Small publishers concerned over Man Booker changes

Small publishers concerned over Man Booker changes

The Man Booker Prize submission rule changes will have a negative impact on small publishers, some have claimed.

The rule changes were announced as Man Booker confirmed that it would widen its eligibility criteria to include any titles written in English and published by a UK-based publisher.

Man Booker said the changes had been under discussion for 18 months—predating the launch of the Folio Prize, which also allows all writers publishing in English to enter.

Jonathan Taylor, chairman of the trustees, said that the process of discussing the rule changes “began before The Folio Prize was a glint in their eye”.

He added: “By including writers from around the world to compete alongside Commonwealth and Irish writers, the Man Booker Prize is reinforcing its standing as the most important literary award in the English-speaking world.”

James Daunt, Waterstones m.d., said the changes were “fantastic”, and said: “I think it is really exciting and the right thing to be doing. It is a much more inclusive and sensible prize as far as I am concerned. They have come up with a set of rules that should deliver us the best books that are published.”

However, smaller publishers were concerned about the changes to the number of titles that could be submitted to the Booker. The new rules mean that each publisher or imprint may only submit one title, compared to the two titles which were allowed previously. Publishers that have been longlisted once or twice in the past five years will be allowed to submit two titles, while those with three or four longlistings over the same period of time can submit three titles, and those with five or more can submit four books. Judges will still be able to call in titles, and authors who have previously been shortlisted will automatically be allowed to submit, as before.

Jen Hamilton-Emery, editorial director at Salt Publishing, which published Alison Moore’s 2012-shortlisted The Lighthouse, said: “The changes work in favour of the bigger publishers. Any small house without a previous longlist position has had their chances halved. I appreciate that the bigger houses who publish lots of eligible titles may feel that they were being disadvantaged before, but it was a very democratic way of doing it. It was a level playing field.”

Stefan Tobler, founder of And Other Stories, publisher of the 2012-shortlisted Swimming Home by Deborah Levy, said: “It’s potentially worrying. At the moment we benefit from being allowed two submissions, but the Booker is always unpredictable, and one year we may not be so lucky. Hopefully small publishers still have the advantage of carefully selecting their eligible titles, and being able to show authors that with us they won’t be competing [to be entered] in the same way as they might at a big house [being up against bigger authors].”

Andrew Kidd, founder of the £40,000 Folio Prize, said he welcomed a wider prize that would promote literary fiction, though he noted that The Folio Prize had been launched to fill a “perceived gap, rather than to imply that others should adopt our model”. Kidd added: “I do find the new submission rules to be quite eccentric. It seems like it will entrench the success of the certain houses. Authors will want to go with a house with a larger number of submissions.”

Oli Munson, agent at A M Heath, described it as “the rich getting richer”, and added: “I am sure the prize organisers have good intentions with changing the rules, and I look forward to seeing, in a couple of years’ time, British authors allowed to submit titles for the Pulitzer Prize.”

Man Booker director Ion Trewin said the debate about the rule changes had been going on seriously for 18 months, including discussions with publishers, agents and writers on both sides of the Atlantic. He said: “There were a variety of opinions, which there always are when changes like these are being discussed, but ultimately we think these rules make sense for us.”

He added: “We looked at several models at how submissions would best work and we thought this was fairest. Small publishers need one good book to make the longlist to have two submissions in the future, and it will be refreshed every year. On top of that, they can still suggest books to be called in. I think this fairly represents the levels of publishing the different sized houses do. The proof will be in how it works. If there are issues, it can be tweaked.”

Editor's blog: Eyes on the Prize