Publishers have welcomed the broadening of the Man Booker Prize to include U.S. entries, while remaining concerned about the limits placed on the number of titles they can enter.
The Man Booker organizers have compensated for increasing the number of eligible authors by reducing the number of entries from each imprint, from two to just one. But they have created a new rule that allows extra entries according to the number of longlistings a publisher has gained in the past five years. Publishers with one or two longlistings may make two submissions; publishers with three or four longlistings may make three submissions; and publishers with five longlistings may make four submissions.
Under these criteria, Bloomsbury and Faber, for examples, would be able to make three submissions; and Cape and Picador would be able to make four. But these publishers might also be able to submit further titles under the continuing rule that allows entries by any authors who have previously appeared on Booker shortlists. Publishers will continue to submit call-in lists of five further titles; the judges will be required to call in no fewer than eight and no more than twelve of these titles. The rules also allow the judges to call in titles that have not been submitted. The organisers said that they expected the net effect of the rule changes to be that the judges would have to read roughly the same number of titles, or possibly slightly fewer.
At Bloomsbury, editor-in-chief Alexandra Pringle said: "I am in favor of the Prize broadening out so that [it] is identifying and celebrating the finest fiction written in the English language. I think it is very exciting that this year's shortlist is so international... I will be entirely happy to include such writers as Richard Ford, Khaled Hosseini, Jay McInerney, George Saunders, Elizabeth Gilbert, Edmund White and Ann Patchett in Bloomsbury's possible future Booker submissions." Pringle recognised the attempt of the organisers to loosen the constraints on literary publishers with a number of potential Booker contenders on their lists. But of course if three of her stars produced novels for publication in the same year, when she also had strong novels by UK and Commonwealth writers, she would have a problem.
Another leading publisher said that the broadening of the Prize was "probably a good thing." Then he added: "The longlisting criteria are one way of giving established literary lists more entries, but they still don’t address the perennial problem that every year there is a 'shadow list' of really fine novels that are never considered by anyone because they are not called in and indeed may never even make the call-in list." He felt that the requirement that the judges read all the novels prevented them from using their literary judgements to abandon no-hopers and consider a wider range of entries.
The changes bring the Man Booker into line with the Baileys (formerly Orange) Prize and the recently established Folio Prize, and they appear to have caused some disappointment among the organisers of the Folio, which had deliberately positioned itself as a distinctive competition. Founder Andrew Kidd said: "Our intention was to fill a perceived gap, rather than to imply that others should adopt our model. The Man Booker's impressive reach, not least in the United States, seemed in part to be built upon its clear and distinctive parameters, so we are in some ways surprised by this decision. Still, it's important always to be open to change, and we welcome the fact that Man Booker has joined the Folio Prize in disregarding borders, just as it's also interesting to note the Man Booker International Prize has created an 'e-council' of former Man Booker winners that resembles the Folio Prize Academy."
However, the Man Booker said that the process that led to this change in the rules started some time ago. "The trustees have made their decision to expand the Prize after an extensive investigation and evaluation, with the help of specialist independent consultants. Research and consultation began in 2011 and, over the following 18 months, the views of writers, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and others were canvassed on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond." Setting up a separate US prize was among the rejected ideas.
Jonathan Taylor, Chairman of the trustees, said: "By including writers from around the world to compete alongside Commonwealth and Irish writers, the Man Booker Prize is reinforcing its standing as the most important literary award in the English-speaking world."