The Man Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious prizes an author can get, with the award going to the best novel written in English that has been published in the United Kingdom. Among the thirteen novels on the longlist for the prize this year, there's one book that is particularly surprising – "The Wake" by Paul Kingsnorth, which was not published by a traditional publisher.
The inclusion of "The Wake" is the only time a novel published with crowd-sourcing has made it to this point in the prize's 45-year history.
According to the Telegraph, Kingsnorth's novel was published by Unbound, a website that funds the publishing of books through donations from potential readers in amounts anywhere from £5 to £300. The readers are encouraged to give more in exchange for various special items that increase in value as the amount they potentially donate goes up. Once the right amount of money has been reached (in Kingsnorth's case, around £14,000), the site uses the money to publish and publicize the book. The author then splits the profits with Unbound evenly.
Similar methods of non-traditional publishing have been increasing in popularity over the past few years, but they are still often overlooked in literary circles if they don't have the prestige associated with a traditional publishing house, with self-published books usually missing the cut for famous literary awards.
Kingsnorth said he was very surprised to make it to the longlist, according to the BBC.
"I knew the book had been entered for the Man Booker but I didn't expect it to get anywhere near the longlist – it's such a strange and left-field book, so I'm very pleased indeed," he said.
The book is "strange" due to the language in which it's written. The novel is set in England after the Norman conquest of 1066 and in order to immerse the reader, Kingsnorth made up his own pseudo-Anglo-Saxon language for the novel, which many traditional publishers found unpalatable.
"I got a response from one [publisher] who said: 'I really like the story, but would you consider writing the story in modern English?'" Kingsnorth told the BBC. "And I said no because the entire point of the book is that it's written in this tongue which takes you into this world."
Ironically, it may have been this unusual language that drove traditional publishers away that made "The Wake" stand out for consideration for the prestigious award.
Luckily for Kingsnorth, the unusual writing style found interest from potential readers on Unbound, which eventually allowed the book to be published. The author told Sky News that he was sure that "The Wake" would be the first of many crowd-funded novels to make the list.
"The thing about it is that its publication was a collaboration between its readers, Unbound, and me," Kingsnorth said. "That's special, [and] in that sense, it's not just the book's language which is unusual. Everyone who was involved gets any credit that comes its way."
Recognition of a crowd-sourced novel at the level of prestige associated with the Man Booker Prize might mean that Unbound really has started a "revolution in publishing" as its website claims.
Kingsnorth's book wasn't the only surprise the Man Booker Prize had this year, however. As the Monitor previously reported, four Americans made the longlist for the prize for the first time following a rule adjustment for 2014 that made them eligible for consideration.
The shortlist for the prize will be announced on Sept. 9 and the overall winner will be announced on Oct. 14.
Weston Williams is a Monitor contributor.