It is perhaps apt that the Nobel Prize for Literature should not have been given in 2018 because of a sex abuse scandal. Years from now will we look back on 2018 and see it as the year when we all became woke?

To make up for this hiatus the Nobel committee has now decided that two prizes will be awarded in 2019, one for this year, and a catch-up one for last year. Aren’t they are having a bit of a rough patch in Stockholm? Dylan’s 2016 Nobel remains controversial. I thought it almost OK, but one has to admit there are undoubtedly better poets out there, and that he has no doubt been sufficiently rewarded already.

The question of who should have gotten the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature (if the answer hadn’t been nobody) was discussed in The New York Times. (Link via Literary Hub.) I guess this becomes newly relevant in light of the latest Nobel announcement. There’s some brief discussion of whether winning really means anything or not. However, just like all these other book prizes, the Nobel does exist, and surely no great harm is done to anyone by winning it and any of the other prizes around. Far from harm, the money given to winners is no doubt quite welcome. The publicity and adulation, if adulation there is, can be a serious distraction to a writer, but human attention spans being what they are this distraction is probably relatively short-term. The burden of expectation of course remains to be dealt with in the writer’s mind, though Nobel winners tend not to be in the first flush of youth, which must help in this regard. However as the Times‘s discussants admit, there are lots of authors they have discovered as a result of their having won a Nobel Prize. Surely that has to be a good thing — anything that helps to thrust books in front of the public’s face must be a force for good, whether many members of the public act on this or not.

Particularly relevant here is The Wife, a recent movie starring Glenn Close as the wife of a man about to be given the Nobel Prize for Literature. It seems “that her role in Joe’s career has amounted to far more than smiling at events and reminding him when to take his medication” as The New Yorker delicately puts it — she wrote the books, but having no narrative talent, relied on Joe for plot and incident. The Economist reviews it here. The film, based on Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 novel, is set in 1995. It runs the risk of being most famous because of Glenn Close’s failure to win the Oscar for her rather straight-faced role as the writer, as opposed to story-teller, in an unacknowledged creative combo.

What sort of sales boost can winning a Nobel (or any other) Prize bring about? Most people probably assume it means thousands and thousands of extra sales. But what we don’t realize is how few copies a book has to sell in order to be judged a success. We only get told about the huge bestsellers, so any sales numbers we hear about tend to be extremely large. But wild successes are few and far between. The low thousands is a reasonable target for most regular trade books, and for academic books, the high hundreds. Publishing serious books is not a high volume business. The Nobel must add a few sales, but how many we can never really find out.

NPR has this story from 2015 about the effect on sales of Booker prize shortlisting. Of course all anyone knows is sales numbers: we can’t know what these numbers would have been if the book hadn’t been nominated, so all you can do is look at averages and use your imagination! The ultimate winner, A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, was one of the better performing in the early running, selling perhaps an extra 5,000 to 10,000 as a consequence of being on the list. I wonder if the general public can sense a winner ahead of time.

Now Time’s Money blog reports on the Pulitzer lift. They are reporting on Amazon rankings however, which are difficult to translate into sales numbers: the ranking just means you sold more copies than all the books below. It is possible that all the books below you only sold one copy and you, with your jump in ranking actually managed two sales! They do have a link to a Publishers Weekly report from 2012 that weekly sales got a three-times boost in the three months following a prize win announcement for one title. The book of 2016’s winner (for Drama), Hamilton: The Revolution sold 38,654 copies in the early going according to Publishers Weekly, though of course we cannot know what number it would have sold if the musical had not won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama!

This Guardian piece focusses more on what authors feel like after winning the Booker Prize. Mostly good, with a healthy dose of bewilderment.