The Nobel Literature Prize will be announced in Stockholm on Thursday as speculation hits fever pitch, with Canada's Alice Munro, Japan's Haruki Murakami and American author Philip Roth touted as possible winners.
Short story writer Munro is a favourite in Sweden's literary circles, while the Japanese novelist is preferred by bookmakers.
The typical Nobel literature laureate writes novels, in English, is of European origin, averages 65 years of age, while about half the previous winners had a beard or a moustache, according to Swedish public broadcaster SVT.
The Swedish Academy's permanent secretary Peter Englund reveals the choice at 1100 GMT.
Experts say a woman or a North American would be a logical choice. The United States has not been awarded the prize since 1993, when Toni Morrison won, and since 1901 only 12 women out of 108 laureates have been recognised by the Nobel committee.
Among the pundits surveyed by Sweden's newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on the eve of the big day, the names Alice Munro, Philip Roth and Algeria's Assia Djebar were frequently mentioned as someone they "would like to win", while Murakami is seen as a likely candidate.
Albania's Ismail Kadare, Somalia's Nuruddin Farah and Britain's Salman Rushdie are also among those believed to be in the running, as are Canadian poet Anne Carson and Egyptian feminist novelist Nawal el Saadawi.
"The African continent is that which has received the fewest Nobel Literature Prizes," said a critic for public radio network SR, Gunnar Bolin, who said he would like to see Nigeria's Chinua Achebe be rewarded.
The names of Kenya's Ngugi wa Thiong'o and South African Karel Schoeman are also being mentioned.
Syrian poet Adonis, American novelists Joyce Carol Oates and Don DeLillo, as well as Israel's Amos Oz and Cees Nooteboom of the Netherlands are also among "the usual suspects".
Among bookmakers rather than academics, Ladbrokes on Wednesday favoured Murakami over Hungarian Peter Nadas, while the Japanese writer was ahead of China's Mo Yan on Unibet. Munro was in fourth and third place on the respective sites.
The Swedish Academy is known for its cloak-and-dagger methods to prevent any leaks about its choice, resorting to codenames for authors and fake book covers when reading in public.
The list of nominees is never revealed and the jury's deliberations are kept secret for half a century.
In recent years, Sweden's newspaper of reference Dagens Nyheter has tried to illustrate the difficulties of predicting a winner by letting animals pick the laureate.
In Thursday's edition, a dolphin chose a balloon with Djebar's name on it. A cat last year failed to spot the winner, picking a bowl of kitty food with Munro's name on it. In fact, the honour went to Swedish poet Tomas Transtroemer.
The literature prize is the fourth and one of the most watched announcements this Nobel season, following the prizes for medicine, physics and chemistry earlier this week.
The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday, with the field of possible winners wide open, followed by the Economics Prize on Monday, wrapping up the Nobel season.
As tradition dictates, the laureates will receive their prizes at formal ceremonies in Stockholm and Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the death of prize creator Alfred Nobel in 1896.
Because of the economic crisis, the Nobel Foundation has slashed the prize sum to eight million Swedish kronor ($1.2 million, 930,000 euros) per award, down from the 10 million kronor awarded