October 11, 2007 / 3:04 PM / 12 years ago

"Nobel effect" can rocket sales for perfect author

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Winning the world’s most prestigious prize for literature can boost book sales, but the ‘Nobel effect’ depends on fame, language and literary style, publishers said on Thursday.

British novelist Doris Lessing won the 2007 Nobel prize for literature on Thursday, surprising bookmakers who had flagged U.S. novelist Philip Roth as the favorite.

Publishers at the Frankfurt Book Fair say winning the prize can have a massive effect on sales — if the author is the right type.

“What is important is that in the country that the author comes from they are already quite well known - then it has the effect of a ‘new wave’,” said Martina Wachendorff, editor at French publishing house Actes Sud, which has had two laureates in recent years.

Wachendorff took the 2002 example of Hungarian author Imre Kertesz, who had sold around 12,000 books before winning the prize.

“The Nobel prize had a huge effect - we sold 50,000 of ‘Etre Sans Destin’ and about 30,000 copies of some of his other books just after he won,” she said.

If books are already written or translated into English, then the effect is even greater, editors say.

“Where it has an astonishing effect is on export sales,” said Dan Franklin, a publishing director at Random House, the publishing house of 2003 laureate J.M. Coetzee.

Books which do not need translation will see an immediate effect, said Pete Ayrton at publisher Serpent’s Tail, home to the 2004 winner, Austrian playwright and novelist Elfriede Jelinek.

“If it’s an obscure writer, it can have an extraordinary effect, as long as their books exist in English translation, if they are not translated and you have to wait a year, then the effect wears off,” he said.

Sales of Jelinek’s books increased from 4,000 in 10 years to 100,000 in the 6 weeks after she won.

Lessing, 87, is the oldest laureate since the prizes began in 1901 and was described as an “epicist of the female experience,” by the Swedish academy which awarded the prize.

Millions of copies of her books have already been published and translated worldwide.

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