The Man Booker Prize, which yesterday published its shortlist for 2017, should be opened up to self-published authors to reflect the rapidly changing bookselling environment.
Self-published books are now responsible for a significant and ever-increasing share of the market, so the continued exclusion of these works perpetuates the “literary snobbery” that it says is prevalent in the traditional publishing industry.
The Man Booker Prize website claims to have a ‘common man’ approach to the selection of its juries, making it more trustworthy – but its exclusion of self-published works reveals that it unfortunately lacks the same ‘common man’ approach to participants.
The prize used to be for Commonwealth and Eire authors only and has already been opened up to global English language works published in the UK, so why not go a step further and open it up to all authors – including those currently excluded for being self-published? Surely all authors deserve a chance to have their novels compared by the judges of this prestigious prize, if it wants to remain relevant in a rapidly changing environment where self-published works account for a significant and growing share of book sales.
The prize is supposed to be awarded each year to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK. But the novels eligible for entry have already effectively been pre-selected by a publishing industry that decides which books are worthy of publication.
By keeping the door closed to self-published authors, the Man Booker organisers are implying that only books published through traditional channels can be considered ‘literary’ or ‘worthy’ – in effect suggesting that the quality of an author’s output can be determined by the vehicle they used for making it available to the public.
The Man Booker Prize is a wonderful and prestigious competition but, by refusing to embrace changes in the industry and truly open up to all works in the English language, it risks being left on the wrong side of progress.
The self-publishing industry has been growing rapidly with sales of self-published e-books accounting for 22 per cent of the digital book market in the UK in 2015, according to Nielsen Book UK, up from 16 per cent in 2014. A 2016 US study suggests there almost four times as many self-published authors who debuted in the past five years now earning over $100,000 a year from their Amazon sales than authors first published with ‘Big Five’ traditional publishers in the same period.
Recent research from Type & Tell revealed that over half of UK adults (52%) believe they have a book in them, but for those who haven’t previously tried to write and publish a book, one of the prohibitive factors discouraging them from doing so was the obstacles posed by the publishing industry. Thirteen per cent suggest that it is too difficult to get a publisher to take their book on, while others fear the publisher would take away all control of their story (4 per cent) or take all the profits (2 per cent).
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