No guarantee of fame and fortune

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The Independent Online
Neither the winner nor the runners-up on last night's Booker shortlist should get too starry eyed about the prospects of future fame and fortune.

The shop window displays that a Booker shortlisting makes likely, and a win guarantees, are a quick fix not always followed by lasting sales or even lasting literary fame.

How many bookshelves contain the first Booker Prize winner in 1969, PH Newby's Something To Answer For, or David Storey's Saville, the 1976 winner. If you don't possess the latter it's too late to remedy that now. Saville is out of print and that particular Booker winner has been deleted by publisher Jonathan Cape.

It is, of course, true that the Booker list of winners since 1969 also contains some of the biggest names in British fiction - Iris Murdoch, Kinglsey Amis, Salman Rushdie, William Golding, VS. Naipaul and Paul Scott. But with the exception of Rushdie, these writers were at the peak before winning the Booker, and neither their sales nor the esteem in which they were held by their peers changed radically. Rushdie's Midnight's Children sold only 37,000 copies in hardback despite its Booker win, though it is still selling in paperback. The continuing success of these already established authors is not always replicated by the relative unknowns who achieve Booker fame. Eleven years ago Keri Hulme's Maori novel, The Bone People, won the prize and in shifting only 32,000 copies was the worst selling Booker winner ever. She made no further impact on the British literary scene.

Others have fared rather better. Anita Brookner had never sold more than 3,000 copies in hardback before Hotel Du Lac took the prize in 1984 and went on to sell 90,000. Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains Of The Day won in 1989 had an additional 50,000 sales attributed to winning the Booker, and Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark had an initial print run of 15,000, but in the four weeks after winning the prize it sold 75,000 in hardback.

Yet even these winners have not always looked back with happiness or gratitude on the prize that made their names. Anita Brookner once said: "Winning the Booker has had nil impact on my career, and your reputation sinks rapidly after winning the prize." A more measured view came from Stanley Middleton, whose novel Holiday was joint winner in 1974. He remarked: "You're always referred to as a Booker Prize winner thereafter, so I guess it makes a difference, and my local university did give me an honorary degree. Both Nadine Gordimer and I, who won it jointly, said it wouldn't make any difference, but she went on to win the Nobel prize. But it didn't make me a fortune."

Gordon Kerr, marketing manager for Waterstone's bookshops, says that bookshops will order in further copies of the winner because public interest will be generated by the press and television reports. Last year there was a 300 per cent increase in orders for the winner, Pat Barker's The Ghost Road. The winner will certainly be put on display.

Perhaps the best ploy is to be excluded from the Booker shortlist and find that press outrage over the exclusion, puts on sales. In 1989 when Ishiguro won there was just such public, or at least press, bafflement that neither Julian Barnes's A History Of The World in 10 and a Half Chapters nor Martin Amis's London Fields was even shortlisted. The ensuing publicity helped each to sell more than 40,000 in hardback.

Both have continued to thrive financially and artistically. Both have international reputations. Neither has won the Booker Prize.