England’s Women’s Prize Adds a Nonfiction Award

In News by Porter Anderson

Twenty-eight years after being established, the Women’s Prize for Fiction is to get a nonfiction sister award in the United Kingdom.

Image – Getty iStockphoto: Mariiaplo

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

Mosse: ‘Extraordinary Nonfiction Authors’
The nonprofit organization behind the Women’s Prize for Fiction in England—an awards program now almost 30 years old—the Women’s Prize Trust, today (February 8) has announced that it intends to create a second honor, the Women’s Prize for Nonfiction.

The program today announces that the Charlotte Aitken Trust charity—Publishing Perspectives readers will recall its earlier support of the Sunday Times’ Young Writer of the Year contest—has agreed to fund an annual £30,000 (US$36,279) purse and statuette called “the Charlotte” for three years of winners of this new award. The Women’s Prize says it’s looking for additional funding to support the nonfiction edition of its prize. This award regime, of course, is the same formerly known by sponsors’ names including Baileys and Orange.

It’s expected that the new prize’s availability will be for the 2024 cycle and with the following criteria in place:

  • The prize for nonfiction is to be awarded annually and is expected to be opened to all female writers working in any part of the world “regardless of background,” as long as the submitted authors are published in the United Kingdom and writing in English.
  • The prize is to acknowledge “all narrative nonfiction, from history, memoir, music, and nature writing, to science, philosophy and biography.”
  • The nonfiction prize is intended to recognize “excellence in writing and research, strong and original narrative voices, and accessibility.”
  • In initial entries are to be called for this year, in the summer.
  • The makeup of a five-person jury for the 2024 competition has yet to be finalized.

The Women’s Prize Foundation indicates that the new nonfiction prize is intended “to combat gender imbalance” in several ways including:

  • “Leveraging the power of the Women’s Prize brand, with a platform that currently reaches a global community of 95 million readers
  • “Attracting news-media attention and building author profiles, replicating the Women’s Prize for Fiction campaign, which annually secures 2,000 pieces of coverage with an equivalent PR value of £19 million (US$22,946)
  • “Galvanizing consumer interest and increasing book sales and rights deals worldwide
  • “Future-proofing writing careers through advocating for fair remuneration.”
Cugnoni: ‘Shoulder-to-Shoulder With the Fiction Prize’

In a prepared statement, Kate Mosse, the founding director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, is quoted, saying, “Since we launched 28 years ago, we’ve celebrated and amplified the voices of hundreds of amazing novelists, pressing their books into the hands of millions of readers.

Kate Mosse

“We’re confident that our new nonfiction sister prize will do the same for those extraordinary nonfiction authors, many of whom do not receive the attention they deserve. The result is that readers are short-changed.

“We’re now seeking corporate partners open to joining our family of sponsors. Together, we can champion exceptional women’s narrative non-fiction on a global stage.”

And Rachel Cugnoni, a trustee of the Charlotte Aitken Trust, says, “Fiction and nonfiction have always been different ways of telling a different kind of truth. But fact and fiction are very different things indeed and the quality of truth we get from reading very good nonfiction from trusted sources has never been more important.

“So, today’s announcement of the Women’s Prize for Non-Fiction to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with the fiction prize is a timely one, and the Charlotte Aitken Trust could not be more proud to be supporting both the prize and the role of women’s voices in our understanding of the world.” 

As you’ll recall, the Charlotte Aitken Trust was set up by the late literary agent Gillon Aitken on behalf of his daughter, who had died at age 27.

Planning the Prize

In planning its new nonfiction prize, the Women’s Prize Trust hired the Manchester-based freelance Nick Lee Consulting to bring together research on prizes and their media coverage. Funding for this, Publishing Perspectives is told, was provided by the University of Glasgow, working with the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS)—as was the case in the recently released report on author earnings in the United Kingdom.

Sales data, specifically that referencing the market’s Top 500 bestsellers, was drawn from Nielsen Bookscan.

Many of our readers will recall the past work of the “VIDA Count,” which looked at gender imbalance in news-media attention to books (primarily in the realm of reviews), both in terms of authors’ genders and those of journalists covering books. In several points provided today, the Women’s Prize Trust information echoes those earlier studies, citing from Nick Lee indications that “female nonfiction, in comparison to their male counterparts, are:

  • “Less likely to be reviewed in the United Kingdom’s national media: only 26.5 percent of nonfiction reviews in national newspapers was allocated to books by female writers, according to our analysis.
  • “Less likely to appear in ‘Best Books of 2022’ newspaper articles: only 33.7 percent of the non-fiction books selected in 2022 were written by female writers.
  • “Less likely to be shortlisted, or win, nonfiction book prizes: only 35.5 percent of books awarded a nonfiction prize over the past 10 years were written by female writers, across seven United Kingdom nonfiction prizes.
  • “More likely to receive a lower advance: data provided by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society shows that female authors’ median earnings have fallen by 16.6 percent over the past five years compared to a 13.5-percent drop experienced by male writers. This gender pay gap has also increased over the same period from 33.3 percent to 35.7 percent.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on international book and publishing awards programs is here. More from us on the Women’s Prize for Fiction is here, and more on the United Kingdom’s awards-heavy book and publishing market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson 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 an arts critic (Fellow, 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.