Trends in Man Booker Winners: Male and Middle-Aged in Third Person

In News by Dennis Abrams

Rated at a suitable reading-difficulty level in the seventh year of school, Man Booker Prize winning titles are seen in an interactive filtering grid to have authors who are an average age of 49.
A filtering grid from VerveSearch at FlipSnack lets you sort Man Booker wins by a host of criteria. Image: FlipSnack

A filtering grid from VerveSearch at FlipSnack lets you sort Man Booker wins by a host of criteria. Image: FlipSnack

Far from being big hits with the Goodreads crowd—and with 84 percent of their protagonists and 66 percent of their authors male—the Man Booker Prize winners of the past yield some clear trend lines in a set of filters put together for FlipSnack by VerveSearch. The folks behind the analysis hope to use it to predict what comes out of the 2016 shortlist. — Porter Anderson

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

Average Length of a Man Booker Winner: 370 Pages
At the end of last year, Publishing Perspectives looked at a study commissioned by online publishing software company FlipSnack asking Is Digital Publishing Responsible for Books Getting Longer?

Now, with the UK-based Man Booker Prize longlist scheduled to be announced on July 27, FlipSnack—which produces software used to create interactive “Flipbooks”—asks another interesting question: Have you ever wondered what it takes to win a Man Booker Prize? More practically phrased, the question has to do with what trends can be discerned in past Booker novels and authors.

FlipSnack commissioned VerveSearch’s Matt Lindley to put together some numbers from more than 40 years of Man Booker Prize data to come up with some interesting statistics:

  • Nationality: The fact that 56 percent of past winners have been British is largely moot as a factor in this exercise, of course, reflecting the fact that until 2015, only Commonwealth, Irish, and Zimbabwean authors’ work was eligible. Beginning last year, the criterion was adjusted to comprise any novel written in the English language. (The Man Booker International Award, as reconfigured last year, is for an English translation and its purse is divided between author and translator. Katherine Cowdrey at The Bookseller is reporting that Edinburgh International Book Festival Director Nick Barley is chairing the judges for the 2017 International Prize, which is handed out in the spring. )
  • Gender: Sixty-six percent of Man Booker laureates are men.
  • Age: The average age of the winning author is 49.
  • Numbers of books published: The average Man Booker winner has published seven titles.
  • Genre: Historical fiction wins over contemporary fiction, 48 to 38 percent.
  • Length: The average length of a winning novel is 370 pages.
  • Gender of the protagonist: 84 percent of the protagonists in winning Man Booker novels have been men.
  • Point of view: 66 percent of winning novels are written in the third person.
  • Setting: Again hardly a surprise as 56 percent of the winning authors have been British: 22 of 50 previous winning novels have been set in the UK and Ireland; eight have been set in India.
  • Goodreads Score: The average is 3.7, meaning that although these are prize-winning books, they may not always find a place on the virtual shelves of Goodreads readers’ affections.
  • Flesch-Kincaid Readability Score: An average of 75.0 places winning Man Booker texts roughly in the middle of the seventh year of school, based on this testing protocol developed in association with the US Navy in 1975.

Lindley interprets these points of comparison this way:

“In turns out the highest number of winners are male, British and middle-aged.

“And the highest number of novels are about men, written in the third person, and [coming in under]400 pages.

“But is there a formula to success? As soon as the Man Booker Prize 2016 shortlist is announced in September, we’ll use the tool to predict a new winner based on previous trends and behaviour.”

The tool to be used in making the prediction from the shortlist (announced September 13) is based on the filtering grid that FlipSnack has online now.


About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.