By Edward Nawotka
No other country in the world has so many people betting on their top book prize as does the UK, where the annual announcement of the Booker Prize Shortlist — released yesterday — prompts bookies to whet their pencils and scratch out odds on who will win the big prize.
It’s a rich irony, for publishers themselves — when being honest — will admit that they often have no idea what will make a particular title popular with the public and routinely make bets on books with the hope they will catch on. And yet, bookies and oddsmakers, men and women who spend the rest of the year sizing up ponies and football matches, figure they can apply their same science to book prizes.
I’m curious about their methodology. Do they actually read the books or just the reviews? Are they getting pre-pub copies and filling their bookshelves with possible “contenders” each year, looking for the one title that will impress the judges as “both highly original and hugely entertaining?!” Should publishers be seeding the big oddsmakers with galleys and ARC’s? The payoff of winning the Booker Prize for a publisher is worth plenty of money, so wouldn’t it behoove them to cater to these decision makers just a wee bit?
This year, the bookies — and the public — have settled on Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall as the likely winner. It is so far out front of the other five books, which include titles by previous winners A.S. Byatt and J.M. Coetzee, one would think it a foregone conclusion that she will win.
Graham Sharpe, spokesperson for oddsmaker William Hill, told the Guardian newspaper yesterday that “95% of the bets we have taken so far have been for Wolf Hall, so we would be delighted to see it fail to get on the shortlist, but I fear it will be there, having already been backed from 8/1 to 6/4 — and I have no doubt that it will become the hottest favorite ever to win the award, and the first book to be odds-on to do so,” adding, “It could become our first ever six-figure payout if it wins.”
Then again, one thing that oddsmakers and bookies know all-too-well is that the public doesn’t always know what’s best for them. That’s one thing bookies, oddsmakers and publishers can all agree on.