London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – May

Subscription services and global publishing were two of the topics in the air at last month’s London Book Fair.  The major houses have markedly different attitudes to the former, with HarperCollins happily signing with numerous companies – among them Oyster and Scribd – but Penguin Random House (PRH) and Hachette holding back.

Simon Dunlop, CEO of another subscription service, Bookmate, said: “The huge successes experienced by services such as Netflix and Spotify have clearly shown that for content, subscription services are the way forward.  Publishers failing to recognise the growing importance of the subscription model risk consigning themselves to the past.”

HarperCollins is notable for its willingness to try new approaches.  It made headlines at the fair with its global publishing deal for thriller writer Karin Slaughter that spans World English language rights and more than a dozen foreign languages.  The move underlines two trends, one traditional, one modern.  The first is that authors often like to follow their editors, not necessarily their publishing houses.  So HarperCollins’ UK Executive Publisher for Fiction and Non-Fiction, Kate Elton, was Slaughter’s editor at PRH’s Century imprint with the author saying of Elton: “I call her my brain’s best friend.”

The second trend is towards the borderless, simultaneous, immediate world of social media.  As Elton puts it: “You have to manage brands globally because consumers operate globally, whether on Facebook, Twitter or Periscope.  Wherever people are interacting on books and media, they are not in a bubble – they are in multiple territories and across languages.”

The company’s worldwide President and CEO, Brian Murray, observes: “Agents have traditionally tried to divide up the world as much as possible, but the world is changing.  Facebook is not linked to territories or languages.”

Self-publishing is never very far from the agenda too, and a panel of independent booksellers had some good advice for self-published authors hoping to sell their books in traditional outlets.  In summary: do your homework.  Henry Layte of the Book Hive in Norwich urged authors “to get your attitude about your book and its position in the industry right before you approach retailers”.  Sheila O’Reilly at Dulwich Books in south London said: “Find out what buyers like.  There’s no point sending me a book of science fiction or fantasy because I don’t read that…[And] make sure your book has a spine, which sounds obvious, [and] make sure it fits on the shelf and has an ISBN.”

Matt Bates, fiction buyer at WHSmith Travel revealed that he had bought a number of self-published titles for the chain, among them Piers Alexander’s The Bitter Trade and Jasper Gibson’s A Bright Moon for Fools, both of which had sold 9,000 copies each since last summer (far more than many conventionally published debuts).  He added: “I am looking for a product that looks strong and commercial.”

Talking of conventional publishers, a survey called Do You Love Your Publisher?, co-produced by authors Harry Bingham (in the UK) and Jane Friedman (in the US), found that authors felt publishers should communicate better with them, pay them more and utilise their skills to market their books.  Despite these gripes, the majority still said they would choose to be published traditionally.

However, Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors, noted that while at first there seemed to be broad satisfaction with publishers “deeper drilling reveals some interesting pointers” especially regarding author care and author pay.  She concluded: “The time has come to give authors a greater share of publishing profits, particularly on digital exploitation.”

Self-publishing models continue to emerge.  Lightning Books is among the latest.  Founded by Dan Hiscocks, a former director of the Independent Publishers’ Guild, authors who submit manuscripts are asked to contribute half the cost of publication if their title is selected.  Lightning will only make a profit after a title sells 3000 copies, after which revenue is split between the author and publisher.

And finally, success at self-publishing is still leading to conventional publishing deals.  Dan Rhodes self-published his satire When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow  which features Richard Dawkins, no less – and sold 400 copies.  That success was noticed by Gallic Books who have snapped up the title for their new imprint, Aardvark Bureau.

Which brings us to the Election.  Let’s hope whatever shape the new government takes, it places books and the arts firmly on the agenda – lower rates for independent booksellers please, and a properly funded library service to create tomorrow’s readers.

Latest entries:

London Wall Publishing’s Project Manager, Fiona Marsh, with US actor, Trey Gerrald, at the 18th annual Independent Publisher Book Awards held during BookExpo America in New York receiving the Gold Award for Romance Fiction for The Echoes of Love by Hannah Fielding. 

Launched in 1996 and conducted each year to honor the year's best independently published books, the "IPPY" Awards recognize merit in a broad range of subjects and reward authors and publishers who "take chances and break new ground." Independent publishers, along with independent booksellers, have long held an important role in the world of books, offering an alternative to "the big five" conglomerated media publishers.