Man Booker: Even if you can get the shortlisted titles, will they sell?
The shortlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize was announced earlier this month, and so far, it has been met with positive reactions from the trade. There are some favourites on the list—previous Man Booker winner Hilary Mantel has made the cut with Bring Up the Bodies (Fourth Estate) and Will Self’s Umbrella (Bloomsbury) is attracting attention—as well as some relatively unknown authors and publishers. But just how easy is it to stock copies of the shortlisted titles in your bookstore?
HarperCollins Australia published Bring Up the Bodies locally in May 2012 and the title has been available since then—it was the third bestselling title at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, also in May. Likewise, Self’s Umbrella was published simultaneously in Australia and the UK by Bloomsbury in August. An updated cover will be available before the end of the month. Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis (Faber) has been available locally through Allen & Unwin since February.
Tracking down copies of the other three shortlisted titles—Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (And Other Stories), The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (Salt Publishing) and The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon)—has, until this point, been less straightforward. Anecdotally, some booksellers have said they have been importing stock from UK distributors.
International agencies director at Allen & Unwin Miranda Van Asch told Bookseller+Publisher that booksellers will be able to source Levy’s and Moore’s titles locally before the end of the month, as well as a new version of Narcopolis. Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists, however, is still not available in Australia.
‘After the longlisting, Faber came to an arrangement with And Other Stories to co-publish the B format paperback edition of Swimming Home by Deborah Levy,’ said Asch. ‘It had not been available in Australia prior to this.’ Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse has also not been available locally but Asch said that Canongate has acquired the rights to the title since the announcement of the shortlist.
General manager of Pages & Pages Booksellers and president of the Australian Booksellers Association Jon Page told Bookseller+Publisher that the availability, or lack thereof, of the titles may be the reason why his store has not had a lot of interest in most of the titles on this year’s shortlist. Page said, however, that ‘Hilary Mantel is obviously the stand out … [and] we have had a number of enquiries for Will Self’s Umbrella’. ‘It is a very interesting shortlist this year with quite a few unheard-of authors,’ said Page. ‘It is interesting that in the last two years debut authors seem to be dominating the short and long lists for the Booker. But whether or not that translates through to winning the prize, we will see.’
Catherine Schulz from Fullers Hobart believes that the Man Booker shortlist has lost some of its pulling-power in recent years, and ‘as a whole, doesn’t seem to excite people anymore’. ‘Although every year one random book tries to take off,’ she told Bookseller+Publisher. ‘This year we’ve had a lecturer tell their students they all had to buy The Lighthouse and have it read in a week!’
Schulz admits that booksellers ‘could be more proactive’ and promote the shortlist in store, ‘but this would make sales in the 10s’. ‘I’d be better off spending by budget elsewhere, for example, buying 100 more copies of Foal’s Bread [Gillian Mears, A&U] and All That I Am [Anna Funder, Penguin],’ she said. Instead, the big orders will come when the Man Booker winner is announced. ‘The winner will start at a 100 copy order and go from there.’
‘I wonder too about the increasing relevance of the books to cultures that might be considered more a part of contemporary British society, with less resonance in downtown Hobart,’ said Schulz. ‘As soon as I say this I know exactly how to counter-argue it. But the figures don’t lie.’
For Readings books division manager Martin Shaw, the diversity in this year’s shortlist is ultimately a positive for both booksellers and readers. ‘Heartening about the Booker Prize shortlist for me was the judging panels’ apparent cool-headedness in the face of a prize culture—the Booker included in some years—that seems skewed to the book or author with the highest public profile, rather than judging by the words on the page alone,’ Shaw told Bookseller+Publisher. ‘The result is a wonderfully varied shortlist, with a couple of debuts, several publications by comparatively miniscule independent presses, and curiously no author under forty’.
‘So I think it’s a boon for readers to be introduced to all these new voices,’ said Shaw. ‘Which, in turn, must be a fillip for booksellers—if they can get their hands on the books!’