What Does It Take To Win A Literary Prize?: 250 Book Prizes - and still counting

THERE IS about to be a new literary prize. That fact alone will guarantee the pounds 30,000 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction a place in a key literary work.

It will be listed and described in the Book Trust Guide to Literary Prizes. There are now so many book prizes - 250 at the last count and rising - that there has to be a book to help the uninitiated to find their way around them.

The initiated, of course, know all about them. Properly plugged in and with the right connections, a bibliophile who manages to attend most of the prize ceremonies should not have to cook dinner for most of the year.

And for authors, and increasingly judges, there are weekly opportunities for fame. A headline-grabbing judge is now almost vital for a prize to rise above the pack. Among the judges for the Samuel Johnson Prize will be Cherie Booth, wife of the Prime Minister and a notable barrister, though not as yet an authority on English literature.

The Samuel Johnson Prize has been set up by an anonymous patron. This must certainly be an indication of their familiarity with the writings of Samuel Johnson, who described a patron as "commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery".

The creation of the Samuel Johnson Prize tells us something else about book prizes. It replaces the NCR award for non-fiction - a prize that came into disrepute after its panel of television celebrity judges admitted they had only read summaries of the books on the shortlist. A conscientious judge for the Samuel Johnson award will have to work their way through a year's worth of non-fiction books in about six weeks.

Book prizes can be confusing for judges, authors and even the prize-givers. Beryl Bainbridge - who won the pounds 10,000 WH Smith award after missing out on both the Booker and the Whitbread - says rather disconcertingly: "I'm not sure that literary prizes help literacy. I think that in Dickens' time, 10 per cent of people read books. I don't think actually that it's gone up very much."

WH Smith itself doesn't seem to be convinced that its annual award winner is necessarily the best read of the year, for the company also runs an alternative prize: "The Thumping Good Read."

A WH Smith spokesman said the winner of this pounds 5,000 award had to be "an accessible and page-turning good read". Quite how Beryl Bainbridge's latest offering, Master Georgie, differs from this description is unclear. And why is a thumping good read worth just half the prize-money of a literary award winner?

As it happens, a thumping good read is far too predictable a criterion for many of the book prizes currently on offer. What about those dedicated people who compile the indexes? Fear not; they are rewarded with the annual Wheatley Medal for "an outstanding index". The current holder, as students of indexes will know, is Jan Ross for the index to Rheumatology, Second Edition.

Mountaineers must feel gratuitously excluded from the annual literary shindigs as they have their own prize: the pounds 2,000 Boardman Tasker Award for an "outstanding contribution to mountain literature".

Then there are prizes that cunningly cut down the cost of administration by making rules that limit the number of entrants. The Teixiera-Gomez Prize is awarded to the best translation of a Portuguese work written by a Portuguese national - but entries must have been published in the UK.

There are other furtive ways to win a literary prize. If you don't feel you are going to get the Booker or Whitbread, set a page of your novel in Lancashire and it is then eligible for the pounds 2,500 Portico Prize, awarded to a book "set wholly or partly in the North-west of England".

Even that seems generously wide ranging, however, compared with the pounds 5,000 Lichfield Prize, awarded to an unpublished work "set in the Lichfield district".

Most Prolific Winner

Claudia Roden: "The Book of Jewish Food"

Glenfiddich Food and Drink Awards; Guild of Food Writers Awards; Jewish Quarterly Literary Prizes; Andre Simon Memorial Fund Awards.

"Roden... brings gefilte fish to the gentile kitchen and latke takeaways to the high street" - Stanley Price, The Times

Most Embarrassed Winner

Sebastian Faulks: "Charlotte Gray"

The Literary Review Award for Bad Sex in Fiction

"Her ears were filled with the sound of a soft but frantic gasping and it was some time before she identified it as her own"

"This is so wonderful I feel I might disintegrate, I might break into a million fragments"

Winner of winners

Salman Rushdie: "Midnight's Children"

"...one of the very best of our post-postwar novels, a capacious, amazingly inventive work that opened fiction out to new forms of narrative, new sounds and voices ... a masterwork of its generation" - Malcolm Bradbury, judge of the Booker of Bookers

Most Bizarre Title

"Developments In Dairy Cow Breeding and Management And New Opportunities To Widen The Use Of Straw" Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust

Diagram Group prize in the Bookseller magazine awards winning a bottle of champagne. Previous entrants include: "The Joy Of Sex: Pocket Edition"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge face-off in the final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture