London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – November

If you thought all publishers were pariahs, you would be right with at least one house.  Manchester-based Pariah Press is a new publisher seeking to “engage and excite”.  Founded by Jonny Walsh, head of the city’s Only Joking Records music label, and Jamie Lee, the great nephew of Laurie Lee, no less, it has literary leanings and aims to take risks.


Its arrival is symptomatic of the new energy that exists in the publishing business right now.  There has never been a period like it, with start-ups appearing in the industry’s firmament like next week’ fireworks (or last week’s for Diwali).  Most of the start-ups are digital, but some are physical, like Pariah, as if the arrival of digital has made us all look again at the physical world – at books and bookshops – and realise just how special they are. 


The terms stand-off between Amazon and Hachette continues, though one publisher, Simon & Schuster, has managed to come to an agreement – and very quickly too.  The details of some of these issues can be complicated, but in essence, the lower Simon & Schuster sets the price of its ebooks, the greater the terms it will receive from Amazon.  While a debate rages on who is the winner, the publisher has certainly received a degree of kudos around the industry for settling so quickly.  Is it because there is a woman at the helm, S&S President and CEO Carolyn Reidy?


There was much debate sparked off by economist Paul Krugman’s piece in the New York Times in which he said ‘Amazon…has too much power and it uses that power in ways that hurt America’.  He described it as a ‘monopsonist’, which was a new word to pretty much all of us.  It means ‘a dominant buyer with the power to push prices down’.  Which might sound attractive, but Krugman argued that because of Amazon’s dominance it was able to kill a book if it doesn’t carry it.  He believes such concentration of power is bad for the public. 


Writing can be a lonely task, so it is always good to hear of the success of debut authors.  The Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing is a new prize that sees the winner receive a publishing contract with Scholastic and representation from literary agency LBA Associates.  The inaugural winner is Laura Wood for her YA novel Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s Curse.  Wood used to be a children’s bookseller at Waterstones in Canterbury and is now studying for a PhD at Warwick University where she also teaches English Literature. 


She said the idea for Poppy Pym – which takes in a travelling circus and a boarding school – had been “buzzing around in my brain for a couple of years, but I had always been too afraid to sit down and write it. I thought the competition would be a good way to break out of my fear, and that having a deadline to write the first 5,000 words would be an excellent way of getting the ball rolling – and it was”.  And what or who is Montegrappa, you may wonder?  It’s the Italian luxury pen manufacturer – apparently, Hemingway and John Dos Passos used to use them.


So how much do professional writers earn?  Brace yourself.  According to figures released by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), the typical professional writer earned £11,000.  Daniel Hahn, Chair of the Society of Authors, described these figures as “fairly gruesome” and warned that although digital offered many new opportunities, it wasn’t an instant solution.  “One of the worries is that you have an old publishing model that is increasingly hard to make money from and this then gets replaced by a new model which includes publishing just online, where it is also difficult to make money.  You have this shift between two things which are quite exciting, but also challenging as well.”


The rise of self-publishing was acknowledged at the Frankfurt Book Fair where this side of the industry had a greatly expanded programme of events and talks.  Mainstream publishers are certainly taking note.  Listen to Richard Charkin, Executive Director at Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury: “Our customer is not the reader, it is the author.  Authors can now choose how to get published.  It is our job to sell ourselves to the best authors that we want to publish.”


Publishers are certainly on the back foot now and are having to raise their game.  In some ways power has shifted to the writer who has many more options to choose from.  Let’s finish with this lovely quote from HarperCollins Children’s Books Executive Publisher Ann-Janine Murtagh:  “The need for stories has never been greater.  Children want to explore the world in narrative form because it provides immense security in a changing world.”



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.