The widening of the Man Booker Prize criteria to allow Irish publishers to submit novels could lead to a "boom" in the publishing scene in Ireland, trade figures have suggested.
On Monday (8th January) it was revealed that Irish publishers are now eligible to submit novels for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction from this year onwards following consultation with Publishing Ireland, the Irish Association of Book Publishers. Ronan Colgan, president of Publishing Ireland, who pushed for the change, told The Bookseller he hopes it will lead to new publishers forming and enable small literary presses “to hold on to authors and have a chance”.
As of this year, a new rule has been added specifying that any novel written originally in English and published in Ireland by an imprint formally established in Ireland is now eligible for the £50,000 prize.
Colgan revealed that widening the eligibility of the coveted award was one of his main objectives when he took over as president of Publishing Ireland from Ruth Hegarty in the summer. He hopes that it will lead to a boom in Irish publishing with more presses forming.
Publishing Ireland received a positive reaction when it raised the issue with the Man Booker panel in the summer. “It was one of the big things I wanted to achieve in my new role, it was absolutely something we wanted to get done," Colgan said. "The eligibility before felt like a bit of an anomaly.”
The 50th anniversary of the prize meant that organisers were “more open to bringing new ideas to market”, he said. “This will just be better for readers and writers and the prize itself."
He added: “I think it will have a positive change on the Irish publishing scene. It will boost it. It will allow smaller, literary Irish publishers to hold on to authors and have a chance. We’re hoping it will lead to an increase in Irish publishing and show Irish publishers that they can become more commercially viable. We’re hoping for more publishers. It has always been smaller than the UK [scene] but the standard is very good.”
Colgan, also publishing director of The History Press Ireland, continued: “It is a huge opportunity for Irish publishers. For an Irish publisher to be successful commercially, they have to succeed beyond Ireland. That is why the UK and Irish book markets are so intertwined.”
This sentiment was echoed by Bob Johnston, owner of the Gutter Bookshop in Dublin, who said the previous eligibility criteria had “always been a sticking point”.
“Before, the rules meant that Irish publishers had to grow and develop Irish authors before losing them," he told The Bookseller. "Now it means that these authors who have been nurtured by the publishers can continue their careers with them.”
Johnston described the change as “long overdue” and praised indie publisher Tramp Press’ role in lobbying for the change. “Tramp Press is a young and dynamic publisher. It has published great authors such as Mike McCormack of Solar Bones (which won the Goldsmiths Prize)… which should have been eligible for the prize and they have been banging around this for some time.”
In a blog, published on Tramp Press' website on Monday (8th January), a spokesperson wrote: “We are thrilled to hear this great news. The Man Booker Prize is an important part of the literary scene in the UK and Ireland, and we have a great record of Irish authors winning it.”
Hachette Ireland editorial director, Ciara Doorley, told The Bookseller the change would boost the “range and diversity” of submissions for the award. She said: “We’re delighted about the changes to the guidelines for submissions to The Man Booker Prize. Independent publishers such as Tramp and Lilliput have been hugely successful in fostering and championing Irish literary fiction, and prizes such as The Booker offer a huge potential opportunity to authors in terms of platform and audience outside of Ireland, as well as a massive potential market for Irish publishers.”
She added: “Opening up the prize in this way will also increase the range and diversity of the submissions which is good news for everyone. Well done to all who pushed for this.”
George Saunders became the second American to win the Man Booker in 2017 for Lincoln in the Bardo (Bloomsbury Publishing) after it began admitting English-language authors outside of Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth four years ago.