British Academy Book Prize Names a Shortlist, and Reports on Sales Impact

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

London’s British Academy Book Prize reports on its 2022 winner’s sales and rights deals as it releases its 2023 nonfiction shortlist.

Image: The British Academy Prize for Global Cultural Understanding

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

A 132-Percent Sales Gain for the 2022 Winner
In announcing today (September 12) its 2023 shortlist  of six titles, the London-based British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding has become the first of the major international nonfiction book awards we cover to announce a reflection of the the impact its highest honor can have on book sales.

First, let’s look at the new shortlist.

The British Academy prize offers a purse of £25,000 (US$31,277) to its winner and £1,000 (US$1,251) to each shortlistee. A winner is to be named on October 31. On the previous night, the shortlisted writers are to speak with journalist Rosie Goldsmith for an event at the British Academy. That evening, like the winner’s ceremony, is to be streamed.

Independent publishers are represented by half the shortlist: Faber & Faber, Profile Books, and Bloomsbury. The remainder of the list comes from Penguin Random House; Hachette’s Hodder & Stoughton; and Manchester University Press.

Jurors have drawn their shortlist of six titles from an original submission pool, prize organizers say, of nearly 200 titles.

Title Author (and translator, where pertinent) Publisher and/or Imprint
Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China’s Cultural Revolution Tania Branigan Faber & Faber
Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire Nandini Das Bloomsbury Publishing
The Violence of Colonial Photography Daniel Foliard Manchester University Press
Black Ghost of Empire: The Long Death of Slavery and the Failure of Emancipation Kris Manjapra Penguin Random House / Allen Lane
Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World Irene Vallejo, translated by Charlotte Whittle Hachette / Hodder & Stoughton
Ritual: How Seemingly Senseless Acts Make Life Worth Living Dimitris Xygalatas Profile Books

Of the shortlisted authors, two—Tania Branigan and Nandini Das—live in the United Kingdom. Two are in North America: Kris Manjapra and Dimitris Xygalatas. Daniel Foliard is based in France.

The author of El Infinito en un Junco (Infinity in a Reed, 2019), Irene Vallejo, will be remembered by many of our Frankfurter Buchmesse-going readers from her appearances with last year’s Guest of Honor Spain program. For Hodder & Stoughton’s publication, the book is translated into English by Charlotte Whittle.

The award’s jury this year comprises:

  • Charles Tripp (chair)
  • Madawi Al-Rasheed FBA, visiting professor at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics
  • Rebecca Earle FBA, food historian and professor of history at the University of Warwick
  • Fatima Manji, Channel 4 News broadcaster and journalist
  • Gary Younge Hon FBA, professor of sociology at the University of Manchester

Charles Tripp

In a comment today, Tripp is quoted, saying, “This 11th year of the British Academy Book Prize has attracted record numbers of entries from across the humanities and social sciences.

“We were greatly impressed by the exceptional quality of writing in this year’s shortlist and the ability of the authors to unearth extraordinary new discoveries and to find new perspectives on old perceptions.

“With my fellow jury members, we hope that readers will be inspired to explore the shortlist and thereby to discover something new about the world.”

Market Performance

As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, the Chilean author Alia Trabucco Zerán won the 2022 British Academy Book Prize for When Women Kill: Four Crimes Retold, a book translated by Sophie Hughes and published by the independent house And Other Stories. Zerán and Hughes’ work became the 10th recipient of this prize which, of course, began its life as the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding.

Today we learn from the British Academy’s organizers that after winning the prize, the book saw a sales uplift of 132 percent.

International interest in When Women Kill continued to grow, according to the publisher And Other Stories‘ report to the award’s organizers. Film and television rights now have been optioned. Previous rights deals had included French rights sold to Laffont and German rights sold to Hanser Verlag. Since the book’s win, international translation rights have also been sold into Brazil (Fosforo) and China (Writers Publishing House).

The British Academy’s report to the book-publishing trade press on what kind of effect it can have on a book’s market viability may not be something a consumer thinks about on the high street when heading into a bookstore. But although more details would be valuable, this first effort is easy to appreciate.

Just as the Booker Prize for Fiction and its sister, the International Booker Prize, have led the way in fiction by reporting on the sales effects their top honors can offer, the British Academy now has stepped forward in the nonfiction field with a first look at how its most recent winner has fared on the market.

Alia Trabucco Zerán

The messaging to the book industry’s news media from the Booker and now the British Academy Book Prize is a signal—to publishers, rights directors, international rights agents, and scouts—that they and their authors can look for more than well-earned prestige and welcome cash awards in achieving one of these wins. They, along with booksellers, can also expect to see more copies being sold.

We can’t ask awards programs to become Nielsen. But as the British Academy and Booker are demonstrating, simply working with winning publishers to gain some insights into the effects of a competition’s win can help an awards program distinguish itself in the trade.

This can assure publishers and authors that their honors go beyond much-appreciated jurors’ commendations. And it can move the book business past merely assuming and hoping that award attention can help drive sales.

More from Publishing Perspectives on publishing and book award programs is here, and on the British Academy Book Prize in its renamed iteration is here. More from us on the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize, the honor’s original iteration, 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 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.