London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – April

It’s the London Book Fair next week (14-16 April), with the event making a return to the splendid natural light of Olympia’s Grand Hall, following the closure of its previous home at Earls Court.  The line between what is a trade event and what is a consumer event have become blurred in the book industry now, with many would-be authors choosing to bypass publishers and self-publish for example.  So next week there will be much to attract anyone with more than a passing interest in the world of books, with stands from many of the self-publishing platforms as well as sessions such as ‘Introduction to Publishing: the roles of Publisher an Literary Agent’ and ‘Reaching Teen Readers.’

The fair will also see one distinguished children’s publisher, Peter Usborne, who began Usborne Publishing in 1968, receive the fair’s Lifetime Achievement Award in International Publishing.  David Roche, the non-Executive Chairman of the London Book Fair describes him as a “one-off.  He has long been a leading figure in children’s publishing.  As founder of Usborne he has created a much-loved brand which has introduced the joys of reading to millions of children worldwide.” 

The man himself said: “I had absolutely no intention of becoming a children’s publisher…all I wanted to be was Biggles.  But aren’t we lucky?  There are millions of people doing things not a tenth as interesting as publishing.  It’s given me years and year of unalloyed fun and pleasure.”

Still with children’s publishing, there is news of a new house.  Janetta Otter-Barry, publisher at Frances Lincoln, is leaving the company to set up her own children’s publishing business, Otter-Barry Books (thus keeping up a long publishing tradition of houses named after their founders:  Alfred Knopf, Jonathan Cape, Hamlyn etc).   She said: “I believe in the power of small independent publishers to seize opportunities and do exciting things and I want to do just that.”  The house plans to publish around eight titles a year for children up to 11 years of age, starting in summer 2016.

Love bookshops?  Then you may be interested to see which are the regional winners that will go on to compete for the Independent Bookshop of the Year at the Bookseller magazine’s Book Industry Awards next month.  They are: Ireland: The Gutter Bookshop, Dublin/Dalkey; Scotland: The Edinburgh Bookshop, Edinburgh; North: Storytellers Inc, Lythan St Annes; Midland and Wales: Booka Bookshop, Oswestry; East: Caxton Books & Gallery, Frinton-on-Sea; London: Regency Bookshop, Surbiton; South East: Chorleywood Bookshop, Hertfordshire; South West: the Hungerford Bookshop, Berkshire.

The story-writing platform Wattpad remains an amazing beast.  The latest success story to be plucked from its masses and masses of content is Taran Mathara, whose epic fantasy debut, The Novice has been picked up by Hodder Children’s Books.  The author said: “I had learnt about Wattpad when I was interning at Penguin.  I decided to put [my material] on there just to get some feedback and by day 12 it had really started to pick up, with something like 60,000 reads.  By the end of the month there had been 100,000 reads, so it was doing really well.  That amount isn’t unusual for Wattpad, but it is for the genre I was writing in – fantasy doesn’t usually get the same level of attention that, say, One Direction fan fiction does.”

There is no doubt that mainstream publishers are now watching platforms like Wattpad closely, and using them as a kind of digital slush pile.  This has been one of the chief shifts in publishing behaviour in the last two years.

The industry is full of new approaches now, full of new voices championing new routes.  This comment from Dylan Collins, CEO of SuperAwesome, will either enthuse or infuriate many readers.  “The author is no longer the person who writes the story or the book,” he said recently.  “The author is the excuse for which the book comes out, and by that I mean the author can be a game developer, a YouTuber, or anything in between.  It’s not necessarily the writer.  That notional concept of someone sitting in their room writing is definitely changing.”  Hmmm.  We know the point he is trying to make, but he is somewhat overstating it.

This month sees the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) launch a campaign to get more independently published books into bookshops.  ALLi founder and Director Orna Ross says it is “the next step for indie authors” and follows the organisation’s Open Up to Indies campaign earlier in the year which aimed to encourage literary and book trade organisations to work more closely with self-published writers. 

There is no doubt that the mood is shifting in the book business, with consumers and creators – despite what Collins from SuperAwesome says – being listened to as never before.  It is a trend that can only continue.

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.