Publishers and booksellers have enthusiastically welcomed the merger of the Man Booker International Prize and the Independent Foreign Prize for Fiction, saying it will create a prize with "a new stature", making "a good counterpoint" to the Man Booker itself.
The new prize, which will retain the Man Booker International Prize name and be awarded for the first time in 2016, will be awarded annually to a single work of fiction in English translation, with have a total prize fund of £62,000. Of this, the authors and translators of each of the six shortlisted titles will get £1,000 apiece, while the winning author and translator will also share £50,000.
Publishers have said the new prize is “exciting” and told The Bookseller that it will give more prominence to translated fiction.
Christopher Maclehose, founder of Quercus-owned Maclehose Press and publisher of translated fiction including that of Stieg Larsson, said bringing the two prizes together was an “absolutely wonderful combination”.
“The Man Booker has developed into a world class prize, but at the same time one wants to give credit to the Independent for having for years supported literature in translation and the work of translators,” he said. “They have done a wonderful, wonderful job. I think what will happen is that this prize will go forward and very swiftly, with everything that the Man Booker brings, gain a new stature.” Maclehose said it would take a “while for the new prize to have the same effect as the Man Booker Prize does” but that “it will happen”.
Boyd Tonkin, senior writer on the Independent, who has been on the judging panel for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize since 2000, will chair the judges for next year’s prize and then join the Booker Prize Foundation Advisory Committee. Maclehose said he thought everyone would be “extremely pleased" that former literary editor Tonkin, "who has been instrumental in helping keep the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize alive, will be going on looking after the way in which the prize is chosen”.
Paul Baggaley, publisher at Picador, also said the combination of Boyd with the “heft” of the Man Booker was good. “Hopefully the single prize will be even more than the sum of its two parts,” he said. “It will be a good counterpoint to the Man Booker Prize. The Man Booker has proved masterful in publicising and self-publicising, and by giving the Man Booker International Prize the same status and heft I hope it will really get people to stand up and take notice.”
Picador last year renewed its focus on translated fiction, and Baggaley said publishers of all sizes were realising there was “great work” in languages other than English.
Meanwhile Adam Freudenheim, m.d. and publisher of Pushkin Press, said it was “great news for publishers like us, for authors, and for translators”. Around 80% of Pushkin Press’s output is fiction in translation, with Freudenheim saying the “profile of translated fiction in the UK varies”.
“There are individual books that have risen above the parapet,” he said. “Those are individual success stories though, on the whole books that mostly sell commercially are most written in English. We are always trying to publish our books a great books, not great books in translation.”
Man Booker International Prize administrator Fiammetta Rocco said the prize was the “most generous” for translated literature, adding that a good translation can “really sing” while a bad one can be “leaden”. The splitting of the prize fund between author and translator “acknowledges the incredibly important part the translators play in the process,” said Freudenheim, and it was “fantastic to draw attention to that work”.
“There are lots of translation prizes, but none on this scale,” he added.
Kirsty Dunseath, publishing director at Weidenfeld & Nicholson fiction, agreed, saying it was “great to see that the translator will receive a major share of the prize as a good translation is absolutely crucial in a book’s success”.
She said connecting the Man Booker International Prize and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize gave “greater prominence” to translated fiction. “I’ve always felt that the ‘next big thing’ in literature could come from anywhere, not just the English language,” she said. “If I look at the history of the W&N list, for example, some of the most successful books in our history have been translations – from Lolita, Sophie’s World, The Reader and Shadow of the Wind, to our most recent success with Michel Bussi’s After the Crash.”
Bella Bosworth, editor at Transworld, who earlier this year published the Italian novel The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman (Doubleday) by Mamen Sanchez, translated by Lucy Greaves, said she did not think publishers would suddenly start publishing more translated work, but the new prize was “part of a gradual process”.
“The Man Booker has huge appeal, and sharing the prize between the author and the translator really raises the profile of translation, and that is a small but significant starting point,” she said.
Michal Shavit, deputy publishing director of Harvill Secker, said: "It's brilliant to see the two great prizes of international fiction coming together as one and becoming an inclusive and yearly prize right at the very heart and centre of our literary culture."
Meanwhile Jonathan Ruppin, web editor at Foyles, said the prize would “offer a huge boost to translated fiction both in the UK, and given the Booker's international stature, in other countries whose markets remain dominated by English-language literature”.
The prize will “likely be life-changing for both author and translator, bringing them a whole new readership”, he continued. “The potential market for translated fiction is huge and the last two or three years have seen a noticeable growth in interest and sales at Foyles. Smaller independent publishers have led the way in diversifying beyond Western Europe, with larger publishers now growing in confidence in this area.”
He said the prize “acknowledges how literary culture can leave behind linguistic boundaries”.