books said: “It's super that Ali won, her writing is amazing and How to Be Both is a perfect successor to A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing [the 2014 winner by Eimear McBride]. The book has broad appeal and it's been in our top top bestsellers since it was published in paperback and I can only see it going higher and staying there for the rest of the year.”
Jonathan Ruppin of Foyles said: "A little like Hilary Mantel a few years ago, Ali Smith has had a dedicated following for some time, but she's never quite seen this translate into the sales she deserves. This is the moment where she breaks through and joins the still far too small band of female authors whose every new book will be received with all the fuss of a new McEwan or Ishiguro.
"How to be Both has already been a huge success for Foyles, in both hardback and paperback, so this win may well make it into one of our biggest sellers of recent years. There's something for almost all tastes in her writing and the dual-story format seems to offer no deterrent even to those who prefer their storytelling to be more conventional. There's plenty for the head and the heart.
"It's rather thrilling to think that today thousands of readers will start their first Ali Smith. Like Mantel again, she has an outstanding backlist to explore too."
“I still don’t quite believe it,” Smith told The Bookseller at the awards ceremony. “Each of the books on this shortlist is a winner. Each of the books was so good. There is no competition in this, everyone who comes to the top has been lucky as anything, which I have. Anyone of us would have been a proper winner, a worthy winner.”
Smith’s book is a dual narrative, with one half telling the story of a child of the child of the 1960s, and the other a renaissance painter in the 1460s. It has been printed in two forms – one with the modern day element first and other with the 1460s first.
Smith said: “Imagine going into an imprint and a conglomerate where the pressure is on everybody to make money, and saying ‘I want to do a book which comes out in two forms which looks like the same form and asks questions about form’, and for your editor to say ‘OK, I’ll find out if it’s possible’, and to come back three days later and say it’s possible. That is an incredible gift.”
Simon Prosser, publisher at Hamish Hamilton, told The Bookseller that a 40,000-copy reprint of How to be Both was underway, with the order of the stories in the book switching after every 10,000 copies. “We are so, so happy,” said Prosser. “I had tears in my eyes. I thought it was a really strong shortlist and you can never predict a winner. It’s best to not hope too much.”
This is the second year the prize has been sponsored for Baileys. It was sponsored for 17 years by Orange.
White said: “I occasionally forget that it was ever known as the Orange Prize such is the success which Baileys has had in establishing itself as the new sponsor.”
O’Reilly said: “It will take time for readers to stop automatically saying Orange. What Baileys and the prize are doing with reaching out through the likes of Whistles is exactly the right strategy and will make a real difference in the long term.”
Ruppin said: "Baileys have certainly done very well at replacing Orange as the brand associated with the award, but very much by promoting the prize itself. The range of initiatives they have devised to involve readers in the award has been very impressive."
The other books on this year’s shortlist were Outline by Rachel Cusk (originally published by Faber & Faber and published in paperback by Vintage), Laline Paull’s The Bees (Fourth Estate), Kamila Shamsie’s A God in Every Stone (Bloomsbury), Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus), and Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests (Virago).
The shortlist as a whole has sold 34,580 units through Nielsen BookScan since the list was announced seven weeks ago, 50% of that (17,358 copies) by Ali Smith’s How to be Both (Hamish Hamilton), which was released in paperback on the week of the shortlist announcement.
That is a rise of 119.9% on the six titles’ sales in the seven weeks prior to the shortlist being announced.
Smith's win marks the second year running that the winner of the Goldsmiths Prize for experimental fiction has also gone on to take the Baileys winner. Smith won the prize in November; the inaugural prize in 2013 was won by Eimear McBride, who also went on to win the Baileys.