As this year's Orange prize shortlist is announced, Channel 4 News looks at how the prize has moved from being a "women's" award bound up in discussions of gender, to a major commercial player.
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The announcement of today's Orange prize shortlist marks the seventeenth year of the literary prize for women. It is a reminder of the prize's incredible transformation, from an award dismissed by the formidable AS Byatt as a disservice to women writers, to a hugely respected institution bringing acclaim - and commercial success - to little-known female authors.
Today's six shortlisted writers will be hoping for some of the success of bestselling Orange prize winner Andrea Levy's Small Island. It went from selling 2,480 copies in the first half of 2004, to over 110,000 copies in the six months after it was awarded the prize. To date it has sold over 800,000.
"It is now a respected prize in its own right. In fact, I always thought it was - I think the argument for setting up the prize was perfectly valid," Neill Denny, editor-in-chief of The Booksller, told Channel 4 News. "It showcases good writing that otherwise wouldn't get an airing."
According to sales figures from Nielsen BookScan, the three bestselling Orange prize winners - Small Island, Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun - have outsold the bestselling winners of the Booker prize during the same period, with the exception of Life of Pi, which has overtaken the one million sales mark.
After winning the Orange prize 10 years ago for Bel Canto, the US writer Ann Patchett is nominated this year for her sixth book, State of Wonder, a lengthy novel set in the Amazon rainforest.
Irish author Anne Enright, who won the 2007 Man Booker prize for The Gathering, is also nominated for The Forgotten Waltz, her fifth book, which tells the story of a love affair.
Esi Edugyan's Half Blood Blues, is also on the shortlist, after being nominated for the Man Booker prize last year. A tale of jazz musicians set in wartime Berlin, it is the Canadian's second novel.
Putting readers first
The prize's success is arguably down to the fact that as well as being specifically for women writers, and judged by women, it was also set up with the express aim of "putting readers centre stage" - a charge that until this year had never been levied at the Man Booker judges.
"The Orange shortlist is always very readable, with some commercial and some more literary," Mr Denny told Channel 4 News. "But it's not as self-consciously literary as the booker."
It is now a respected prize in its own right. In fact, I always thought it was - I think the argument for setting up the prize was perfectly valid. It showcases good writing that otherwise wouldn't get an airing. Neill Denny, Bookseller editor-in-chief
"If nothing else, it was likely that [before the Orange prize] potential readers simply didn’t get to hear about fantastic novels, from all over the world, they might enjoy," says Kate Mosse, novelist, playwright and co-founder of the prize, who believes that in the past women were sidelined from the major literary prizes.
Judges are told that the aim of the prize is to "promote originality and excellence". Contrary to the elitist perception of some literary shortlists, Orange judges are advised to forget about reviews, publicity spends, previous reputations. Instead they should "choose only books that move them, that make them think and, more than anything, that they enjoy", according to their guidelines.
This is reflected in the consistent diversity of the shortlists, taking in writers from all over the world and including both well-loved authors and first-timers. Joanna Trollope, chair of this year's judging panel, commented on the quality and variety of this year's shortlist, adding: "It includes six distinctive voices and subjects, four nationalities and an age range of close on half a century. It is a privilege to present it."
There is one debut novel on the list: Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles, which tales the ancient Greek love story of Achillies and Patroclus.
The 84-year-old American writer Cynthia Ozick has been shortlisted for her seventh book, Foreign Bodies. And Georgina Harding completes the shortlist with Painter of Silence, which is set in post-war Romania and tells the story of Iasi, a deaf and mute man.
The winner of the prize will be announced on 30 May.
Read by women?
While the Orange prize is expressly for women writers, figures about whether women are more likely to read books by women are hard to pin down.
But it is widely acknowledged that women read more fiction than men - women were the main readers of 58 per cent of adult fiction books. For literary fiction that number jumps to 65 per cent, compared to 35 per cent of men, according to Bowker Market Research UK - something the prize may have capitalised on.
In terms of prestide and sales, the Booker arguably remains the top prize for fiction: a Booker win adds, on average, between 250,000 and 300,000 to sales. But industry experts say that an Orange prize can mean between 100,000 to 150,000 extra sales - no mean feat for an award that was once considered too niche by catering for women writers, and was criticised for patronising them in the process.
But with its international shortlist and its cultural breadth, taking in the renowned heavyweights as well as the first-time novelists, the Orange prize fills a gap in the literary market - one that is more than that of women writers.