London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – October

As these words appear, agents and publishers are packing their bags for the Frankfurt Book Fair.  After 66 years this is still the publishing industry’s most famous annual marketplace and celebration of that bundle of ‘content’ (how ever it is packaged), known as the ‘book’ – even if it takes place in one of the world’s least ‘booky’ of cities.

There are some changes at the fair this year, which reflect changes in the industry outside.  Chief among these is an increased focus on self-publishing, with two days of self-publishing events that will see speakers from Amazon, Kobo Writing Life, Authoright and the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) cover every aspect of ‘going it alone’ – except, of course, as Orna Ross, founder of ALLi told a seminar on self-publishing organised by the London Book Fair earlier this month, ‘alone’ is not accurate.  “We can’t do it by ourselves,” said the author who famously took her titles back from Penguin and published them herself.  “Writers need support – editorial, production, promotion, design… Very few people can do all those things themselves.  Writers need to take advice and need to invest, especially in editorial, typically £3,000 to £5,000.”


For a handful of first-time writers, the timing of the fair will have been perfect: they are lucky enough to have been taken on by agents in the months before the fair and so their work will receive extra exposure.  Thus AM Heath has a short story collection called The Paradise by Ruby Cowling, and Darley Anderson has two – Saving Grace by BA Paris, a thriller about the darkness behind a couple’s marriage, and Cescar Major’s The Silent Hours, set in 1940s France.


For those who ask: ‘But how do you find an agent?’, a new tool has emerged.  Agent Hunter http describes itself as ‘the most comprehensive literary agent database anywhere’ and created a mini-storm recently with its Transparency Index – an entertaining and revealing infographic that looked at issues like ethnic representation.  Most agents live in London, a city in which only 45% of Londoners describe themselves as white Britons, Agent Hunter observed, adding ‘yet fewer than 3% of literary agents are black or Asian’.  Too many agents reveal too little about themselves, the site believes, with only 28% having a photograph on their website.  This angers Agent Hunter’s founder, the crime writer Harry Bingham.

“At present, the literary agent industry can look elitist, exclusive and hostile to outsiders,” he says.  “I don’t believe it is any of those things in reality – but the lamentable standard of disclosure tends to disempower writers and discourages them from seeking conventional publishers. We urge literary agents to bring their communication practices into the 21st century – and we praise those agencies who have already done so.”

And the winning agency in the Transparency Index?  The Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency.

Online writing communities continue to make noises.  The Danish start-up Movellas is sponsoring a new book prize, The YA Prize, with the Bookseller magazine, while Canadian Wattpad – famous for its avalanche of fan-fiction – continues to grow and was recently used by US writer of teen horror, RL Stine, to reveal the back story of his bestselling Fear Street series and to post a three-part extract from his forthcoming book Party Games.

The Amazon versus Hachette dispute is still with us.  New agent Toby Mundy, who used to run Atlantic Books, has called for the competition authorities to re-examine the online giant’s position in the industry.  “The issue that is looming is to do with competitiveness within retailing.  Competition authorities have for a long time been understandably focused on consumers and ensuring consumers are protected, and that is right…But the producers also need to be protected and their interests at times may be in line with consumers.  I think the competition authorities should take an interest in Amazon in due course, because there are issues at stake which affect the consumers, such as diversity in publishing.”

Yet for every voice like his, there will be other voices – some from authors using Amazon’s publishing platform – who say ‘I’ve done very well out of Amazon, thank you very much.  I’ve reached far more people than I ever could have through other routes.’  And so it goes on.  The problem publishers face is that they arguing for the status quo, always a harder act to perform, and in the eyes of the public it can seem like they are arguing for higher prices for ebooks.

Finally, the Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should Dept.  The owner of @ihatejoemarshal is tweeting The Great Gatsby 140 characters at a time.  Well, if introduces someone to it who doesn’t know it, perhaps it’s fair enough.

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.