The Man Booker Longlist – why are we waiting for publication?

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The longlist of thirteen titles has been announced, but we can only get our hands on eight of them? Is this a prize for the public, or just for publishers?

It doesn’t seem entirely fair that the public aren’t able to get fully involved with the Man Booker this year, and what’s more unfair is that certain publishers are choosing to purposefully not bring forward publication for their titles. This is despite the fact that HarperCollins imprint Fourth Estate is to bring forward its publication date for Joseph O’Neill’s The Dog to 31st July since it was longlisted for the prize. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me…

From a publisher’s point of view, surely being longlisted for the Man Booker is phenomenal for sales – most people will be desperate to get their hands on a copy so they can make their own mind up about who should be shortlisted, and who should eventually win. Isn’t that what book prizes are all about? Generate a bit of publicity, a bit of chatter and buzz about a book and an author, provoke discussion and debate and then ultimately crown a victor to the combined cries of celebration and commiseration? How does any of this work if people can’t read four of the books on the list? What happens if they’re shortlisted? It’s just ridiculous. It’s just squandering free publicity. How frustrating for the public, and undoubtedly for the authors too.

2014_booker_novelsFrom a personal point of view, I often supplement my reading with these book prize longlisted titles, and it’s extremely irritating to have a book flaunted in my face and in the media when I can’t read it. A cynical part of my brain tells me that this is just an elaborate way for the big publishing companies to pat each other on the back about how well they’re doing. It’s a bit of competition between publishing houses, and seems a bit elitist and alienating to everyone else. Is the Booker just a prize for publishers, or for everyone? I really don’t know any more.

In an article on The Bookseller site, Simon Key from the Big Green Bookshop is quoted as saying:

It is just stupid that nearly half the books aren’t even out yet. The Man Booker Prize is trying to stand out from the Folio, why doesn’t it do that by being inclusive and selecting books which are already published so that the public can get involved? What’s the point in keeping it just for the publishing industry? How are booksellers able to make a song and dance among customers when we can’t offer them the books? They have changed the rules so that Americans can enter, why don’t they change the eligibility to ensure the books have to be published?

The word ‘inclusive’ jumps out at me. It should be inclusive, of smaller, independent publishers, as well as the public. The problem with a lot of these big book prizes, and I’m probably the zillionth person to harp on about this, is their exclusivity. As Simon says, the Booker seems as though it’s trying to fight against this criticism by including American titles, but that’s only a small fragment of the whole picture. All we’re asking for is the ability to read the books that we’re being told we should read, isn’t that what you want, Booker Prize? Isn’t that the whole point of you? Sigh.

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