In the spirit of awards season I want to delve into the facts behind literary prizes, how they help sell nominated copies, build author brands, generate publicity, sell backlist editions and how rising writers can use this information to their advantage.
The biggest literary prize is arguably the Man Booker Prize whose shortlist was announced yesterday. The prize does more than award prestige–and a smart sum of £50,000–to the winner. The award is a publicity machine sparking debate, bets, reviews and interviews for the finalists. The prize nominations sets the tone for the fall publishing season, acts as a shopping list for avid readers of literary fiction, not only selling copies of the author’s current work but also backlist works to inquisitive minds coming across nominated authors for the first time.
Last year’s winner, Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, has sold over 250,000 copies (in the UK) to date. His previous novel, The Act of Love, sold just 6,000 copies. The 2008 winner, Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, had sold fewer than 6,000 copies by the time it was awarded the Booker, but it has since gone on to sell over 500,000 copies to date. Wolf Hall‘s sales increased by over 7,000% in the year following its Booker win.
Winning prizes of Booker and Orange magnitude, among others, leads to reprints and re-jacketing to create award association and branding of the author’s tomes. This marketing machine rolls through the longlist and shortlist periods as well as the weeks and months following the announcement of the winner.
It is not only winners that benefit from the outcome of the prize. The Booker shortlist increases book sales by 25,000 units.
How can novice writers use this publishing knowledge to their advantage?
Sources like Poets & Writers post awards and contests for writers to enter. Winning prizes gets you more reviews, blurbs, media and news coverage, leverage with publishers, and when you advertise a prize on the cover of your book the sales increase by an average of 30%.
Awards, whether the book shopper inherently knows much about the prize or not, display:
- Literary value
- Collective esteem
- Economics of culture
- And engage readers in the discourse of what makes a ‘good’ book as defined by another group of people.
Prizes help sell backlist titles through author brand marketing, help sell foreign and subsidiary rights, garner reviews, and gets lesser known writers media coverage they would not otherwise get. While only few esteemed writers hit the big book prize longlists each year, book prizes–no matter what your genre or clout–act as a catalyst and launch pad for your next project while maximizing domestic and international revenue on your previous works.
Sources: The Bookseller; Amazon; ‘How does the Man Booker Prize impact Book Sales in the UK? A case study of the Man Booker Prize shortlist 2009’ My Masters thesis.