London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – March 2016

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – March 2016

With ‘Brexit’ almost certain to become the word of the year (question: if ‘Brexit’, then why not ‘Bray’ for the stay campaign, or even ‘Bremain’?), publishers have been expressing their opinions on whether the UK should leave the European Union.

A survey by the Bookseller magazine found that more than 70% of respondents were against leaving, with Tim Hely Hutchinson, CEO of Hachette UK, saying: “I am personally a Europhile, and a believer in free trade and in open exchanges of views and mutual appreciation between people of different nations and backgrounds, beyond Europe too.  I would regard the concept of Britain leaving the Europe, excessive belief in the elusive quality of Britishness, putting up trade and any unnecessary free movement barriers, as backward steps.”

The new CEO of the Publishers Association, Stephen Lottinga, said: “UK-published content is highly sought-after around the world, and for this business success to continue publishers need certainty and clarity as to the environment they will be trading in.”

Something interesting is happening with physical books.  A new style of bookshop is emerging: highly designed, full of open sight lines, lots of face-out titles, cafes, perhaps a wine bar, tables to work at – they are places to linger.  Waterstones new store on Tottenham Court Road in central London is a good example, where a small underground car park – yes, really – is now a wine bar/bookselling/events space.  It is almost as if, with libraries under threat, bookshops are replacing them as free, social spaces.

And on the subject of libraries, yet more authors have spoken out about cuts to services. Cathy Cassiday, Jake Arnott and Philip Ardagh critisized the “national scandal” of library cuts at an event in Westminster organised by the Speak Up for Libraries coalition.  The latter attacked “the apathy and ignorance in local and central government” on the issue, and Cassidy said: “Councils have a duty to offer a comprehensive and efficient service, but instead our libraries have been bled dry….”

Interestingly, debut novelist Lisa Owens mentioned libraries as spaces to work when she was writing Not Working, which Picador will publish in April (and which has been compared to Bridget Jones no less).  Her novel concerns a young woman in her twenties who leaves her job “to figure out what she wants to do with her life”.  Owens said: “In some ways, the writing process weirdly mirrors hers because I was having to self-start every day.  I was going to cafes and going to the library and really trying to get this thing going….”   There is a study to be made of why so many writers find it easier to work away from home, in the hubbub of a café or library.

The Borough Press is a new-ish imprint that takes its name from the new home of parent company HarperCollins next to the Shard in south east London.  Its Publishing Director Suzie Dooré has been outlining what the house is looking for.  She talks about “brilliant writing with a broad reach” and adds: “Literary/commercial cross over is a big area now.  I’m also interested in literary and genre crossover: we have literary crime in Susie Steiner’s Missing [just published] – I would like more.  I would love literary science fiction, literary horror.  Things like Gone Girl have shown you can have this crossover and really hit that sweet spot”.

HarperCollins has caused some discontent among agents because of the giant publisher’s more joined-up thinking across its divisions i.e. its various imprints no longer compete against each other as fiercely for titles.  Dooré clarified: “It’s a little more risk-averse: you don’t get the big Zadie Smith advances for a debut.  But it’s not a smaller pool of publishers – we’re all still bidding as before, it just limits the size of advances.  And honestly, smaller – but not tiny – advances are not necessarily a bad thing.  An author will still get paid if the book does well.  Huge advances can do as much harm as good, especially if they cause hype around the book before it’s published.”

Finally, one of the publishing industry’s most enjoyable diversions has just been announced: the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year, named after the graphic design group and organised by the Bookseller.  Contenders this year include Transvestite Vampire Biker Nuns from Outer Space: A Consideration of Cult Film published by MKH, and Too Naked for the Nazis published by Fantom Films.

But this column thinks the prize should go to Soviet Bus Stops published by Fuel.  You know you want it on your shelves.


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.