The Man Booker Prize

The Booker Prize Comes with Cash and Book Publicity Benefits

Marlon James holding 2015 Man Booker Prize
••• Marlon James holds his 2015 Booker Prize for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. Eamonn M. McCormack / Getty Images Entertainment

The Man Booker Prize is a major annual literary award presented to "the best” full-length novel originally written in English and published in the UK. To be eligible, authors may be of any nationality but the book cannot be a translation, nor can it be self-published.

The Booker Prize Cash Award

The Booker Prize winner receives an award of £50,000 (about $80,000 American dollars), making it one of the world’s richest book prizes.

(Other literary awards with cash attached are Nobel Prize for Literature; National Book Award and the Pulitizer Prize for Letters). 

The Booker Prize shortlisted authors each receive £2,500.

The Booker Prize Book Sales Impact

Booker Prize-winning novels are meant to appeal to “an intelligent general audience." 

Perhaps because of their relative reader accessibility, Booker Prize winners enjoy significantly increased book sales in America as well as in the UK. Even shortlisted authors enjoy an uptick in publicity because their publishers must agree to spend a certain amount of money on book publicity. Even before his win, the 2015 shortlisted Marlon James appeared got a coveted interview on Late Night with Seth Meyers).

Of course, booksellers also promote the winning novel.

Many winners—like Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark (Australia 1982), Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (United Kingdom/Japan1989), A.S.

Byatt’s Possession (United Kingdom 1990), Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient (Canada/Sri Lanka 1992), Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (India 1997), and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (Canada 2002) — have gone on to grace bestseller lists and/or have been made into films.

The History of the Man Booker Prize

The first Booker Prize—or Booker-McConnell Prize, as it was then known—was established in 1968 and awarded in 1969 and sponsored by Booker, McConnell Ltd, a large British food company dating back to 1835, with origins in sugar importing.

At one time Booker, McConnell’s interest in books extended to its owning the rights to Agatha Christie’s many works, and sponsored the first Bookers to help “encourage the widest possible readership for the best in literary fiction.”

The list of Booker Prize winners since 1968 originally did not include a winner for the year 1970. Due to a rule change which affected the timing of the novels eligible for the prize, books from the year 1970 were squeezed out of contention for a Booker.

In 2002, the non-profit Booker Prize Foundation was established to handle the administration of the award, and Man Group (a British alternative investment company dating from 1783) became a sponsor of the prizes. At that point, the prize was enriched from £21,000 to £50,000.

In 2005, the bi-annual Man Booker International Prize was established to honor a living writer in recognition of achievement in fiction writing.

In January 2010, the Booker Prize Foundation announced the creation of the “Lost Man Booker Prize” to compensate for the fact that no 1970 novel had been eligible. A long list of 22 novels were chosen and, from that list, Troubles (United Kingdom/Ireland) was selected. The author J. G. Farrell was awarded the prize posthumously.

Until the 2014 prizes, Booker Prize eligibility required that consideration would only be given to novels written by a citizen of the British Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. In September 2013, it was announced that all English language novels published in Britain would be considered, regardless of their country of origin.

Entering the Man Booker Prize Competition

Generally, the publisher of an eligible and worthy novel will enter it into Man-Booker Competition the competition. Interestingly, the publisher must agree to spend £5,000 on publicity if the book reaches the shortlist, and to donate another £5,000 if the book wins the prize.

Man Booker Prize Judging

An Advisory Committee — made up of an assortment of publishers, writers, agents, book editors, booksellers, librarians, and representatives from the sponsoring institutions — select each year’s Booker Prize judges.

The judges generally serve just once, and are selected not only from the publishing and academic arenas, but from a broad assortment of reading luminaries.

In July of the prize year, the judges first announce a “long list” of contenders that they deem potentially worthy of the prize. In September of the prize year, a narrowed-down “shortlist” of Booker candidates are announced. The Man-Booker Prize itself is announced in October of the prize year.

Man Booker Prize Trivia

As with many literary awards—and, in fact, with many artistic awards the merits of whose winners are somewhat subjective—the Booker Prize has had some contentious moments. In 1985, judges protested that one of their brethren was an actress, namely Joanna Lumley who played the infamous Patsy Stone on the British sitcom, Absolutely Fabulous. The other judges discounted Lumley's vote and she was reported to have said, that the “so-called bitchy world of acting was a Brownies tea party compared with the piranha-infested waters of publishing.”