The organisers of the pounds 30,000 Orange Fiction Prize for the best novel written by a woman announced that they would be the first literary award to establish a Net presence. Extracts from all the shortlisted books will be put on the Net and people around the world will be invited to review them, with a prize of a holiday for the best review.
Prize organiser Kate Mosse said: "A lot of people say they find book reviews in the papers luvvyish and they feel left out of it. We want to know what real people think of the books, what a 16-year-old in India thinks of some of the works by writers of Indian origin on the list."
The long list of 20 books announced at the book fair includes expected choices such as Margaret Atwood for her novel Alias Grace, Beryl Bainbridge, who missed out on both the Booker and Whitbread, with Every Man For Himself and Jeanette Winterson with Gut Symmetries. The list includes unknowns from small publishers, such as Leone Ross with All The Blood Is Red, published by Angela Royal Publishing.
The judges, who will note the reviews from around the world but will make the final decision, brought in eight of the 20 books themselves, as publishers had not entered them for the prize. The judging panel will be chaired by the writer and broadcaster Lisa Jardine.
Defending the women-only nature of the prize, Ms Mosse said it had brought a number of female authors to the notice of the public. One of last year's shortlist, Pagan Kennedy, had only had 400 copies of her novel Spinsters printed at first. After the prize, it sold 8,000. Sales of last year's winner, Helen Dunmore, were tiny. She quadrupled them after the publicity of the prize and is now selling in the United States for the first time.
The prize is set to earn more esteem with the further announcement yesterday of the Orange Fiction Prize education project, funded with pounds 30,000 from the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts. This will send resource materials into 3,500 schools to encourage 11-14 year-olds to read more widely.
The prize is open to women of any age, living anywhere in the world, writing in English. Ms Mosse says the concept of a women-only prize is accepted, though the Booker Prize winner AS Byatt has spoken out against it, saying female writers should not be "ghettoised".
The female novelists put on the Net will be jostling for cyberspace with many other writers of fiction and non-fiction, to judge by the obsession with new media at the book fair yesterday. Talks for publishers and booksellers included "Selling Books on the Internet" and "Trends in the Multimedia Market". Mark Ride, head of a consultancy providing specialist assistance for publishers on the impact of new technology, said: "A growing number of publishers are testing the Internet as a marketing tool, and finding something which may at first appear to be counter-intuitive. Posting part, or all, of the text of books on the Web appears universally to increase sales of the printed product.
"A growing proportion of middle managers in publishing companies are regular users of the Internet. However, almost all report that the Chief Executive never uses the Net, has probably only seen the Web in presentations and really has no idea what the fuss is about. If the future of publishing is on networks, this is analogous to never going into a bookshop."
The fair is still a meeting place for literary agents, negotiating deals with publishers. A large area on the top floor at Olympia, the International Rights Centre, was set aside for agents and publisher wheeler-dealing.
On the main floor, Ian Botham signed copies of a new book, Sporting Memories, which was printed for customers immediately by Rank Xerox, using digital technology.
At another stand, a soon-to-be-published book called Sophie's Kiss was being touted - the first biography of Sophie Rhys Jones, Prince Edward's girlfriend.
The likely contenders by David Lister
Twenty books are on the "longlist" for the pounds 30,000 Orange Prize for the best novel of the year written by a woman. When the shortlist of six is announced next month, it will be a surprise if most of the following are not on it:
Margaret Atwood: Alias Grace (Bloomsbury)
Canada's most important contemporary writer, and among the most acclaimed novelists in the world. Her ninth novel, Alias Grace explores a true 19th-century story of a 16-year-old girl locked in a lunatic asylum after being accused of murder.
Beryl Bainbridge: Every Man For Himself (Duckworth)
Bainbridge's writings have tended to depict the eccentricities of working- class and lower middle-class English life. This book is a fictionalised account of the five days on the Titanic before it sank.
Jeanette Winterson: Gut Symmetries (Granta)
Winterson told the poignant story of her early life in her novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Her latest work weaves ideas from medieval philosophy to Grand Unified Theories (Guts) into a plot set on board the QE2 and in New York and Liverpool.
E. Annie Proulx: Accordion Crimes (Fourth Estate)
The Shipping News won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1993. Her latest work is a tale of immigrant life in 20th-century America constructed around the odyssey of an accordion.
Leone Ross: All The Blood Is Red (Angela Royal Publishing)
The first novel by Ross, the book tells of the trials and joys of a group of young, black British women struggling to find themselves and make their way in the world.
Joan Brady: Death Comes To Peter Pan (Secker and Warburg)
Former Whitbread Prize winner (with Theory Of War) her new book is a fictionalised account of her late husband's experience of the American health-care system.Reuse content