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A brief history of the Booker Prizes…

a guide for collectors of signed first editions

The Man Booker Prizes are all leading literary awards.  Awards?  Yes, not surprisingly perhaps, there has been more than one (Man) Booker Prize in the last four decades.

In fact, there have been six different awards to date: the annual award, a bi-annual international award and four special awards.  On this basis, a fifth special award for the 50th anniversary of the prize in 2018 would appear a safe bet.

Below is our brief history of the prizes…

The Man Booker Prize

The Man Booker Prize (the prize) fosters the finest in fiction by rewarding, in the opinion of the judges, the best novel of the year.  The prize is arguably the world’s leading literary award and it can influence the fortunes of authors and publishers alike.

The history of the prize now spans more than forty years since its launch by Booker McConnell Ltd in 1968.  At this time, it was an extremely diverse firm with interests ranging from managing Britain’s largest cash-and-carry chain through to owning the rights of Ian Fleming’s back catalogue.  Thanks to this firm’s vision, P H Newby’s novel, Something to Answer For, won the first Booker Prize for Fiction on 22 April 1969.

In 1971, there was a major change to the rules, which affected a book’s entry eligibility.  The Booker changed from being an award for novels published in the previous year to become a prize for the best novel published in the same year as the award.  At the same time, presentation of the award moved from April to November.  These changes gave rise to a wealth of fiction published for much of 1970 not being eligible for the prize.

This anomaly led to the creation of the Lost Man Booker Prize in 2010, a one-off award to honour the books that didn’t get the chance to win in 1970.

In 1992, two books (The English Patient and Sacred Hunger) shared the prize.  This resulted in a rule change the following year and the judges must now pick a single winner to comply with the principle that the award is for ‘the best novel of the year’.  (There had only ever been one other split award.  This was in 1974 when Holiday and The Conservationist shared the prize.)

The next big change came in 2002 with the creation of the Booker Prize Foundation (the Foundation).  This was set up to administer and run the awarding of the prize.  The Foundation is an independent registered charity funded by the entire profits of Booker Prize Trading Limited, of which it is the sole shareholder.

Also in 2002, the Man group, an investment firm, became the prize’s title sponsor.  They chose to keep Booker as part of the award’s name, which led to the birth of the Man Booker Prize.  Thanks to Man’s sponsorship, the winner’s cheque grew from £21k in 2001 to £50k in the next and subsequent years.  This level of prize money makes the Booker one of the world’s richest literary awards.

With such a long history, and given the effect of the prize on sales and to the reputations of both writers and judges, it’s not surprising that few years pass without controversy of some sort.

For example, in July 1971 Malcolm Muggeridge withdrew as a judge saying he was “out of sympathy” with many of the submitted novels.  Luckily, respected critic Philip Toynbee was able to step into the breach within two short weeks.  Similarly, in 1994, Rabbi Julia Neuberger chose to distance herself entirely from James Kelman’s winning novel How Late It Was, How Late.

In 2011, judge Chris Mullins’ remark that the panel was looking for books that “zip along” added fuel to the fire.  This comment created a great deal of media interest in what seemed to be a leaning towards ‘readability’ rather than literary merit.

The Foundation itself caused a stir in 2013 with changes to the long-standing author nationality and book submission rules.  Reactions to these changes were mixed.  Philip Hensher writing for the Guardian said: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many novelists say, as over the last two or three days, ‘Well, we might as well just give up, then.’”  While former winner John Banville told the BBC, “I think it’s an excellent idea” when talking about the move which now allows American novelists to enter for the first time.  Only time will tell who is right.

As for the mechanics of running the competition: each year starts with the Foundation appointing the Foundation Advisory Committee.  The task of the Committee is to select the panel of judges.

To maintain consistency, the Committee will consider candidates from a wide range of disciplines before making their final selection.  This is why past judging panels have included critics, writers and academics as well as poets, politicians and actors.  Despite this diversity, the judges all share one trait; they will all have a passion for quality fiction.

Prior to the 2014 competition, the judging panel consisted of five persons, including the chair of judges. For the 2014 prize, the panel will consist of six judges but this may revert to five in subsequent years.

Appointments to the panel usually take place between October and early December of the year before the prize year.  This is so the judges can start wading through the large number of books they will all need to read.

The judges will meet as often as needed to achieve the prize timetable.  This is the announcement of the ‘Booker Dozen’, the 12 or 13-book longlist, in July.  Next up is a shortlist of six books in September, followed by the declaration of the winner at an award ceremony in October.

For a book to be eligible for entry, it must be a unified and substantial full-length novel published in the UK within the prize year by an imprint formerly set up in the UK.  The prize year runs from 01 October to 30 September.  For instance, the 2014 prize year runs from 01 Oct 2014 to 30 Sep 2015.

While a novel’s first UK publication must fall within the prize year, books published before this in other countries are still eligible if written in English.  However, an English translation of a book first written in any other language is not eligible.

Since 2014, the rules allow the entry of books first written in English and published in the UK regardless of the author’s nationality.  Prior to 2014, the prize was open only to authors from the UK & Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe.  This will clearly boost the range of the prize, as authors from many more countries can now put their novels forward.  The condition that the author must be alive at the time of the award remains unchanged.

Self-published books are not eligible where the author is the publisher or where a company is set up to publish a specific book.

In keeping with advances in technology, judges will consider e-books from an imprint of any publisher formally established in the UK.  If an online book is longlisted, the publisher must print hard copies of the book and have them available to UK bookshops within ten days of the longlist announcement.

Publishers must also undertake to have e-books available of any shortlisted novel within two weeks of the shortlist announcement.  Extracts from the e-books must be freely accessible as downloads.

Prior to the 2014 prize, the book selection path started with UK publishers submitting a maximum of two novels that fitted the entry criteria.  As from the 2014 prize, the number of books a publisher can submit will depend on their longlist success over the previous five years.  This works as follows:

  • Publishers with no listings can enter 1 book
  • Publishers with 1 or 2 listings can enter 2 books
  • Publishers with 3 or 4 listings can enter 3 books
  • Publishers with 5 or more listings can enter 4 books

As this is a rolling arrangement, the number of books a publisher can enter may well change from year-to-year.

Other submission criteria remain unchanged…

A publisher may enter any title by an author who has previously won, or been shortlisted for, the Booker or Man Booker Prize if the book is eligible for entry.

Each publisher may also submit, by March of the prize year, a list of up to five further titles.  A written rationale of up to 250 words (signed by the author’s editor) must support these novels.  The judges will call in no fewer than eight and no more than twelve of all the titles provided in this manner.

The judges, by the July of the prize year, are also free to call in any books they think are worthy of consideration as long as these meet the entry criteria.

Here are some stats for authors who managed to meet the entry criteria.  Only three authors have won the prize twice: J M Coetzee (1983 and 1999), Peter Carey (1988 and 2001)and Hilary Mantel (2009 and 2012).  Coetzee is one of four winners awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature, the others being V S Naipaul, William Golding and Nadine Gordimer.

By winning the 2012 competition, Hilary Mantel became the first woman and the first British writer to win the prize twice.  Her 2012 winner, Bring up the Bodies, is also the first sequel to win the prize.

Salman Rushdie is in the unique position of having won no less than three Booker awards for his novel Midnight’s Children: the Booker Prize (1991), the Booker of Bookers (1993) and the Best of the Booker (2008).

The late Beryl Bainbridge gained notoriety as the eternal ‘Booker Bridesmaid’, shortlisted no less than five times (1973, 74, 90, 96 and 98) without winning.  Dame Iris Murdoch went one better; she made the shortlist in 1969, 70, 73, 78, 85, and 87.  Fortunately, her 1978 listing led to her winning the prize that year for her novel The Sea, the Sea.

Debut authors have won the prize four times to mixed effect.  Up to the end of 2013, neither Keri Hulme (1985) nor Arundhati Roy (1997) has written another novel.  While the victories for D B C Pierre (2003) and Aravind Adiga (2008) left many pundits suggesting that sensationalism and novelty, rather than the literary skills of more seasoned writers, had swayed the judges.

Perhaps the most surprising stat of all is that the prize is the only long-running literary award in the UK where every winning novel is still in print!

For details of the previous winners, shortlists, longlist and judges of this award, please visit the Man Booker Prize website and explore their archive.

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The Man Booker International Prize

Launched in 2005, the Man Booker International Prize is notably different from the Man Booker Prize in that it highlights one writer’s overall contribution to fiction on the world stage.  In a nutshell, the judges consider a writer’s body of work rather than a single novel.  This is just one of the reasons the prize has already established itself as a major player in the literary world.

The prize, awarded bi-annually, is worth £60,000 to a living author who has published fiction originally in English or whose work is, in the main, available as an English translation.  Unlike the Man Booker Prize, an author can only win this award once.

In addition to the main prize, there is a separate award for translation.  If applicable, the winner may choose a translator of his or her work who will receive a £15,000 prize.

There are no submissions from publishers as the judging panel has complete autonomy when it comes to choosing writers to consider for the prize.

That said, late 2013 saw the launch of the Man Booker International Prize e-Council.  This is an informal advisory network, made up of former judges and winners of the Man Booker and Man Booker International Prizes.  Its role is to propose suitable judges for the International Prize panel and suggest writers that the judges might consider reading.   Membership of the e-Council will grow as more people judge – and win – the prizes.

The International Prize is similar to its older sibling in that it seems to attract a certain amount of controversy.  Take 2011 as an example…

One of the three judges, Carmen Callil, founder of Virago, withdrew from the panel in protest at the other two judges’ majority decision.  She said of winner Roth’s on going focus on male sexuality, “He goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book.  It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe.”

Perhaps inspired by the 2011 experience; starting with the 2013 prize there will be five judges, rather than three, on the panel.  Ostensibly, this will enable the judges to consider the work of many more writers than in previous years.

For details of the previous winners, shortlists, longlist and judges of this award, please visit the Man Booker Prize website and explore their archive.

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The Booker of Bookers

In 1993, the prize administrators decided to mark the 25th anniversary of the competition with the Booker of Bookers award.  Three past judges of the prize, Malcolm Bradbury, David Holloway and W. L. Webb, met to choose a winner from the 26 previous winners.  They chose Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (the 1981 winner) as “the best novel out of all the winners.”

Presenting the award caused some difficulty as, in 1993, Salman Rushdie was still under the threat of a fatwa for his book The Satanic Verses.  Even so, he did manage to get to the award ceremony, held amidst tight security, at Waterstone’s bookstore in Kensington on the evening of 20th September.  For all his efforts in getting to the venue, he had to be satisfied with an unbound brown paper covered copy of Midnight’s Children on the night.  This was because his prize of a leather-bound copy wasn’t ready in time!


While there are only twenty-four years between 1969 and 1992, twenty-six authors won the prize during this period.  This is because two author’s shared the prize in 1974 and 1992.  From 1993, the rules changed so there could only be one winner.

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The Best of the Booker

On the 21 February 2008, the Booker Prize Foundation inaugurated a one-off celebratory award to mark the 40th anniversary of the Booker / Man Booker Prize.  At the same time, the Foundation confirmed the names of the judges who would manage the first stage of the contest.

The panel consisted of three literary luminaries who had all judged either the Booker or Man Booker Prize before.  They were biographer, novelist and critic Victoria Glendinning (Chair), writer and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, and John Mullan, Prof. of English at UCL.  Their task was to choose a shortlist of six novels from the forty-one previous winners.

Once the judges announced their shortlist on the 12th May, public voting opened to decide the winner.  Anyone wanting to cast a vote for his or her favourite novel from the shortlist could do so on the Man Booker Prize website or by text message.

The poll closed at midday on 08th July with 7,801 people having voted.  With 36% of the vote, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (the 1981 prize winner) won the Best of the Booker award.

The award presentation ceremony took place at the Southbank Centre on the 10th July as part of the London Literature Festival.  Unfortunately, Salman Rushdie couldn’t attend the event as he was on tour in America at the time.  However, he did send his thanks via a pre-recorded message and his sons, Zafar and Milan, accepted the custom-made trophy on his behalf.


There are two commonly asked questions about the Best of the Booker.  These are, “As there are only 39 years between 1969 and 2007, why does the longlist have 41 novels on it?” and “If there were 41 novels, why were only 39 authors in contention?”

The answer to Q1 is two novels shared the prize in 1974 and 1992.  From 1993, the rules changed so there could only be one winner.

The answer to Q2 is because J. M. Coetzee won the Booker Prize twice (1983 & 1999), as did Peter Carey (1988 & 2001).  Both of these authors were on this awards shortlist, Carey for Oscar & Lucinda (1988) and Coetzee for Disgrace (1999).

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The Lost Man Booker Prize

In 1971, a rule change resulted in a wealth of fiction published for much of 1970 not being eligible for the Booker Prize.  This anomaly led to the creation in 2010 of the Lost Man Booker Prize; a one-off award to honour the books that didn’t get the chance to win in 1970.

On the 01 Feb 2010, the Booker Prize Foundation announced that poet and novelist Tobias Hill, television newsreader, Katie Derham and the journalist and critic, Rachel Cooke would judge the first stage of this special prize.  Their task was to select a shortlist of six novels, from a longlist of twenty-one first published in 1970 that were still in print.

(Confusingly, some sources will give figures of 20, 21 or even 22 books for the longlist.  The original longlist did have 22 titles but two were ineligible, their first UK print editions being before and after 1970.  One extra book did fulfil the year criterion though, which made a final longlist of 21 books.)

Once the judges announced their shortlist on 25th March, public voting opened for the award.  Anyone wanting to cast a vote for his or her favourite novel from the shortlist could do so on the Man Booker Prize website.  Voting closed on the 23rd April.

On the 19th May, the late J G Farrell won the Lost Man Booker Prize with 38% of the vote for his novel Troubles.  His family accepted a designer-bound copy of the novel on his behalf.

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The Man Booker Best of Beryl

The late, much-loved novelist Dame Beryl Bainbridge was shortlisted five times for the Booker Prize, but never actually won.  This led to the press dubbing her the ‘Booker Bridesmaid’, a phrase which stuck in spite of her many other literary accolades.  So, to honour her as a writer, the Booker Prize Foundation created a special prize in 2011, The Man Booker Best of Beryl.

There were no judges for this prize.  Instead, the public voted on which of her five shortlisted novels they thought should win the prize.

Public voting opened on 08 February 2011.  Anyone who wanted to cast a vote for his or her favourite shortlisted novels could do so on the Man Booker Prize website.

There were more than a 1,000 votes cast and the late Ion Trewin, then Literary Director of the Booker Foundation, pronounced Master Georgie the winner on Tuesday 19 April.  Fittingly, the announcement came at a party to celebrate the author's life.

Beryl’s daughter Jojo Davies and grandson Charlie Russell accepted the prize (a one-off, designer-bound copy of the book) on behalf of the family.

Additional Reading

If you want more information, you’ll find the Man Booker Prize website very helpful.

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