The Booker longlist from the point of view of a small independent publisher

Today the longlist was announced for the 2019 Booker Prize. In an epic Twitter thread, our editor-at-large Scott Pack gave some insights into the process from our perspective. Here we unroll that thread

A lengthy thread about the Booker longlist from the point of view of a small independent publisher.

This time last year was an exciting time at @EyeAndLightning towers as we thought we were in with a chance of getting a book on the Man Booker longlist with Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill.

This was not some faint hope, either. About six weeks before the longlist announcement we were asked to send a load more copies of the book to the prize organisers. This was new territory for us. Maybe Careers was really in the running?

I am not sure why they needed more copies. The judges would already have received and read theirs, plus they had a couple of spares. Perhaps it was being more widely read in the prize offices? Were they preparing for the fancy announcement video and photoshoot?

And then, a few days before the longlist announcement we received an email from the Booker people telling us that the big reveal was imminent and if our entry was on the list then there were certain things we needed to know in advance, but had to keep secret.

This was, I must confess, even more exciting. Why would they be sending us all this stuff, info we had not been provided with in previous years? Could it really be happening? Could we have a book, a splendid and deserving book, on the Man Booker Prize longlist?

Book of the month at Blackwell’s

Needless to say, as a small independent publisher, featuring on the Booker list would be a massive deal. It wouldn't, in all likelihood, lead to thousands more books sold but it would, perhaps, mean that Waterstones and the broadsheets would pay attention.

It would certainly generate some orders, though, as any bookshop wanting to create a display of the longlisted titles would have to buy some copies of Their Brilliant Careers and most of them hadn’t bought any to date.

But it is the added clout a longlist offers that would really help. Newspaper literary editors noting they had not reviewed it and bookshops realising they had chosen not to stock it would be great. Maybe, just maybe, they’d pay more attention to our books in future.

Also, we passionately felt that Their Brilliant Careers was a book that people would love if we could just get them to read it. A longlisting would get a few hundred new people reading it and some of them would become champions of the book, leading to more readers, and so on.

Anyway, we had signs that our book was in with a chance. We tried not to get too excited – it still probably wouldn’t happen – but secretly we were hoping and crossing our fingers. We all had to stay up till midnight to find out if the rest of our year was to be transformed.

Then the Guardian broke the embargo and released the list early. Their Brilliant Careers was not on there. Fuck it.

Then the Guardian broke the embargo and released the list early. Their Brilliant Careers was not on there. Fuck it.

And the next day one of the longlisted authors tweeted to say that she was relieved to finally be able to reveal the news, so presumably she knew about it in advance. Bugger. There had been no point getting excited at all.

But then, why ask us for more copies? Why reveal confidential information about the prize ‘to make sure we were prepared’ if we weren’t even in the running?

Marian Keyes tweeted about it and The i Paper made it one of their books of the year

On reflection we decided that maybe we had got close to the longlist. Perhaps one of the judges was a real fan and tried to champion it (we’d love to know which one, if so). Did it make the long-longlist? We will never know.

What we do know is that almost every blogger, reviewer and novelist we have sent the book to in the past 18 months or so has loved it.

John Connolly loved it. Marian Keyes tweeted about it. The i Paper had it one of their books of the year. Robin Ince raved about it. I had to answer a query from Stewart Lee about an acrostic poem in the book. And loads more fine people were shouting about it.

And the book has sold sort of OK. It appears to be slowly entering ‘cult classic’ status. I suspect it will tick over, year in year out. We are very proud of it.

It this thread has made you want to read the book then you can order it direct from our site with free UK shipping and 30% discount if you use the code THANKS at checkout.

This year we entered The Mating Habits of Stags by Ray Robinson. A beautiful, haunting book, steeped in the Yorkshire landscape. In a first for us, a few bloggers and commentators had predicted it as a possible Booker contender.

(Signed and numbered copies available exclusively at our site, by the way.)

Dare we get excited? Not this year. We know Stags is a remarkable work, and we were confident it could hold its own alongside anything else entered, but so much is about luck and the personal tastes of this year’s judges.

If any bloggers want a review copy then just tap up @EyeAndLightning and they'll send you one.

Every year the opportunities change for different genres, different styles of writing. Last year a graphic novel and a crime novel made the longlist when, coincidentally, a graphic novelist and a crime writer were on the panel.

I am sure there were crime novels and graphic novels entered this year that are every bit as good as the ones that made the list last year. But different judges have different tastes. It is the way of things.

None of this thread is meant as a complaint. I am just trying to share some information you may not have been aware of before

None of this thread is meant as a complaint. I am just trying to offer a perspective on the prize from a small publisher’s point of view, hopefully sharing some information you may not have been aware of before.

It is important to note that the Booker Prize is a great opportunity for small publishers. Every book submitted is read by the judges. Most of us only get one entry but at least we know it will be considered...

...which is certainly not the case with submitting books to the newspapers for review, or to retailers in the hope that they’ll buy copies. Most of those just lie around unread.

So we know the judges read The Mating Habits of Stags but didn’t select it. That happens. And it wasn’t a surprise this year. No request for extra copies. No ‘confidential’ email a few days before.

Which does make us wonder, how close did we really get last year?


The original thread was illustrated with a riot of gifs. If you’d like to experience that version, just click here

Published on
July 24, 2019