I’ve often commented on how poorly some books sell that win major awards. The U.K. Booker Prize is a prime example, as this year’s winner for fiction, THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH by Peter Flanagan, has sold just 7,000 copies. The publisher is now printing 53,000 more copies (why 53,000 is anyone’s guess), but my point is that even Pulitzer Prize-winning authors have had dismal sales (and Nobel Prize winners, as well), illustrating that quality doesn’t always equate with reader appeal. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that over the years I’ve found many Booker winners’ works barely readable (I’m equally confident these authors would find my material of the same caliber, so we have a mutual disdain, ha ha). The Booker was open this year to U.S. citizens for the first time, so it will be interesting to see if an American ever nabs the award (to qualify, a book still has to be written in English and published in the U.K.).
As a personal factoid regarding what I just discussed, about 20 years ago I searched long and hard for a copy of Upton Sinclair’s DRAGON’S TEETH, which won a Pulitzer for fiction in 1943. I couldn’t get a library copy to read, and I eventually had to pay a ridiculous price for the work from a private bookseller. Frankly, the book was worth what I paid, as it’s one of the finest stories involving the Second World War and a citizen skirting the Nazi grip of anything I’ve ever read. And DRAGON’S TEETH was part of a six-or-so-book oeuvre that carried the lead character, art dealer Lanny Budd, beyond the war. My point is, the book was virtually unavailable except through private collections, yet it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Conversely, the GREY trilogy has sold more than 12 million copies, and still counting, yet never won anything but critical disdain. No moral here, just some cold, hard facts related to the disparate realm of book sales.