Bookseller Briefing 36/19 – week ending 6 September

Booker Prize shortlist revealed

The Booker Prize shortlist has been revealed with Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie in the running for the £50,000 prize.

Atwood’s The Testaments (Chatto & Windus), which will be published on Tuesday 10th September, faces competition from fellow former winner Rushdie with Quichotte (Jonathan Cape) in the first year the prize has been sponsored by charitable foundation Crankstart.

Indie press Galley Beggar Press scored a nomination with Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport. The 1,000-page, single-sentence monologue is the fifth novel by Illinois-born Ellmann who now resides in Edinburgh. As a UK and US author she is the only representative from America on the list.

Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World (Viking) and Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton) also made the shortlist, with Nigerian novelist Chigozie Obioma recognised for his “magnificent, original and revelatory novel” An Orchestra of Minorities (Little Brown).

Chair of judges Peter Florence said 2019 has been “the most extraordinary year of entries” with the “range of scope a testament to a vibrant and deeply adventurous publishing industry”.

Women dominate this year’s shortlist, with four of the six-strong shortlist written by women. Penguin Random House scooped four nominations with shortlisted titles from their Chatto & Windus, Jonathan Cape, Hamish Hamilton and Viking imprints.

Jeanette Winterson missed out on the shortlist after making her longlist debut for Frankissstein (Jonathan Cape), with former Granta publisher Max Porter’s Lanny (Faber) also missing out. Touching on the authors who made the longlist, including Deborah Levy, John Lanchester and Oyinkan Braithwaite, Florence said he “commends them to all readers”.

The shortlist was announced this morning (Tuesday 3rd September) by Florence, at a press conference at London’s British Library. He said: “Like all great literature, these books teem with life, with a profound and celebratory humanity.”

Florence added: “The common thread is our admiration for the extraordinary ambition of each of these books. There is an abundance of humour, of political and cultural engagement, of stylistic daring and astonishing beauty of language. Like all great literature, these books teem with life, with a profound and celebratory humanity. We have a shortlist of six extraordinary books and we could make a case for each of them as winner, but I want to toast all of them as ‘winners’. Anyone who reads all six of these books would be enriched and delighted, would be awe-struck by the power of story, and encouraged by what literature can do to set our imaginations free.”

He told The Bookseller he was “astonished” by how contemporary and diverse the shortlist turned out to be. He said: “The entire submission was vastly varied. It’s not like these stood out because they were different from let. That speaks to the health of the English language around the world and both anglophone and internationalist literary cultures.”

Florence added the scale of ambition on show was huge and all the authors were “really pushing the limits of what they’re capable of”. He said: “They are teeming with humanity. Peoples lives and fresh lives that feel like real lives experience are in every page of everyone of these books and the voices are fresh and compelling.”

He said: “I’d say publishing was in an incredibly strong position and they’ve done some fantastic work on these books.”

Gaby Wood, literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation, added: “It was hard to watch the judges narrow down their longlist to this shortlist: they were so committed to all 13 of the books they’d chosen just over a month ago that the discussion was intense. Still, these six remain extraordinary: they bring news of different worlds; they carry a wealth of lives and voices; they’re in conversation, in various ways, with other works of literature. I think it’s fair to say that the judges weren’t looking for anything in particular – they entered this process with an open mind – but this is what they found: a set of novels that is political, orchestral, fearless, felt. And now, by association, those six will be in fruitful conversation with one another.”

Waterstones fiction buyer Bea Carvalho said this year’s shortlist is “truly representative of the scope and ambition of this year’s fiction publishing”.

She said: “The inclusion of two Booker winners gives the list real gravitas – and it’s exciting to see them rubbing shoulders with some less widely known authors whose careers are now set to be propelled to new commercial heights.

“We’re especially pleased to see The Testaments on the shortlist as the countdown to its publication enters its final week: we hardly needed confirmation of its quality but the judges’ endorsement makes us even more excited to read it and share it with our customers. Its release is the literary event of the year, and it is yet another fantastic talking point that it hits the shelves with a major prize shortlisting under its belt already.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World has been a favourite this year, and we’re thrilled to see Shafak’s immense talent recognised by the Booker Prize with her first shortlisting. Of all the shortlisted titles already published, this one has seen the greatest sales uplift since its longlisting with sales improving by 170% week on week after the announcement.”

Touching on the longlisted titles that just missed out on the shortlist, Carvalho said: “We’re a bit surprised by some of the omissions, especially Lanny which we had pegged as a strong contender since reading it almost a year ago, and Deborah Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything which has struck a real chord with our customers since publishing last week. Milkman was our bestselling Booker winner in recent years, and the astronomical uplift in sales demonstrates the prizes’ influence and reach. We’re excited to see the impact that the shortlist news has on the lives of these six brilliant books, all of which would be very deserving winners.”

The shortlisted authors each receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book. The 2019 winner will be announced on 14th October at an awards ceremony at London’s Guildhall, where they will be awarded £50,000. Last year’s prize went to Anna Burns’ Milkman (Faber).

Also judging the 151 entries were former fiction publisher and editor Liz Calder; novelist, essayist and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo; writer, broadcaster and former barrister Afua Hirsch and concert pianist, conductor and composer Joanna MacGregor.

The shortlist comes seven months after it was revealed that the Man Group would be replaced as sponsor by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Sir Michael Moritz’s charitable foundation Crankstart in a five-year deal.

‘Wide-ranging and diverse’ Booker Prize shortlist welcomed by trade, despite surprise omissions

The Booker Prize’s “wide-ranging and diverse” shortlist has been met with a broadly positive response from the trade, though there is surprise from some that authors like Max Porter missed out on the final six.

Yesterday’s shortlist, including four PRH titles, ranged from Margaret Atwood’s soon-to-be-released The Testaments (Chatto & Windus), tipped to be one of the year’s biggest publishing hits, to Lucy Ellman’s 1,000 page stream of consciousness doorstopper Ducks, Newburyport (Galley Beggar Press).

Also included were Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World (Viking), Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton) also made the shortlist, with Nigerian novelist Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities (Little Brown) and Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte (Jonathan Cape).

However, the two longlisted titles with the biggest sales so far missed out on the final stage. By the time yesterday’s shortlist was announced Porter’s Lanny (Faber) had sold 16,548 copies through Nielsen, putting it second-only on the longlist to Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, The Serial Killer, which had shifted 17,791 books.

Paul Sweetman, who runs City Books in Hove, said the omission of Braithwaite, the only debut on the longlist, was a particular disappointment as it was one he could “thoroughly recommend” to customers. He said: “I was disappointed that the Braithwaite didn’t make it, though I wasn’t exactly surprised. It was a really original novel and very cleverly mixed up lots of different themes. I thoroughly enjoyed that book.”

But he added: “I’m really pleased that Shafak’s on there – she’s absolutely superb.”

Clare Alexander from Aitken Alexander Associates, whose clients include Porter, told The Bookseller: “There are always books that we represent or especially love we regret are not included.  Why was Mark Haddon’s The Porpoisenot on the longlist?  Why was Lanny by Max Porter or The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy not on the shortlist?

“But we are absolutely thrilled that Bernardine Evaristo’s brilliant Girl, Woman, Other is a worthy inclusion on what is definitely a strong and diverse Booker shortlist.”

Jonny Geller from Curtis Brown, whose agency represents Shafak and Atwood, said: “Everyone knows it is always hard for authors not to be included in these prizes, but when you do get the recognition, it is a wonderful chance to widen readership and give the authors a boost of confidence as they are about to embark on their new work. This is list is very wide in appeal and I hope it will bring book buyers into bookshops for the busiest autumn for fiction I can remember.”

Bea Carvalho, Waterstones fiction buyer, was also surprised at Porter’s omission, along with that of Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything.

But she said: “The judges certainly had an unenviable task whittling down this year’s longlist, and they have come up with a shortlist which is truly representative of the scope and ambition of this year’s fiction publishing. The inclusion of two Booker winners gives the list real gravitas – and it’s exciting to see them rubbing shoulders with some less widely known authors whose careers are now set to be propelled to new commercial heights.

“We’re especially pleased to see The Testaments on the shortlist as the countdown to its publication enters its final week: we hardly needed confirmation of its quality but the judges’ endorsement makes us even more excited to read it and share it with our customers. Its release is the literary event of the year, and it is yet another fantastic talking point that it hits the shelves with a major prize shortlisting under its belt already.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World has been a favourite this year, and we’re thrilled to see Shafak’s immense talent recognised by the Booker Prize with her first shortlisting. Of all the shortlisted titles already published, this one has seen the greatest sales uplift since its longlisting with sales improving by 170% week on week after the announcement.”

Nic Bottomley of Mr B’s Emporium said: “I think that now it’s whittled from 13 to 6 it feels like a more intriguing and quite wildly varied list. You’ve got a couple of literary legends, books that play with style and all manner of different settings and cultures.”

And John Clegg from the London Review Bookshop weighed in: “With Man having gone overboard, it’s great to see the Booker Prize keeping things shipshape and maintaining an even keel with its latest shortlist – and the last novel to arrive, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, is certain to make a big splash. We’re all sorry to see Deborah Levy and Max Porter jettisoned, but whoever the eventual winner is, we look forward to piping them up the gangway.”

The appearance of Ellman was hailed by indie Galley Beggar’s co-director Eloise Millar as an “amazing validation for an extraordinary, revelatory novel – as well as for Lucy, who has worked so hard, so fearlessly, and put everything she has into this book”.

She added: “Lucy’s shortlisting for the Booker Prize is a wonderful boost for Galley Beggar Press, of course – but we also like to see it as a kind of ‘waving of the flag’ for all small presses out there in the UK, many of whom we know personally, who help and support us on a daily basis – and who we watch working so hard, so passionately, and so constantly for their books and their authors. We feel privileged to be part of this community; it’s a daily inspiration. Most of these companies are run by no more than a handful of people – and because of them, many important books and writers are finding a home, and a way into the world.”

At PRH, a “thrilled” Venetia Butterfield, publisher for Penguin General, called Shafak “the bravest writer I know”. Simon Prosser, publishing director of Hamish Hamilton and editor of Girl, Woman, Other, called its shortlisting “a cause for joy”. Bea Hemming, acting publishing editor for Jonathan Cape, and editor for Quichotte, said: “It shows a master storyteller at his most exuberant and inventive, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to see it recognised by the Booker judges.”

Becky Hardie, deputy publishing director for Chatto & Windus and editor of The Testaments, said: “The Handmaid’s Tale was on the Booker shortlist in 1986 and it’s a real excitement and pleasure to see its sequel on the list 33 years later. In chaotic times like these we need writers like Margaret Atwood more than ever. I hope this shortlisting will bring the benefits of her visionary wisdom to even more readers.”

And a “delighted” Ailah Ahmed, editorial director at Hachette UK’s Little, Brown, and editor of An Orchestra Of Minorities, said: “Chigozie is 33 and is extraordinarily talented – this is such an wonderful moment. Beautifully written, stylishly crafted and hugely important, An Orchestra Of Minorities deserves to find many readers. Working with Chigozie is such a pleasure.”

Hackers targeted Curtis Brown for months in bid to get hold of The Testaments manuscript

Margaret Atwood’s literary agent Karolina Sutton of Curtis Brown has revealed how the agency was besieged by a “carefully orchestrated” campaign by cyber criminals attempting to obtain The Testaments manuscript which “carried on daily for months”, The Bookseller can exclusively reveal.

The much anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale is being published worldwide on 10th September to global fanfare with a string of major events, tightly controlled press and retailer embargos on top of high security during the editing process to keep the manuscript safe. Amazon caused international upset with a high-profile “technical error” which saw copies sent to US customers almost a week before publication, causing various newspapers to break the embargo for reviews – the e-retailer later apologised.

The breach followed Atwood’s Booker shortlisting on Tuesday (3rd September), and chair of the judges Peter Florence has described a “ferocious non-disclosure agreement” for the book conducted by UK publisher Chatto & Windus.

Florence and Sutton have now revealed that over the last six months they experienced sophisticated phishing attempts to access the manuscript – similar to a rash of cyber scams which hit major publishing houses at last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair and intensified later in the autumn.

However Atwood’s book caused an unprecedented cyber frenzy. “Most people publicly associated with The Testaments were targeted by hackers determined to get an early copy of the manuscript,” Sutton told The Bookseller. “It was a carefully orchestrated campaign that carried on daily for months. A number of us had our email identities stolen, which is commonplace in publishing these days, but it was for the first time that fraudulent emails with addresses indistinguishable from our own had been used to reach beyond agents, editors and scouts. The moment the Booker Prize announced the longlist [in July], the judges became targets of a phishing attack.”

She revealed that Curtis Brown was forced to increase security measures. “Luckily, the system we put in place kept the manuscript safe, but in this context we had no choice but to introduce really tight security measures. We had not seen this level of attack before. It became a daily occurrence. Fortunately, everyone inconvenienced by the extra layer of security has been really understanding, which shows again that our industry is made up of the best people.”

Florence told The Bookseller: “I had a very odd email from Karolina Sutton who I know and have worked with for many years. I received the email very shortly after it was announced in the press that we had received early copies in order to consider for the longlist, late July. It said: ‘Margaret Atwood would like to submit a revised edit to the one you have so could you please send a photo of the first and last four pages of the version you have.’ I was not able to as I was not at home and nor would I have done so I emailed to say ‘I don’t have access to it’. Because it was rather strange, the reply which came back was using a very odd form of words which I hadn’t heard Karolina Sutton use before so I rang Curtis Brown and they knew absolutely nothing about it. Someone had hacked the email server – the first email came from her address but the reply returned to a slightly different email address with a different spelling.”

It is believed the scam could be used to extort money from agencies. Florence said: “Karolina explained that the most likely hackers would be people trying to extort ransom money from the agency. This is a familiar Hollywood practice, but is not widely used in the book world. It is a mark of the significance of the book that a literary novel would get this level of attention. I understand from the agency that they have been assailed in this way for months and have had to really improve defences systems to protect the book. I know that they have been targeted over the course over about six months.”

Florence believes the situation could mark the beginning of the end for literary embargoes. “I suspect this is the last time an embargo is used on a fiction book successfully,” he said.

When asked about the “ferocious” non-disclosure agreement issued by Penguin Random House imprint Chatto & Windus in the UK, Florence said: “It’s the same one everyone was made to sign, bookshops as well, I understand. But Booker as an organisation had to give very, very clear promises about the way in which access to the manuscript would be controlled, that all came down to PRH’s extraordinary delivery of watermarked copies. I don’t think I’ve ever come across – in 35 years in the book industry – an embargo that seemed so intense, we had to be giving detail of where we would be to receive the couriered manuscript directly into our hands.”

He added: “In the grand scheme of things, this is not a nuclear weapons count. It’s a publication strategy and PR strategy for an extraordinarily brilliant book. And the moment that the book is out none of it matters, but the tone with which it was conducted does seem to be almost totalitarian and the irony of that given the content of the book is not lost on anyone.

“What matters is that it’s an extraordinary novel and one day next week literally millions of people across the world will get to read it. As a containment operation you have to admire its thoroughness. I think PRH would say they are protecting the public from spoilers with these measures.”

“Ultimately, people will be richly rewarded on publication. There are few things that deliver on their promise and this book is absolutely one of them.”

The Testaments is set 15 years after Offred’s ambiguous final scene in the acclaimed 1985-published novel. It was announced last November that Sutton had sold UK and Commonwealth rights excluding Canada, to Becky Hardie, deputy publishing director of Chatto & Windus, as well as signing to a string of other territories around the world.