Mixed blessing of Booker accolade

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The Independent Online
SIX novelists are dreaming of the fame and fortune that will come their way when one of them wins the Booker Prize tonight.

But they should not get too starry-eyed. While the winning book will almost certainly be reprinted, displayed in bookshops and have an above-average hardback sale, winning the Booker - Britain's best known literary award - is not a guarantee of any great fortune or lasting fame.

In some cases sales have rocketed, the most notable being Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark in 1982. It had an initial print run of 15,000 but in the four weeks after winning the prize it sold 75,000 in hardback, going on to sell 500,000 in paperback.

Hardback sales figures from the Policy Studies Institute show that, in 1989, Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains Of The Day had an additional 50,000 sales attributed to winning the Booker. Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children sold only 37,000 copies despite its 1981 Booker win, though it is still selling in paperback.

And in a recession that is hitting the publishing industry and a shortlist that has so far not captured the public's imagination, surges in sales cannot be guaranteed. Nor is it the case that every Booker winner becomes a classic.

How many bookshelves contain the first Booker prize-winner, P H Newby's Something To Answer For, which won in 1969, or David Storey's Saville, the 1976 winner? Saville is out of print and has been deleted by the publisher.

Chris Rushby, hardback fiction buyer for WH Smith, said: 'The Booker shortlist doesn't sell more than a few hundred copies . . . but the winner will sell between 3,000 and 8,000. We might just sell 100 copies of a Penelope Lively hardback but when she won the Booker in 1987 we sold over 7,000.'

He said some titles did less well. Last year's winner, Ben Okri's The Famished Road, sold just over 3,000. It helped if the author already had a high profile. 'For us it would be slightly better if Ian McEwan won tonight,' he said.

Stanley Middleton, whose novel Holiday was joint winner in 1974, beating a shortlist that included CP Snow, Kingsley Amis and Beryl Bainbridge, said: '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.'