| Frederick Forsyth
London, Sept. 19: Some of Britain's biggest-selling authors have accused publishers of 'massively misleading consumers' by falsely portraying books as literary prize winners when they have not actually won any awards.
Dozens of novels currently in shops carry marketing slogans such as 'Winner of the Booker Prize' and 'Winner of the Orange Award' despite not even having been shortlisted for the accolades. In each case, the victorious work was a different novel by the same author, although this is rarely, if ever, made clear.
Critics point out that far from being literary masterpieces, many books carrying the misleading marketing have, in fact, received poor reviews. Publishers sought last night to defend the practice, but writers including Frederick Forsyth, the author of The Day of the Jackal, and Jilly Cooper, the author of Class, accused them of trying to cheat the public.
Forsyth said that the tactic resembled the offence of 'passing off', which is meant to stop products being falsely described. 'I think this sort of thing is similar to passing off. It is important that people are not misled about what they are buying,' he said.
'A fairer way of doing it would be to have covers which describe the author as 'prize-winning' or which say this is the latest work by an award-winning author.'
Among the offending works is Graham Swift's current bestseller, The Light of Day, which states 'Winner of the Booker Prize' on the front cover. Swift actually won the prize for a previous title, Last Orders. The Waiting Game, by Bernice Rubens, is also described as 'Winner of the Booker Prize' even though the author actually won for her novel The Elected Member in 1970.
Similarly, The Great Divorce by Valerie Martin and Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy are both billed as winners of the Orange Prize, even though the writers won the prize for other novels.
Pat Barker's novel Double Vision, which one critic said was a 'complete donkey' and another described as a 'second rate piece of work by a first rate writer', also carries the claim 'Winner of the Booker Prize' directly over the title of the novel. In fact, Barker won the prize for her 1995 novel The Ghost Road.
Cooper said that it was 'shocking' that publishers could be so misleading.
'I know there is a lot of competition out there at the moment, but publishers have a duty to be honest and accurate. Readers are confused by the huge number of literary prizes which are now being awarded. Publishers should not be playing on that confusion. Rather they should be being very specific about who or what the awards relate to. Otherwise they risk undermining their own marketing campaigns.'
Rowan Pelling, who recently resigned as the editor of The Erotic Review and who is a judge for this year's Man Booker Prize, also criticised the misleading descriptions.
'I think it is massively misleading if this isn't clarified on a book as it could lead to real bafflement on the reader's part,' she said. 'It would be good if the industry could regulate this practice in a better way. Book covers in every aspect should be clearer.'
Barker denied last night that the front cover of her novel was misleading and claimed that readers would be aware which works had won prizes. 'I don't think there is a problem with it,' she said. 'I would assume that people who read literature will be aware of who has last won the Booker, in which case they are not going to think it is me.'
Other writers also defended the use of such descriptions.
But consumers in London said they were confused. Joy Hotson, a 60-year-old housewife, said she was convinced that The Light of Day was an award-winning book. 'I could be persuaded into buying this book and clearly someone who is not familiar with literature would be swayed by the comments on the cover.'
A spokesperson for the Man Booker Prize, as it has been known since 2002, said: 'We do not have a policy on the matter but we would encourage publishers to mention the prize as close to the author's name as possible. We would certainly not condone publishers using the Booker Prize on book covers in a misleading way.'