London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – August 2017

Shelf Lifenews from around the book business August 2017



The book industry doesn’t like Mondays (who does?), but it does like Thursdays.  Well, perhaps not every Thursday.  But it does like Super Thursday, a day in October chosen by the Booksellers Association (BA) who dreamt up the marketing idea, when a glut of hot autumn titles are published.  The idea is that the industry – and crucially the media, both print and online – gets behind the day and publicises it, to drive footfall into bookshops.


This year it falls on 5 October and is followed by another BA trade initiative, Bookshop Day, on 7 October, aimed at promoting bricks and mortar bookstores.  Among titles coming on 5 October that has their publishers and booksellers hopeful are Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, his long-awaited return to the bestselling world of His Dark Materials, Bruno Vincent’s Five Escape Brexit Island – the follow-up to last year’s very successful Five on Brexit Island – and new titles from John le Carré, Lee Child, Robert Harris and….Tom Hanks.  Yes, really.  The legendary Hollywood actor has written a collection of short stories (one is available free on the New Yorker’s site) and they have been well-received.


Both these initiatives are important and are much discussed in the industry.  Publishers need bestsellers (obviously) and it is often just a single, big title that can make all the difference.  Unfortunately, for the big four groups – Hachette, Penguin Random House, Pan Macmillan and HarperCollins – the first six months of the year have been cause for mild concern.  For the first half of 2017 these groups have collectively generated £298.3m, a marginal drop of 0.7% on the same period last year.  Closer examination of the figures demonstrate just how important single titles can be.  Thus Pan Macmillan has shown a 12.2% drop on 2016, almost entirely due to health guru Joe Wicks being a new, red hot phenomenon last year, but not burning so brightly this year.


Similarly, Hachette’s Little Brown will notice the lack of a Harry Potter play script this year.  A frequent moan of publishers is that it’s all very well having a runaway bestseller, “but it means we have to do it all over again next year”.  On this score, Transworld would seem to be set fair: it has a new Dan Brown, Origin, coming in October, almost certain to top the bestseller lists.


Physical bookshops were on the agenda when Labour MP Margaret Hodge hosted a reception at the Houses of Parliament to celebrate World Book Day (to mention another book industry initiative).  She criticised the government for not making reforms to business rates that would help protect independent bookshops, currently paying proportionately far higher rates than Amazon distribution centres 25 times their size.  BA Chief Executive Tim Godfray said that independent booksellers in 275 towns could be put out of business by business rate increases of 10% or more.  “The business rates system is not fit for purpose and should be fundamentally overhauled,” he said.

While publishers are obviously concerned about sales, something rather unusual has been bothering them in recent months too: the possible behaviour of their authors.  Agents have noticed more and more ‘behaviour clauses’ being written into their clients’ contracts, giving publishers the right to drop authors who act “immorally”.    


Such clauses in publisher contracts are chiefly happening in the US, but the Society of Authors (SoA) in the UK says it is growing here too.  Literary agents and the SoA are advising their clients to resist signing such contracts and are worried about possible threats to freedom of speech.  Nicholas McDermott, head of contracts at the Curtis Brown agency, said: “We have to be vigilant to protect authors to ensure that there are no ‘morality police’ watching over authors.  Often a controversial author is hired because they are controversial, and we need to be careful about protecting our freedom of speech.  Publishers should be protecting this right, not helping to self-censor.  If we aren’t careful, a morality clause could lead publishing into a very dangerous area.”


There is a comic aspect to this too, of course.  One wonders how such legendary drinkers as Ernest Hemingway might have fared if such a clause existed in his day.  ‘Bad’ behaviour is arguably part of the Hemingway mystique.


Finally, some good news for all aspiring novelists.  A debut novel about the unlikely friendship between 26-year-old Kate, a young woman feeling lost and lonely in London and in life, and Rosemary, an 86-year-old widow, who team up to stop their local lido from being redeveloped, is now set to make it to the big screen.


The novel, called The Lido, made a big impact at the London Book Fair this year, selling to 24 territories, and has now been optioned by Catalyst Global Media (CGM).  CGM is a film, television and gaming production company and content financier based in London.  It bought the rights from Emily Hayward Whitlock at The Artists Partnership on behalf of Robert Caskie at Caskie Mushens.


Here is what Page remembers about trying to get her novel published.  “After a year of sending The Lido to agents and receiving numerous rejections, I was close to giving up when I heard Robert was starting a new agency.  I decided to send him my manuscript—I’m so glad I did.”


There’s a moral here somewhere, it contains the words ‘up’, ‘give’ and ‘don’t’. 

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.