London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – August

July was an historic month in the publishing industry.  Bookshops here and in the US opened at midnight on 13 July to sell Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman and there were some extraordinary figures.  In the UK, its first week sales in print and digital were more than 207,000, the bulk of these – nearly 170,000 – being print.  Not surprisingly, To Kill a Mockingbird received a boost too, achieving sales in print and digital of more than 67,000 in the same week.  It may have given the industry a glorious, very Southern hangover, but it set up bookshops perfectly for the summer reading season.

Two sensitive areas occupied industry minds last month.  The first was the tricky subject of whether authors should be paid for events, especially school events where libraries are always under pressure to cut costs.  The second was/is diversity.  On the first issue, the writer Nicola Morgan, incoming chair of the Society of Authors Children’s Writers & Illustrators Group, said: “It’s an important principle: authors, writers and illustrators should be paid for events…It is work – hard, skilled work; we’re professionals and professionals are paid; and applause doesn’t pay bills.”  Author Joe Craig noted that when he did charge, the events were often better organised, and he added that events showed children that the world of books is “full of life, passion and thrills”.

On the issue of diversity, writers have called on the industry to “take action now” by offering bursaries and paid internships for all entrants to the industry and mentoring writers from under-represented groups.  The author James Dawson said that “publishing houses are still very straight, white and middle-class, both in terms of staff and the authors they boast…Starting wages in publishing, I feel, are the single biggest barrier to attracting a more diverse workforce.  Low-paid entry roles and internships are out of reach to all but a few very lucky, financially-bolstered young people who can take advantage of London crash-pad second homes and media connections.”

There was much talk too, of the stabilising of digital sales across the industry, which has been a pattern for sometime now.  It is interesting to watch publishers’ changing attitudes to digital.  Thus Amanda Ridout, MD of Head of Zeus, which has a prodigious digital output, said: “How we think about what we publish is that ‘e’ and ‘p’ are intrinsically linked.  The digital department is not five floors away.  ‘E’ is where you can recruit readers quickly and it provides a way to reach readers wherever they are.  But you need print to attract authors and frankly, since we know print is not going away, there is a business to be made.”

Having said that, a new digital publisher called Canelo (Spanish for cinnamon) launched its first titles in July.  Canelo operates in a different way to most publishers in that it is not paying advances, but offers its authors much higher royalties, starting at 50% and going up to 60%.  It is also signing titles on short, five-year licences, giving authors the option to take titles elsewhere if they wish, and is rediscovering old authors and backlist titles, presenting them afresh to a new audience.

Co-founder Michael Bhaskar said: “One of the reasons we started Canelo is that there aren’t a huge number of digital publishers in Europe.  We certainly think the sector has a long way to go and we want to be at the forefront.  Our offer is completely different.  We are making the case to agents that we are offering a different model, which has all the same levels of investment, editorial attention and expertise, design, marketing and publicity, but offers the author a better deal and much more flexibility.  They aren't locked in.  Generally, people are receptive, as they can see that authors can make more money this way and have more freedom, whilst being published to the highest standard.”

Congratulations to self-published author Piers Alexander, whose Bitter Trade, was selected by WHSmith Travel’s for its Fresh Talent promotion.  Alexander is now represented by Lucy Luck of Aitken Alexander and said: “Being selected for Fresh Talent is a huge deal for an indie author.  WHS has done a great job of making new writers visible.”

One final word on Go Set a Watchman.  With all the media coverage one would have had to work very hard not to learn that shocking revelation about Atticus Finch.  Those of a certain age must have been reminded of the famous Likely Lads episode in which Rodney Bewes and James Bolam attempt to go a whole day without learning the football score.  At times last month it felt like Go Set a Plot Spoiler might have been an appropriate title for Lee’s historic novel.


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.