This year’s Booker Prize longlist includes two titles for which independent presses have Canadian rights. This is also the third time since 2019 that Windsor, Ontario, indie Biblioasis has held North American rights to a Booker-longlisted title.
Publisher Dan Wells says that the nod “is always a pleasure” and comes unexpectedly, well after the press has acquired the title. In the case of this year’s longlisted book, Irish author Elaine Feeney’s forthcoming How to Build a Boat, the acquisition was an investment in Feeney herself, whose first novel As You Were was published in North America by Biblioasis in 2021.
Based on his experience with longlisted titles, Graeme Macrae Burnet’s Case Study (2022) and Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport (2019), Wells says a Booker longlist nomination has a positive impact on sales, particularly in the U.S. market. Ducks, Newburyport made the Booker shortlist and has gone on to sell 50,000 copies, Wells says.
“Total sales for us can vary dramatically, but [a longlist] means somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 copies,” Wells says.
If Feeney’s book is shortlisted for the prize on Sept. 21, Biblioasis may release it ahead of its current November publication date.
Wells sees acquisition of North American rights to international titles as a strategy that has helped Biblioasis establish itself in the U.S. market – an obvious target given the market’s size and the publisher’s proximity to the border.
“Before the last 20 years, this is how the history of Canadian publishing worked. McClelland & Stewart funded a lot of their Canadian work by acquiring international titles,” Wells says. “What we’re doing is really more of a return to traditional publishing practice than anything innovative.”
For Goose Lane Editions, the inclusion of Pulitzer Prize–winning author Paul Harding’s This Other Eden on their spring list is less part of a cultivated strategy and more the result of happenstance. Publisher Susanne Alexander says the press’s list is almost exclusively Canadian, although their previous investments in international co-editions by Canadian writers, such as Laura Trethewey, have raised the press’s profile among agents outside of Canada. Harding’s agent approached the press about Canadian rights, and acquiring editor Bethany Gibson moved quickly on the book, which came to Goose Lane in the fall of 2022 for a March 2023 publication.
“The stars aligned for us with Paul’s book. It’s a combination of author and agent and editor, and just a magnificent property,” Alexander says. “We were a partner in that, but we were also very fortunate to have things pointed in our direction.”
Since the longlist came out, Alexander has seen a bump in sales, although she points out that booksellers are reluctant to order too many copies in case This Other Eden isn’t on the shortlist.
“We’ve seen some interesting sell-through,” she says. “A number of stores have sold out and have had to reorder as a result of the nomination. We’re seeing that happen in Chapters Indigo stores, we’re seeing it happen at independent stores, and on Amazon as well. And we’re also seeing a pickup in libraries, and instances where they may have ordered the title but not ordered enough copies.”
Canadian independent publishers are not the only ones with domestic rights to titles on this year’s Booker longlist: Knopf Canada has North American rights to Sarah Bernstein’s Study for Obedience, which was published by Granta in the U.K., and Canadian rights to Chetna Maroo’s Western Lane, which was published in the U.K. by Picador and in the U.S. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Originally from Montreal, Bernstein, who now lives in Scotland, was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists earlier this year, and is the only Canadian nominee. Her second novel was on international submission in October 2022, and Knopf Canada senior editor Amanda Betts snapped it up. “I was captivated by it and felt it was a strong fit for Knopf’s list, especially as Sarah’s Canadian,” Betts says.
Bernstein’s nomination has generated attention for the book in advance of its release in August. “There has been media interest, which just generates momentum for us as we talk to booksellers, and as we’re selling the book into the U.S., the increase in interest has been a direct result of the longlisting,” Betts says.
Celebrated Canadian author Esi Edugyan – who was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Half-Blood Blues (Thomas Allen, 2011) and Washington Black (HarperCollins Canada, 2018) – is the chair of this year’s Booker judging panel. The longlist was announced on Aug. 1, and a six-book shortlist will be announced on Sept. 21. The winner of the £50,000 (approximately $86,000 Cdn) prize will be named on Nov. 26.