London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – January 2018

Shelf Lifenews from around the book business January 2018



Well, somebody had the very best Christmas, that’s for sure.  That somebody is the young American writer Kristen Roupenian, whose short story ‘Cat Person’about a date that goes wrong, appeared in The New Yorker on 11 December and quickly went viral, prompting a bidding frenzy from publishers that has – at the time of writing – led to an estimated $1.2m (£900,000) two-book deal with Simon & Schuster US and an estimated £75,000 deal with Jonathan Cape here for a short story collection called You know you want this.  In other words, Roupenian’s cats (if she has any – in fact, she has a dog) aren’t going to run out of Whiskas anytime soon.


Her experience – while certainly not typical – is certain to give all aspiring writers hope.  The way she tells it, the 36 year-old who is on a writing fellowship at the University of Michigan, was about to give up on her dream of becoming a writer and join the Foreign Service instead.  She told a friend that by becoming a diplomat she was “going to live my second-best possible life.  It wasn’t my No.1 absolute dream, but it was pretty great…and trying to be a writer was too risky”.  Her friend replied: “That seems like a terrible reason to join the Foreign Service.  I think you’ll regret this choice on your deathbed.  You should write your novel”.


In other words, carpe diem.  Aspiring writers take note.  They might also like to know that in 2016, her story ‘Don’t be Scarred’ (sic) was the Grand Prize winning story for the Eleventh Annual Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards, beating 1,300 entries across six genres: crime, horror, romance, science fiction, thriller, and young adult.  Certainly, in the last fortnight, it seems as if the entire publishing industry has been clamouring to sign Roupenian up.  Readership of the original story – key in ‘New Yorker Cat Person’ into Google and it takes you right there – has soared.  Of course, what is encouraging for publishers is that the coverage of Roupenian’s story has been widespread – partly due to the nature of the story which has echoes of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and its continuing aftermath.  But the interest also shows that words matter, stories matter, publishing deals matter, all of which should push people into bookshops when her books finally arrive in the stores next year.


Everyone is agreed that 2017 was a turbulent year, with Brexit here and the election of President Trump in the US.  Sometimes this has driven people into bookshops for long-form, trusted analysis; sometimes it has left them too busy consuming news sites.  Although print has largely held up, the industry has suffered from a decline in popularity of all those adult parodies of Ladybird and Enid Blyton titles as the novelty wore off.  This meant that although 169m print books were sold in the year up to mid-December, this figure is 2.7% down on 2016.  According to sales recording agency Nielsen BookScan, the biggest seller from those titles in the last week of November in 2017 was How it Works: the Baby, which shifted 10,471 copies; in the same week in 2016 Five on Brexit Island had sold 53,124 copies.


In his annual end-of-year letter, Tim Godfray, Chief Executive of the Booksellers Association, sounded positive.  Noting the problems of retailers like Toys R Us and Poundland, he said: “I am going to buck the trend and be defiantly optimistic.  For the first time since the Net Book Agreement [which prevented discounting by retailers for a certain period after publication] ceased to operate in 1995, the BA ended up at the end of this year with more independent bookshops in membership than we had at the beginning of 2017.”  To cap this good news, Waterstones announced more stores in 2018, with MD James Daunt noting that bank closures meant potential sites would be coming on to the market.


Finally, another note of optimism.  In 2017 the publishing industry buzzed with independent houses producing engaging books.  We had And Other Stories, Fitzcarraldo Editions, Galley Beggar, Tangerine, Influx, Salt, Dead Ink, Dodo Ink (yes, really), Unsung Stories, Cassava Republic….it’s a long list.  Books may be an old, old format, but in 2017 they proved resilient – and that, as the New Year begins, is something to celebrate.

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.