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Ion Trewin on the upcoming longlist selection for the 2012 prize

Ion Trewin on the upcoming longlist selection for the 2012 prize

Our Booker Prize Foundation Literary Director, Ion Trewin, talks about this year's prize and the highly anticipated announcement of the longlist coming up on 25 July.

Every year as we reach the end of the summer I find my excitement as Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation mounts. Our judges have been reading since before last Christmas. They have met regularly since in informal conclave. Publishers entered 147 novels, but on July 25 private discussions become public decision with the announcement of 2012 Man Booker longlist. It is a day that every entered author awaits with trepidation.  Making the Man Booker longlist has become an accolade in itself.

Inevitably the press asks the same questions. Is it an exceptional year for fiction? When a well-known name fails to make the list – why? Has there been an identifiable theme this year? – sex, history, humour being amongst past categories.

The public, aided by the book trade, has now adopted the longlist as the basis for summer fiction reading. It also gives readers the opportunity to compare their views with those of the judges. On September 11 the judges will reveal which novels have survived to become the Man Booker shortlist – the six titles from which the winner will be chosen on October 16.

Inevitably the quality of submissions varies. If anyone suggests that the writing of high quality literary fiction in English is in decline let them look at the statistics. In 1969, the prize’s first year, entries numbered fewer than seventy, half this year’s total. The number of publishers with eligible books to enter has also doubled. One of the thrills for me comes when the judges pinpoint first novels for inclusion. Two that made the 2011 shortlist – Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman and Snowdrops by A D Miller – have become bestsellers. It all began with the Man Booker.

Last year’s favourite, however, was always The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, his fourth shortlisted title. Past winners and shortlisted authors get automatic entry and if you follow the book review pages and literary blogs of the nation you will already have seen some familiar names with new novels published this year. But how many will make this year’s longlist?  And how many first timers will there be?

This year’s judges, chaired by Peter Stothard, editor of the TLS, are Dinah Birch, pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Liverpool, Bharat Tandon, a former Oxford academic and regular fiction reviewer, Amanda Foreman, best known for her first book, Georgiana, and the actor Dan Stevens, who appeared in the TV adaptation of the 2005 Man Booker winner, The Line of Beauty and who is currently appearing as Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey; he is also an English literature graduate and critic.

Judges may read entries as paper proofs or as downloads onto their Kindles. Last year, the first when we supplied e-readers, two judges became hooked by the new technology. This year everyone is using it, although not necessarily exclusively. Is this a substantial straw in the wind? Are the days of traditional paper proofs numbered? In my view the answer is No. E-books are merely an alternative form of delivery (to adopt the jargon) and will remain standing side by side with electronic downloads.

The importance of the prize to authors and publishers can be judged not just for the prestige of being what is in the judges’ opinion ‘the best novel of the year’ (which is how the rules put it), but in the increasing effect on sales. At present we don’t have accurate e-book sales figures. For traditional book sales shops’ electronic point of sales (EPOS) statistics are accepted as reliable with only a ten per cent margin of error. But e-books usually come from non EPOS sources. In due course that absence will be resolved.    

What we do know for certain is that in England, Scotland and Wales last year’s Man Booker winner, Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending, has sold over 140,000 copies in traditional hardback form, with, it is reckoned, another 100,000 in e-books. In the process it remained in the top ten best seller list week after week. As the London Evening Standard pointed out, even without e-book sales this is substantially ahead of what many a mass market paperback achieves (the Standard diarist, with some glee, compared the Barnes sales to those (fewer) of the latest novel by Katie Price).

By my calculations if you total the sales of The Sense of an Ending across the globe it has probably sold more than half a million copies, making it one of the fastest selling Man Booker winners ever. (The overall bestseller, with sales of over two million copies achieved in nearly twenty-eight years, is Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark partly thanks to the success of the Spielberg film under the title Schindler’s List.

I am often asked if we miss any novel of substance. I don’t think so. One has only to look at the shortlists and eventually winners of other prizes for confirmation. I look forward to 2012 being another bumper year.

Ion Trewin

Literary Director

Ion Trewin, Literary Director