May 13, 2015
The Wake is the Book of the Year
by Zeljka Marosevic
Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake was the surprise winner of the Book of the Year award at the Bookseller Industry Awards on Monday night.
The Wake was originally published through the crowd-funding publishing platform Unbound and was up against the biggest and bestselling books of last year, including Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk and Capital by Thomas Piketty.
Compared to those publishing goliaths, The Wake is a tiny David speaking another language – quite literally: the book is set in 1066 and is written in a reimagined Old English that Kingsnorth developed to be understandable to the modern reader. But the book has done exceptionally well for a book of its kind: it has sold 5,000 copies to date, was longlisted for the Booker and Folio Prizes, shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize, and was the winner of the Gordon Burn Prize.
Caroline Sanderson, associate editor at the Bookseller, who was also a judge of the award explained why the book had been chosen:
Wake might seem a controversial choice. It is not the bestselling book of the year, nor are we arguing that it is the book we loved reading most—although it is arresting and extraordinary. What stood out about The Wake is what it proves: that publishing is now so creative and fleet of foot that anything is possible. Moreover, it is a shining example of a 21st century book: both a beautiful, traditional object that is a pleasure to possess, and a publication that came about through the power of online crowd-sourcing.
Sanderson’s right: The Wake is a good case study in what publishing looks like now. Kingsnorth wrote the book thinking that he would have to self-publish it because a traditional publisher would never take it on. As predicted, his agent couldn’t sell it. So Kingsnorth sent it to John Mitchinson, co-founder of Unbound, who crowd-funded it, then co-published it with Cornerstone, a division of Penguin Random House. They created a beautiful book as well as a digital offering. The remaining books in the trilogy will be published by Faber in the UK, and Mark Rylance, who was also an early funder, has optioned the film rights.
Could this publishing narrative be any different from the traditional author-agent-publisher model?
The editor of the Bookseller, Philip Jones, said:
The Book of the Year prize was introduced to showcase a book that best demonstrated the real value of publishing: that close collaboration between the publisher and author that culminates in something extraordinary for the reader. The Wake is that title—a remarkable book remarkably published.
Kingsnorth was pleased the prize recognised the work of his publisher, as well as his book. He told the Guardian,
This book only came to life because of the innovative publishing model developed by Unbound, and I’m really pleased to see that model receiving recognition. The Wake was published by its own readers, and for me this award recognises the cheering fact that innovative publishing methods can help challenging novels to succeed in a supposedly difficult digital age.
Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.