Oneworld and the Booker

Juliet Mabey
Opinion - Publishing Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Juliet Mabey reports on the impact on Oneworld of winning the Man Booker Prize two years in a row


Our mission at Oneworld from the outset in the mid-80s was to publish really great books for a broad audience, and that remit hasn't changed at all. We've broadened out our publishing programme somewhat, with first a literary fiction list almost eight years ago, then a YA list and a crime list, but essentially we have always wanted to be - to put it bluntly - "best in class". We want to publish the best popular science and history books, the most accessible books on global issues, on psychology and current affairs. Essentially we want to be the "go-to" publisher for high quality books that help the general reader understand the world around them.

And this is where prizes like the Man Booker play such an important role: they raise your profile significantly across the book trade, from authors and agents to booksellers and literary reviewers. The impact has been huge in so many ways. On the one hand, we increased our turnover in 2016 by a significant 32% on 2015, itself a record year - up 55% on 2014. And while we don't have ambitions to expand our current lists, we are very ambitious; our ambitions are all to do with the quality of the books we publish, and ensuring we have the very best team in place to edit, design, produce and promote the books we choose to publish - in other words, to publish them well.

After our 2015 Man Booker win (with Marlon James' A Brief History of Seven Killings) we expanded our publicity team and, as 2016 was our 30th anniversary, we also redesigned our logo and completely rebuilt our website from the bottom up. In late 2016 we went on to expand both our design and marketing departments and reorganised our sales team, finally taking all our sales functions in-house. One of the difficulties navigating the huge increase in workload following the win, whether on the sales side managing stock and print runs, or on the publicity and marketing side, is to ensure other books on the list are not neglected.

Last year, we had already organised a week-long UK tour for Paul Beatty (The Sellout) ahead of the Man Booker award ceremony to maximise the opportunity to build his profile in the UK, supplementing the official promotion activities with numerous solo events, as well as Channel 4 News and BBC World TV interviews and various radio programmes.

Following his Man Booker win and a week of intensive, high-profile news coverage, we turned to organising a second tour of the UK in December for a pre-Christmas push with packed events, interviews and signings, and immediately found ourselves fielding requests from all over the world for festival appearances through 2017 and beyond. Our publicity department rose to the challenge magnificently, juggling the heavy workload for The Sellout with fantastic campaigns for books such as Jenni Murray's A Brief History of Britain in 21 Women and Peggy Orenstein's Girls & Sex.

On the editorial side, we are now on more agents' and foreign publishers' radars than ever before, and they are sending us books we might not have seen two or three years ago. They know they can safely recommend us to their authors, who can see how much their books will benefit from the reputation and credibility of the Oneworld brand. Coping with the increase in submissions has taken a lot of work, but we are fortunate that since relocating to London in 2011, we have been steadily expanding our editorial team, which now numbers 11 full- and part-time editors. Everyone has pulled together.

Winning the Man Booker Prize twice has injected huge confidence into the company, giving us a profile that allows us to do more of what we does best, and has allowed our other authors to surf the James and Beatty waves. But most importantly of all, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we have made superstars of two amazing authors, who can now expect at the very minimum financial security in the form of a very good income, not only from the sales of both their winning books and backlist titles, but also from a flurry of additional foreign rights sales, increased book advances and speaker fees, and the like.

Both books are potentially game changers in terms of the kinds of literary fiction that will be published, championed and read in the UK. Utterly original works, rather than derivative of or reactionary to the market, perhaps they can change the market itself. Now that's something worth winning for.

Juliet Mabey is founder and publisher of Oneworld.

This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch London Book Fair Show Daily.

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