London Wall Publishing

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

Shelf Lifenews from around the book business July 2017



One of the book industry’s most familiar concerns emerged in recent weeks – put simply: how to encourage people to read.  The Bookseller magazine held its annual Marketing and Publicity Conference in London at which the architect of Sports England’s very successful #ThisGirlCan campaign, Tanya Joseph, gave a well-received presentation.  Broadly speaking, Sports England' research showed that women were put off exercise or involvement in sport chiefly through fear of judgement – “wearing the wrong kit”, “don’t know the rules”, “looking silly” were among frequent comments.


Publishers are wondering if something similar isn’t happening with reading – that there is a similar underlying anxiety and self-consciousness, a fear of judgement?  People don’t want to admit that they haven’t read such and such, or that they found a particular famous novel very hard.  James Spackman, a consultant and also publisher at Profile’s new imprint Pursuit, which specialises in cycling titles, said: “We’d be doing our population and ourselves a great favour if we could make some progress towards eradicating book snobbery and freeing people from judgement, to read uninhibited.”


Equally, others feel that the problem isn’t fear of judgement, but simply time pressure.  Many believe it is related to that device we all carry with us now and that we feel so compelled to check all the time.  It is worth considering the fact that if we took ten minutes ‘mobile time’ and transferred it to reading a novel, we would soon find that the pile of books we had read would soon climb higher.


The debate has also raised the idea of a generic campaign for books and reading, similar to Sport England’s campaign.  Part of the problem here, as ever, comes down to money, as well as publishers’ resistance to pool data.  That said, the industry has had some successful, generic campaigns already, notably World Book Day and the Booksellers Association’s Books are My Bag campaign; but there is a feeling that more could be done.


Diversity continues to be an issue across publishing too.  Penguin Random House (PRH) is launching an ‘Inclusion Tracker’ to measure the diversity of its authors and staff in the pursuit of a new company-wide goal to “reflect UK society by 2025”.  The aim is to be bring the composition of its authors and staff into line with that of UK society, in terms of social mobility, ethnicity, gender, disability and sexuality.  PRH has said it wants to see “a positive shift towards this goal every year through to 20125”.


The rise of self-publishing has made evident one simple, heartening fact: that there is a wealth of writers out there, demonstrating the incredible human need for self-expression.  This has always been the case, of course – it’s just that the rise of self-publishing and online platforms has made it more visible.


The latter has also led to the rise of creative writing classes, and among the latest is the Ink Academy, run by Marina Kemp, a former editor at PRH.  Held at the Library Members’ Club in London, these offer “direct, personalised” feedback and will cover areas like Narrative Voice, Plot, Memoir and Characterisation. 


Former Pan editorial director Kathy Gale, who left publishing to retrain as a psychotherapist, now runs a Writers’ Studio group where she addresses the “emotional” side of the creative process.  She says: “I do not behave like a psychotherapist with my writing clients – it would be intrusive and inappropriate to do so – but I am comfortable with emotional issues and, informed by my therapy training, I may ask a question or make a suggestion that can lead the writer to identify something emotional that is standing in their way.  This often has an extraordinary effect – I’ve seen writing transform after a coaching session where this has taken place.”


Non-fiction has a new literary prize.  The Portobello Prize has been launched by Portobello Books in association with literary agency C+W and Foyles.  It has been crated to “seek out the most exciting new voices in narrative non-fiction and offer debut writers the opportunity to publish an untold story that reflects our times”.  The winner will earn a book deal, representation by C+W and publication by Portobello Books.


Finally, the whole of publishing – both here and in the US where he was born – was saddened by the death of the literary agent Ed Victor at the age of 78.  Victor’s long client list ranged from Iris Murdoch to the Rolling Stones.  He knew everyone and seemed to be at every publishing party.  His fellow agent Jonathan Lloyd, chairman of Curtis Brown, said: “In Cuba, there is a table kept empty in Ernest Hemingway’s favourite restaurant.  I love the idea of all the great restaurants of the world that Ed favoured doing the same.”

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.