Predicting popularity

Every 10 years since 1983, The Granta Best of Young British Novelists list is published. Looking back at previous names, I have read the novels of many of those highlighted as a promising writer, with particular favourites of mine including Louis de Bernieres and David Mitchell. Sometimes, with award ceremonies and the like, I read the list of nominees and wonder why I haven’t heard of the majority of them, and this is usually after their books have become popular.

So, the Granta list includes some now household names. But which came first? Are these authors put onto the list as a good prediction of their future popularity, or does their subsequent popularity come as a result of being on this list? Naturally, being highlighted in this way will lead to more book sales. But it would be interesting if we could see an alternate world, where one of these authors didn’t quite make the cut, and how many books they went on to sell, after being excluded from Granta.

I like the idea behind this list, though, and the way it seems to provoke debate and controversy. Created 30 years ago by Desmond Clarke, who was at the time the director of the Book Marketing Council, it was an alternative to the award ceremonies that celebrated authors who already had a few popular titles under their belt. It was sometimes seen as a bit too light-hearted, but as Clark states in this article, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing:

“There were some who looked down their noses at the way we were marketing literary fiction and making it fun. The whole idea of the list was to create controversy and get people arguing. Every time the literati got a bit sniffy that worked in our favour.”

In a couple of days the list will be announced, providing avid readers with some names to watch over the coming years.



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