TORONTO -- It appears there's no clear frontrunner heading into tonight's glitzy Scotiabank Giller Prize gala in Toronto.

Five authors are on the short list for the prestigious $50,000 literary award, to be handed out at the Ritz-Carlton in a black-tie bash broadcast on CBC-TV.

If sales are any indication, it's a toss up.

"I think it could be anybody this year," says Caroline Walker, inventory manager at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Saskatoon. "I think they all have a pretty strong chance."

It's the same conclusion over at Ben McNally Books in Toronto, where owner Ben McNally says he wouldn't place bets on this year's winner "if your life depended on it."

"I have no idea, quite frankly. I have not been able to divine any tendencies from this jury, I have to say."

The short list has three female authors from Montreal: Alix Ohlin for "Inside" (House of Anansi Press), about characters trying to help others; Nancy Richler for the mother-daughter post-war saga "The Imposter Bride" (Harper Collins Canada); and Kim Thuy for the immigrant novel "Ru" (Random House of Canada), translated by Sheila Fischman from the original French version that won a 2010 Governor General's Literary Award.

The other finalists are Calgary's Will Ferguson for "419" (Viking Canada), about Nigerian email scams, and Russell Wangersky of St. John's for the short story collection "Whirl Away" (Thomas Allen Publishers).

Walker says her store has sold more of "419" than any of the other finalists, "but part of the reason is that it's been out since the spring."

The recently released "Ru" and the paperback version of "The Imposter Bride" have also been selling well, she adds.

McNally says "Ru" is selling the best at his store, perhaps in part because "It's a nice book and there's a fairly inexpensive paperback edition."

Overall, though, both stores say sales of Giller shortlisted titles have been slower this year compared to last.

"I don't know if that's maybe because a number of the writers are not particularly well known," says Walker. "I think we haven't seen really, really strong sales yet on the nominated books."

The trend might also be due to the fact that just one title on this year's Giller short list is also a finalist for another literary award: Ohlin's "Inside," which is also in contention for the $25,000 Rogers Writers' Trust of Canada Fiction Prize.

By contrast, last year's Giller short list had two titles that were also finalists for other major literary awards, including the Booker: Patrick deWitt's "The Sisters Brothers" and "Half-Blood Blues" by Esi Edugyan, who ended up winning the Giller.

Last year's short list also had a well-established finalist in Michael Ondaatje, who is going to sell if he's nominated for anything or not, says McNally.

"So this year it's an unusual mix of books and there hasn't been anything really catching yet," he adds.

Still, McNally notes he did sell more copies of the Giller-nominated books at this year's International Festival of Authors than he has any time previously.

Meanwhile, Kobo says "Ru" has the best "lifetime sales" of the five finalists through the e-reader company. But it's been outsold almost 2:1 by both "The Imposter Bride" and "419" since the Giller short list was announced on Oct. 1.

The Giller Prize was established in 1994 by businessman Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller.

It awards $50,000 annually to the author of the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English and $5,000 to each of the finalists.

The Giller can also be a career maker, with the winner often seeing a huge spike in sales.

This year's jury members -- Roddy Doyle of Ireland, Gary Shteyngart of New York, and Toronto-based Anna Porter -- read 142 works of fiction submitted by 51 publishing houses from across Canada.

CBC personality Jian Ghomeshi will host tonight's bash, which will include presentations by "Sex and the City" star Kim Cattrall, opera great Measha Brueggergosman, and "Republic of Doyle" actor Allan Hawco.

The show will also be live-streamed on CBC Books with a concurrent live chat.