The Fiction Uncovered literary prize will not run in 2016 as it seeks commercial sponsorship.
The prize, administered by the Literary Platform, which awards midlist British fiction writers, has been funded by the Arts Council England (ACE) since its inception in 2010 and by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation for the last two years.
However, Sophie Rochester, director of the prize, told The Bookseller the prize did not apply for ACE funding this year because it intends to shift to a more commercially funded and sustainable model and broaden its remit.
She said: “We want to shift from the public-funded model to a commercially funded model is order to ensure the prize has a more sustainable future because that is the way it will move forward. It is more sustainable to have a commercial sponsor for a longer period of time,” she said. “We are in the process of investigating a new, commercial sponsor and are in conversations with two possibilities at the moment, but these things take quite a long time to finalise.”
The prize is also looking into the prospect of widening its remit to include debut British fiction following calls from the literary community to shine a spotlight exclusively on British authors.
Rochester said: “There is a need for a prize just for British authors after The Man Booker opened up its remit to international authors, like The Folio Prize, and for the prize to include first time authors. Originally it was set up to shine a light on midlist authors.”
Rochester said she is also conducting research on whether a literary prize is the best way to support British first time authors, with several currently competing for sponsorship and media attention.
When asked about whether the literary prize market was “oversaturated”, Rochester said: “I think that is a valid question and that is what we will also be investigating this year. Is there a better way we can support British writers than a prize, such as a residency or grant to give them time to write, which is what many authors say they need the most? Literary prizes sometimes struggle to get media coverage. Having said that, retailers say they are important for book promotion and sales.”
The Fiction Uncovered Prize is the latest in a string of awards seeking sponsorship.
The Folio Prize announced it would not run in 2016 after its two-year sponsorship deal with the Folio Society ended last year and The Impac Dublin Literary Award is also seeking sponsorship after the trust fund established to back the prize ran dry last year. The Samuel Johnson prize was also seeking a sponsor last year, but has since found one in Scottish investment company Baillie Gifford.
Despite the fact that several literary prizes are competing for media attention and sponsorship, several people in the publishing industry think there is a “desperate” need for a prize which recognises British talent.
Literary agent Cathryn Summerhayes of William Morris said such a prize was needed “more than ever” after quality of UK fiction has risen markedly in the last decade.
“I am not against all inclusive prizes, far from it, but our relatively small country is bound to suffer a reduction in prize winners now the big hitting prizes include other nations," she said. "The quality of British fiction I see across my desk has risen in the last 10 years yet so few literary novels break out - a British fiction prize would guarantee one major seller, and potentially many more with strong long and shortlists.”
Mark Richard, editorial director at John Murray, added: "We in the UK are great at selling ourselves off: our trains are run by the Germans; our energy delivered by the French; our chocolate companies owned by the Americans. We have been similarly successful in setting up brilliant literary prizes, only to allow the world to compete – the Booker Prize, the Bailey’s Prize, the Folio Prize – with those prizes forgetting that if we don’t support our own writers, no one else will. We desperately need a prize for British fiction; a prize that will give our authors – some of whom are among the best in the world, and some of whom have the potential to be – the oxygen of publicity and the benefit of sales.”
Rochester added that the “the door is not closed” on the Fiction Uncovered prize, “but there will be an evolution.”