The Costa Book Awards Program Announces Its 2020 Shortlists

In News by Porter Anderson

Twenty writers from the United Kingdom and Ireland have been chosen from an initial pool of 708 Costa Book Award entries.

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

McDonald: ‘Something for Everyone’
A book industry prize program with strong sponsor-name recognition, the Costa Book Awards group of five catetories has announced its 2020 shortlists overnight.

Because of its timing, the winners’ announcements lag the year for which they’re awarded. For example, winners in these five categories will be given the 2020 awards but not until 2021, on January 4. There’s then an additional “book of the year” prize for 2020, to be named January 26.

The sponsorship is generous enough to make that book of the year honor welcome in any year. Those who come out on top in these five categories each will receive £5,000 (US$6674). The overall winner of the Costa Book of the Year, then, will receive an additional £30,000 (US$40,050) for a total handsome £35,000 (US$46,734) in caffeine-powered funds.

The book of the year honor, instituted in 1985, has been won in the past 12 times by a  novel, five times by a debut novel, eight times by a biography, eight times by a poetry collection, and just two times by a children’s book—which is an interesting point, considering the overall popularity among market categorizations for young readers’ content.

While internationally recognized, the Costa prides itself on being “the only major UK book prize open solely to authors resident in the United Kingdom and Ireland.” This may be satisfying, one assumes, to critics of the Booker Prize Foundation, for example, which in 2013 “evolved” its program to be open to the world’s authors.

The 2020 shortlists of 20 titles and authors were drawn from an initial 708 entries, which organizers say is a record. There are three jurors per category.

Jill McDonald

In a prepared comment, the CEO of Costa Coffee, Jill McDonald, is quoted, saying, “These lists represent everything the Costa Book Awards celebrate.

“Here are 20 brilliant books to read, enjoy, recommend, and share.

“Thank you to the judges for their time and dedication in producing such outstanding lists in this most unusual year. And congratulations to the authors who have made it onto the shortlists from such an enormous number of entriesThere is truly something for everyone here.

Shortlists in the 2020 Costa Book Awards

Books that were eligible for entry in the 2020 competition had to have been published in the UK or Ireland between November 1 of last year and October 31.

Costa First Novel Award 2020 Shortlist 

  • Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen (John Murray Publishers)
  • The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain (HQ)
  • Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud (Faber & Faber)
  • All the Water in the World by Karen Raney (Two Roads)

Costa Novel Award 2020 Shortlist  

  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Peace Talks by Tim Finch (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • The Less Dead by Denise Mina (Harvill Secker)
  • The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Love Story by Monique Roffey (Peepal Tree)

Costa Biography Award 2020 Shortlist 

  • The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape)
  • Dear Life by Rachel Clarke (Little, Brown)
  • The Louder I Will Sing by Lee Lawrence (Sphere)
  • Ghost Town: A Liverpool Shadow Play by Jeff Young (Little Toller Books)

Costa Poetry Award 2020 Shortlist

  • The Air Year by Caroline Bird (Carcanet)
  • The Historians by Eavan Boland (Carcanet)
  • My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long (Picador)
  • Citadel by Martha Sprackland (Pavilion Poetry)

Costa Children’s Award 2020 Shortlist 

  • Wranglestone by Darren Charlton (Little Tiger)
  • Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant (Faber & Faber)
  • The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson (Usborne)
  • The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff (Bloomsbury Publishing)

There’s yet another category. The Costa Short Story Award is put up to a public vote, and readers can find the three shortlisted candidates for that category on the Costa site on Tuesday (December 1).

Authors of eligible submissions must have been resident in the United Kingdom or Ireland for the previous three years.

As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, last year’s book of the year honor went to the journalist Jack Fairweather for The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero who Infiltrated Auschwitz (Penguin Random House / WH Allen).


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Costa Book Awards is here, and more on publishing awards in general is here

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.