London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life - news from around the book business - June 2016

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – June 2016



Which is your favourite publisher?  Is it the redoubtable Penguin, still the most famous publisher in the world?  Or is it one of the other traditional names like Faber or Jonathan Cape?  What about all those newer houses – Quercus or Head of Zeus or Nosy Crow (mustn’t forget children’s)?


The UK book trade has been deciding its own top publishers – and editors, agents, books, bookshops etc – and it announced the results in May at the British Book Industry Awards, a gala event hosted by Mariella Fostrup of Radio Four’s Open Book.  Here are some of the key winners.   Transworld was named Publisher of the Year, largely in recognition of the fabulous work it has done with Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train which continues to rattle around the bestseller lists, both here and abroad.  Picador was named Imprint of the Year.  Oneworld, publisher of ‘Marlon James’ Man Booker winning A Brief History of Seven Killings took Independent Publisher of the Year and HarperCollins Children’s Books was Children’s Publisher of the Year.  Not forgetting the shops: WH Smith Travel was Book Retailer of the Year and Winstone’s Books of Sherborne, Dorset, collected Independent Bookshop of the Year.


All aspiring writers will be encouraged to hear that The Loney, a debut by Andrew Michael Hurley, published by John Murray, won Book of the Year.  Originally published by the tiny Tartarus Press, this work that some describe as literary horror, had an initial print-run of just 300.  Today, there are more than 50,000 copies in print and the author still can’t quite believe it.  Hurley worked in a library during the three or four years he was writing the book, and then sent the manuscript out to agents and small publishers – with no luck.  It came to the attention of John Murray after its then editorial director (now publisher) Mark Richards saw one of his authors recommend it on Twitter.  The first piece of advice Richards gave his new author was to get an agent, and Hurley is now with Lucy Luck at Aitken Alexander – and happily at work on a second novel.


Still with debut writers, the winner of the inaugural Deborah Rogers Writers’ Award for an unpublished writer is Sharlene Wen-Ning Teo for Ponti, a work of fiction about “a misfit adolescent girl growing up in sultry, sweaty Singpore”.  The £10,000 prize is named after the celebrated agent Deborah Rogers (her clients included Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro) who died in May 2014.  The prize was founded to give financial help to new writers so that they can finish their work.  McEwan presented the prize and noted that Rogers was always supportive of new writers.


Publishers had some encouraging news in the Publishers Association Statistics Year Book 2015.  All right, it’s not the sexiest of titles, but it did contain some figures for industry folk to feel happy about.  Total sales, including export, were up by 1%, while in the UK market alone, figures were up by 3%.  Physical book sales saw a marginal year on year rise overall (up 0.4%), but consumer ebook sales (ie non-academic) dropped by 11%.  Many publishers believe that consumer ebook sales dropped in relation to the popularity of specific print genres in 2015, notably colouring-in books and those ubiquitous (and very funny) Ladybird spoofs, neither of which translated to digital (hmmm, coloring-in on a Kindle would be amusing to see). 


Outgoing Publishers Association President Joanna Prior noted that the print buoyancy and consumer ebook decline were “too small for us to make any claims for big shifts in consumer behaviour or make predictions for what lies ahead”.  She added, in what seems to be a widely held view across the industry now: “I do that think that any suggestion that the physical book is doomed can now definitively be refuted as we trade less neurotically in a more stable, multi-format world.”


This ‘multi-format world’ can at times be a daunting place though, with the pace of change throwing everything into the air and making even our definitions of what we mean by a ‘book’ less certain.  It is a world full of new terminology, where snapchat no longer means how teenage children talk to their parents.  So let’s finish with this wry comment from the writer Martin Latham, who also happens to be Manager of Waterstones in Canterbury.  Extolling the virtues of physical books, he wrote: ‘A recent customer lost all his books because one e-reader brand had gone bust and, as we all began to realise that the ‘cloud’, far from being safely ethereal, is a warehouse behind Land of Leather in Didcot, the book in the hand seems worth more than several in the digital bush.”


Many people who enjoy the reassuring physical presence of a print book will say amen to that.

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.