Lemn Sissay, a judge for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for Fiction, informs us that, in the UK at least, some books get longlisted not because of quality but contractual obligation. From the Guardian Blog:
I’ve just finished judging the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for Fiction, which had me reading 45 books in three months. When I got talking to novelist Mandy Sayer at a literary festival, she surprised me with an account of how some books get on longlists. Apparently agents can collude with publishers to guarantee, through publishing deals, that certain authors are put forward for specific prizes.
Sissay believes that most contest judges and most authors are unaware of this particular clause. Granted, this only concerns nominations–Sissay isn’t alleging that there’s any pressure to select certain books from the longlist for the shortlist. And if publishers are allowed to submit two books each, then naturally they’re going to factor in commercial considerations–they’re commercial enterprises, after all.
But still, it’s disheartening. You’d like to think that, even in publishing, people would get the most excited about their best work. If a nomination is preordained–theoretically it could happen before the book is even written–that takes a hell of a lot of fun out of the affair.
And if I read 45 books in 3 months to help select a prizewinner, I think it would be pretty irritating to think that some of them weren’t in the pile because of their own merits but because of marketing concerns and the desire to give strokes to major authors.
It would be very interesting to know whether this is also a common practice in the U.S.