London Wall Publishing

Shelf life – news from around the book business – June 2019

Shelf life – news from around the book business – June 2019



The book industry held its most important awards evening in May.  The British Book Awards, known as the Nibbies after the bronze pen nib trophies winners receive, saw Penguin General crowned Publisher of the Year and Faber named Independent Publisher of the Year.


It was a double – actually, a treble – triumph for Faber in fact, because Normal People by Sally Rooney was named Book of the Year, and a week previously the publisher was named Ingram Group Publisher of the Year at the Independent Publishers Group awards.  As a footnote, it is interesting to see how Normal People is something of a Brexit novel.  When was the last time a novel so sharply divided people for and against in almost equal number?  The reviews on Amazon show a sharp variance between the unanimous praise of the critics and a puzzlement among a great many readers who confess to “not getting it”.


Picador took Imprint of the Year, helped by the memoirs of former doctor Adam Kay, This is Going to Hurt, selling more than 500,000 copies.  Nosy Crow was named Children’s Publisher of the Year, for the second time in three years, and Cathryn Summerhayes of Curtis Brown was named Literary Agent of the Year.


Poignantly, Judith Kerr of Mog fame took the Illustrator of the Year crown, just a fortnight before she died at the age of 95.  WHSmith Travel won the overall Book Retail category, with Waterstones being named Children’s Bookseller of the Year and Golden Hare Books in Edinburgh winning Independent Bookshop of the Year.


Diversity and inclusivity remain ongoing concerns for the industry, with comment on the issues almost every week.  The writer Kevin Duffy, who set up Bluemoose Books in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, to publish his comic novel having tired of being rejected by mainstream, London publishers, raised the issue of geographic diversity recently, noting that most people live outside London and the M25.  “From a publishing point of view, from an economics point of view, it makes no sense to be cut off from the rest of the reading public,” he said.


“It’s 2019 now, but it’s still a huge obstacle that publishing only happens in London.  There are 50 million people outside the M25 and 50 million people who want to read stories about themselves and other people, and I think people who are making commissioning decisions at some of the bigger publishers need to read more stories about other people and other lives and other geographical areas.  We talk about diversity but the geographical diversity is non-existent.”


There was an interesting interview with novelist Deborah Moggach in the Bookseller in which she compared the environment for writers now with how it was when she was starting out.  “You have to make a mark pretty quickly now, the fuse is much shorter.  A lot of publishers don’t nurture, don’t let them make mistakes and stick with them.  And authors, conversely, don’t feel the loyalty towards editors that   they used to.


She noted too, the needs of social media “which drains away your concentration and your creativity because you’re too busy thinking something pithy to tweet!”


There was much coverage of Fourth Estate’s clever teaser campaign to announce the final volume of Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy.  This was the perfect example of how the physical and the digital are working together, a perfect blend of the traditional and the modern.  The publisher took a giant billboard in Leicester Square featuring a Tudor rose and the first line of Wolf Hall: ‘So now get up’.  So far, so traditional.  The clever, modern, digital part was provided by the public, who quickly spread the image on social media.  Everybody’s phone became a mini billboard as the image was shared and shared – but it all had to start with that original, physical image. 


But we should end with Judith Kerr.  Among tributes was this from Penguin Random House Children’s MD Francesca Dow.  “Her books mean so much to so many, and have played such a profound role in inspiring a deep love of stories and illustration in generations of children.  Judith was a prodigious talent, both as an illustrator and a writer, and we are blessed that she leaves as her legacy an incredible joy-giving body of work, with the wonderful Tiger who Came to Tea a personal and family favourite (imagine a tiger being able to drink ‘all the water in the taps’) and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit still today a brilliant and vivid picture for children of what it means to leave your home and your country and find yourself a refugee, which will continue to inspire for years to come.”


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.