London Wall Publishing

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

Shelf Lifenews from around the book business January 2017



The year in publishing ended sadly with the death of the agent David Miller, of Rogers, Coleridge & White.  He was only 50 and suffered a major heart attack.  Tributes poured in from all sides of the industry.  The novelist Philip Hensher said Miller was “the first person to take a chance on my writing…he was hilarious, wayward, incisive, exuberant, gossipy, full of plots and stratagems, clever, infuriating, passionate about books and good writing”.  He was also something of a friend to all new writers.  Bob Davidson of Sandstone Press in Scotland noted that Miller set himself up as ‘agent in residence’ at the Inverness Book Festival in 2013, where he gave “many hours and much good guidance to prospective authors…David had the experience and ability not only to close the author’s deal, but to finesse the career”.


The shock and sadness felt across the industry has been tempered by positive reports on how the trade performed during the most crucial month of the year.  Waterstones, Blackwells, mini-chain Stanfords and more than 30 independent booksellers all reported sales up on last year, with the Ladybird and Enid Blyton spoofs performing well everywhere, alongside the GCHQ Puzzle Book – one of those surprise bestsellers that no one could predict – and Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, which Waterstones voted its Book of the Year.


Last year was also a good one for print, with sales of printed books for the 51week period in 2016 up 5.1% in value and 2.5% in volume on the previous year, with a week’s additional figures still to add.


There have been shocks on the wider stage too, of course, notably the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit decision, both of which have led to a mood of uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic.  There has been much speculation over the effect these two decisions will have on the publishing industry.  Suzanne Baboneau, MD of Simon & Schuster’s adult division, said: “The political events of last year have got to have an effect, because of their significance.  It may have a bigger impact on non-fiction – there will be much more interest in politics – but I think people will also seek comfort and escapism in fiction.”


Ed Wood, editorial director for Sphere Fiction, said “We’ll see more of the escapist, cross-genre work”, such as The Martian, Arrival and Passengers, that has hooked cinema audiences, and there could be more ‘cosy crime’, as we seek security in troubled times.  Katherine Armstong, senior editor for crime at Bonnier Zaffre, said: “If you look back at cosy crime and when it started, it was between the First and Second World Wars, the country was shell-shocked and there was nothing to do, so people wanted that escapism.  They wanted that kind of thing where it’s all tied up neatly in a little bow by the end.  I think we will see that coming back.”


David Headley, owner of the DHH Literary Agency and Goldsboro Books, off Charing Cross Road, believes in the current climate of uncertainty, people will be “looking for utopia, rather than dystopia.  [They] will have a greater desire to read escapist fiction, featuring heroic acts by individuals – good versus evil, David and Goliath-type fiction – as well as uplifting fiction such as John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies”.


It’s a new year and there is a new literary agency too – always good news for prospective writers since it provides new names to approach.  The new kid on the writers’ block (sorry) is Caskie Mushens Ltd, after its co-founders Juliet Mushens and Robert Caskie.  Both were agents at other agencies before, but have decided to form a new partnership.  Mushens said: “The face of agenting continues to evolve and we want Caskie Mushens to build a reputation for innovation and proactive approaches to finding talent and new opportunities for authors.” 


Needless to say, one novel swept all before it last year (and the year before) – Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, which has now sold more than two million copies.  Booksellers received the best Christmas present ever with the news that Hawkins’ new novel is to be published this May.  It’s another psychological thriller called Into the Water – though some wondered whether, given recent news, it might also have been called The Girl on the Rail Replacement Bus Service.  Happy New Year.

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.