Saturday, January 06, 2007

Eight authors hit the Richard and Judy jackpot
By Nigel Reynolds, Arts Correspondent,
Last Updated: 3:03am GMT 05/01/2007

Eight authors were handed virtual blank cheques yesterday when they were chosen as the finalists for this year's Richard & Judy's Book Club Best Read Award, the biggest marketing phenomenon in British book sales.

The eight include the comedian Griff Rhys Jones, a Yale law professor who has previously written only academic books, an American socialite and the British novelist William Boyd.
They are guaranteed huge sales that will push their novels close to the top of the best-selling charts this year.

The Richard & Judy award, which gives plugs for each of the finalists' books on prime-time Channel 4 television, has overtaken better-known — and more highbrow — prizes such as the Man Booker and the Costa (formerly Whitbread) awards in influencing reading habits.

In last week's best-seller list, 21 of the top 100 titles were by authors chosen in the past year on Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan's show. The 21 titles represented sales of 6.5 million books, or 26 per cent of sales of the top 100 list.

As testament to the influence of the TV couple, Kate Mosse's novel, Labyrinth, picked as best read last year, and Victoria Hislop's debut novel, The Island, winner of Richard & Judy's companion Summer Read competition in 2006, were number one and number two respectively on the list with sales of 851,389 and 625,449.

By contrast, Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss, winner of the 2006 Man Booker, did not even make it to the top 100.

The Best Read gives astonishing power to the selectors. Remarkably, it is concentrated in the hands of one woman, Amanda Ross, 44, sister-in-law of the BBC interviewer Jonathan Ross. Mrs Ross — she is married to Simon Ross, Jonathan's brother — runs Cactus TV with her husband, which makes Richard & Judy for Channel 4. Unlike a traditional literary prize, there are no external judges. Not even Madeley and Finnigan are involved in the books' selection.

Publishers are allowed to enter six titles each, so a total of 750 were entered this year.

Mrs Ross and some of her TV researchers whittle the numbers down by reading publishers' synopses or "a couple of chapters" before picking a shortlist of 50 titles. Only then Mrs Ross reads the remaining contenders in full.

"You can tell a lot about a book by picking it up and having a feel of it, then reading a little bit of it," she said yesterday. "If you think it's worth pursuing, you read a bit more. That way getting rid of the first 200 is easy."

Her principal criteria is that a book must be "a cracking good read".

In a dig at prizes such as the Man Booker, she said: "I don't know what a literary book is. As long as it's got a good story, who cares?"

Though the programme favours more commercial fiction, it does not discriminate against "literary fiction". Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, won the Richard & Judy best read prize in 2004. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker and to the surprise of many did not win.

Finnigan said yesterday her prize was for the ordinary reader. She said: "Most literary programmes, which are on late at night and concerned with 'Literature', intimidate lots of people. For some, that a book has been Booker-nominated is actually a turn-off."

The eight books are:

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld
The Girls by Lori Lansens
Restless by William Boyd
Love in the Present Tense by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Semi-Detached by Griff Rhys Jones
This Book Will Save Your Life by AM Homes
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson

Note: Not all of these titles are available in the US yet.

1 comment:

Holly Kennedy said...

I sure enjoy your blog posts! They're great reads when I need a quick break from my own novel-writing deadlines. Thanks from a Canadian author...

Search This Blog