London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – January

Anyone who spent any time in Waterstones in the run-up to Christmas and beyond cannot fail to have noticed how its digital offering – all those Kindle tables in the front of the stores when the chain’s partnership with Amazon was first announced – had all but disappeared during the holiday season.  It underlined one of the key problems for the world of digital books – they are very, very hard to wrap up and put underneath a tree.

Which isn’t to say that digital is dead of course, far from it; it’s more to recognise that the starry-eyed wonder at it from publishers (a little of which was actually wide-eyed panic) is now over.  As Ian Chapman, MD of Simon & Schuster UK, put it recently: “An e-book is just another format, selling better for some titles than others, like audio.”

Independent authors – those choosing to bypass the ‘gatekeepers’ of traditional publishing and choose from a number of self-publishing platforms – continued to make strides in 2014.  Indeed, to echo Chapman’s remarks, the self-publishing approach is just one of a number of routes that can be taken. 

Yet in a curious way there is some sense of things turning full circle.  People like Orna Ross of the Alliance of Independent Authors (Alli) frequently advise self-published authors to seek professional help – the services of an editor, a cover designer, marketing expertise etc etc.  It could be argued that if you put those elements together you have a traditional publisher. 

The Alliance itself has formed a partnership with the Toby Munday Associates (TMA) literary agency to create a subsidiary rights service for independent (ie self-published) authors.  Beginning this year (from 1 January 2015), TMA will sell translation and other subsidiary rights for eligible ALLi members.

Munday said:  “It is author-publishers who are driving much of the growth in the publishing industry and many of them are stars of the future.  ALLi’s members are incredibly hard working and creative and many have achieved astonishing sales of their work in English.  It is very exciting that TMA, working closely with our associates at Ed Victor Ltd, will enable these writers to licence their subsidiary rights.”

As the year closed, there was much comment about YouTube ‘vlogger’ Zoella – Zoe Sugg – whose novel Girl Online became the fastest-selling debut novel ever, outstripping the likes of E L James, Dan Brown and J K Rowling.  Some people were shocked when it emerged that she had received help in writing her novel from the YA writer Siobhan Curham.  But this just seemed to underline the point about the team work nature of publishing.  That team might mean buying-in the services of a freelancer or it might mean a traditional publisher providing those services.  Penguin’s mistake with Zoella, if it can be called that, was that it wasn’t more transparent from the word go.  One thing is certain though: look out for more deals with YouTubers in the coming year – and it is certainly interesting to note that these very modern creatives still desire what some might see as the ‘old-fashioned’ validation of a physical book.

With each passing week, the whole world of independent authors and self-publishing becomes more accepted.  In a sense, and somewhat ironically, it is becoming more like traditional publishing.  The UK’s leading book industry magazine The Bookseller has now begun reviewing self-published titles, following on from its US equivalent Publishers Weekly which began doing so earlier in the year. 

Of course, the leading player in the field – Amazon – has ambitious plans for 2015.  The new head of Amazon Publishing UK Eoin Purcell said it would grow its list of UK titles and authors “substantially” and was “constantly looking to create new platforms to connect authors and readers”.  He said there would be “new books from returning authors, releases from successful self-published and traditionally published authors who have joined Amazon Publishing, and exciting debuts”.

Finally, one long overdue cause for celebration as the New Year dawns.  The Society of Bookmen, founded by the novelist Hugh Walpole in 1921, has at last changed its name.  Inspired by the Scottish Referendum it asked its members whether it should stick to its original name or change it to The Book Society.  Thankfully, it chose the latter, with its Chair, Amanda Ridout, CEO of publishers Head of Zeus, commenting: “Now our name reflects appropriately the make-up of our industry, and indeed of society itself.”

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.