BY LAURA PARKER
Many of our authors are ‘award-winning’. And rightly so – they write great books and all the best writers love coming to ChipLitFest.
There are certainly plenty of literary awards out there. The best-known in the UK are the Man Booker and the Costa, but there are many more. A quick look at the children’s category easily uncovers seven, including the Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway. Worldwide, there are at least 60 prizes for crime and mystery.
“The Booker is the benchmark, but the Costa – which has a range of categories including non-fiction and poetry – is becoming increasingly important,” says Patrick Neale from Jaffé & Neale bookshops. “Other prizes that we’ve seen affect sales are the Samuel Johnson for non-fiction and the Wellcome, which is for books that engage with medicine and health.” He says such awards can help readers decide what books to choose, and cites for him personally the William Hill Sports Book of the Year as a guide to an unfamiliar genre.
Are book prizes just a ruse to sell us more books? The big ones certainly succeed. Weekly sales of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which won the Booker in 2009, rose 463% – and it was already selling well. Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, 2010 winner, saw a staggering 1,918% uplift in sales. And even the 2016 Booker prize shortlist – deemed disappointing by many publishers because it contained so many unfamiliar names – shifted books. Amazon reported a 200% rise in sales for four of the six books.
Festival founder Clare Mackintosh already had a runaway success with her first novel, I Let You Go, when it won the prestigious Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year in July 2016.
“It was absolutely incredible,” says Clare. “Sales spiked that week, thanks to the extensive coverage (having JK Rowling in the shortlist definitely helped!). It was also a fantastic piece of news for my foreign rights team when ‘talking up’ the book to publishers abroad, and to use in conversations with production companies interested in the screen rights.”
For some authors, winning a prize is a lifeline. Richard Flanagan, who won the 2014 Booker prize with The Narrow Road to the Deep North, was seriously considering working in a mine to support himself as he wrote his next novel. Winning the prize catapulted him into a different world of celebratory champagne parties with his delighted publishers. For others, it’s a wonderful triumph of recognition. Paul Beatty had his novel The Sellout turned down by 18 publishers. Now his book is the winner of the 2016 Booker and he is the winner of the £50,000 prize money.
Others writers are wary of the honours. Julian Barnes, shortlisted three times before winning in 2011, described the Booker selection process as “posh bingo” that “drives publishers mad with hope, booksellers mad with greed, judges mad with power, winners mad with pride, and losers mad with envy and disappointment.”
There’s none of that with Clare Mackintosh, who vividly describes the thrilling personal impact and the real value of winning an award:
“Of far more importance [than the sales and the publicity] was the way it made me feel. I never for a second expected to win that award, and hearing my name read out moved me to tears. A debut novel has a very special place in an author’s heart, and knowing that other people love it too is a wonderful feeling.”
One author still getting used to that feeling is Wyl Menmuir. When his first novel, The Many, made the 2016 Booker prize longlist, it came as such a surprise that he thought his publishers were joking – before he was deluged with calls from national newspapers wanting to know who he was. You can find out for yourself at ChipLitFest.