Tag Archives: publishing

The Man Booker is stacked in favour of big publishers

By Stevie Marsden
July, 2015

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction has announced its longlist for the 2015 award. Now in its 46th year, the award is among the most prestigious in the literary world. It is also incredibly generous to the big publishing houses. Five of the six books shortlisted last year came from Penguin Random House, following a longlist where nine out of the 13 books came from the big publishers. This year it is eight out of 13. But whether or not you think this sounds too much, the real problem lies in submission rules that risk locking in this dominance and making it progressively worse in years to come.

Various changes to the competition’s terms and conditions became effective for the first time in 2014. Most controversial was the decision to accept entries from US authors as well as those from the UK, Ireland and Commonwealth countries. But while the likes of Melvyn Bragg spoke out, other more insidious changes are potentially much more damaging.

In particular, the number of books publishers are entitled to enter into the competition changed. This greatly increases the chances of winning for books published by the imprints of the conglomerates that dominate the industry – Bertlesmann/Pearson (owner of Penguin Random House), News Corporation, Hachette and Holtzbrinck.

The previous rule was that all UK publishers were entitled to enter two full-length novels along with a list of up to five other titles. Each title from this next best five had to be accompanied by a 250-word “justification for submission”, written and signed by the book’s editor. From these additional lists, the judges were invited to call in “no fewer than eight and no more than 12” books for adjudication for the prize.

Since 2014, publishers have no longer all been treated in the same way. The number of entries that each was entitled to submit now depended on their success in acquiring longlist positions in the previous five years. It is allotted as follows:

What happens in practice

At first glance, the new system appears to simply be a means of managing the number of entries Man Booker receives each year. Having worked in the administration of a book award myself, helping the Saltire Society in the management of its series of awards for Scottish literature, I can understand why Man Booker would want to try and restrict the number of entries it receives to control the number of books the judges are expected to read.

In practice, though, the new system is hugely problematic because the backlist of longlisted publishers in the past five years has been dominated by the conglomerates. Of the 75 books longlisted between 2010 and 2015, 23 came from imprints from Penguin and Random House (the two publishers merged in 2013 to become Penguin Random House). Penguin Random House’s fellow conglomerate publishers have also been extremely successful over this period. Hachette (Hodder & Stoughton, Sceptre, Virago and Headline Review) has received nine listings. Holtzbrinck, owner of Pan Macmillan, and News Corporation, owner of Harper Collins, have received seven and five respectively.

That leaves 31 nominations spread among the independents. That might not sound like overwhelming dominance, but it means that the conglomerates are entitled to submit significantly more entries than other publishers. Much of this is to do with their imprints. In the past five years, seven of the Penguin Random House imprints have been listed. All but two have received two or more longlistings, with Chatto & Windus taking the lead with five books longlisted over the five-year period.

According to the new rules, this means that Penguin Random House can submit 17 books next year for the prize. Compare this to successful independent publishers such as Faber & Faber or Canongate. Faber & Faber received its fourth longlisting in five years this year, so will be entitled to submit up to three books for the Man Booker next year. Canongate has been longlisted twice and will be eligible to submit just two books. As for new or smaller independent publishers which have never been longlisted in the past five years, they are only entitled to submit one book.

The Penguin Random House fiesta

Some may counter that it’s not fair to individual imprints to consider them in terms of their larger corporate identities. Each has an individual identity and ethos that is reflected in the books they publish. Be that as it may, there is no denying that the overbearing presence of Penguin Random House and, to a lesser extent, the other conglomerates within longlists and shortlists is disconcerting.

Year on year, Penguin Random House has seen a growth in the number of its longlisted entries being shortlisted each year, going from having no shortlisted titles in 2012 to the five out of six books in the 2014 shortlist. The relationship was further cemented with the (surprisingly quiet) announcement earlier this month that Emmanuel Roman, chief executive of Man Group, the lead sponsor of the prize, joined Penguin Random House’s board of directors. For those who believe that awards need to be scrupulously fair, it did not exactly send out a good message.

Only time will tell if the domination of the Man Booker longlists and shortlists by major conglomerate publishers will continue. So far this dominance has not necessarily been reflected by the winning books – three of the last five were from the big houses, including last year’s winner, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Will this become more entrenched in future? Given the state of this year’s longlist, once again led by four Penguin Random House entries from Jonathan Cape and Chatto & Windus, the risks are that it will.

Creative Commons

The Conversation

Stevie Marsden is PhD student at University of Stirling. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Verbatim: Ursula K. Le Guin’s call to action

Ursula K. Le Guin in 2012. Photo by OnceAndFutureLaura via Flickr, Creative Commons

Ursula K. Le Guin in 2012. Photo by OnceAndFutureLaura via Flickr, Creative Commons

November 20, 2014

American author Ursula K. Le Guin on Wednesday slammed the U.S. publishing industry’s “ignorance and greed,” and issued a cri de coeur on behalf of artists in a world where “hard times are coming” and writers will be needed who offer hope and freedom, and “see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being.”

Le Guin won this year’s prestigious Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, given by the U.S. National Book Foundation to recognize “individuals who have made an exceptional impact on this country’s literary heritage.”

The award was announced in September, but presented at a gala on Wednesday, and Le Guin’s frank acceptance speech is garnering global attention for its demand for action. “The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art,” she said. “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.”

Ursula K. Le Guin. Photo by Marion Wood Kolisch/National Book Foundation

Ursula K. Le Guin. Photo by Marion Wood Kolisch/National Book Foundation

An excerpt, from a transcript from an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Thank you Neil (Gaiman, who presented the award), and to the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks from the heart. My family, my agent, editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as mine, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction — writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. (Thank you, brave applauders.)

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write. (Well, I love you too, darling.)

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art — the art of words.

I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want — and should demand — our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. It’s name is freedom.

The award is not typically given to science fiction and fantasy writers. But the foundation said Le Guin deserved it because, for four decades, she “defied conventions of narrative, language, character, and genre, as well as transcended the boundaries between fantasy and realism, to forge new paths for literary fiction.”

“Le Guin’s fully imagined worlds challenge readers to consider profound philosophical and existential questions about gender, race, the environment, and society. Her boldly experimental and critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and children’s books, written in elegant prose, are popular with millions of readers around the world.”

The announcement quoted Foundation’s Executive Director Harold Augenbraum: “She has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated — and never really valid — line between popular and literary art. Her influence will be felt for decades to come.”

Other award recipients have included John Ashbery, Joan Didion, E.L. Doctorow, Maxine Hong Kingston, Elmore Leonard, Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, and Tom Wolfe. 

— Deborah Jones

  

 

References and further reading:

Ursula K. Le Guin’s site: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/UKL_info.html 

 

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McNiven on the New World of Book Publishing

McNiven for F&O bio

Jim McNiven

Jim McNiven, author and academic — and now book marketer — reflects on how publishing has changed since he first began writing academic books. An excerpt:

Mimi’s is a restaurant chain in the southwestern United States that my wife, Jane, and I like for lunch. It has a good soup and sandwich combo within a kind of French décor. Last week we went there for a bit of a celebration, of my signing of an agreement to publish a book, The Yankee Road.  The reason for mentioning the lunch is to mark my experience with book publishing — and how it has changed and is changing as Moore’s Law and Jeff Bezos keep changing it.

Log in to read the column, Lunch at Mimi’s Café. (Subscription or day pass required*)

Jim McNiven’s columnist page on F&O is here.

 

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