London Wall Publishing

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

Shelf Lifenews from around the book business March 2017



The role of books in a post-truth world of “alternative facts” and ugly nationalism has never been more important – that’s the view of publishers on both sides of the Atlantic as the book community continues to feel the aftershocks of the election of President Trump and grapples with the implications of leaving the European Union.


Charlie Redmayne, CEO of HarperCollins, said: “The political polarisation that we are seeing in the US, UK and across Europe presents challenges for publishers.  It is more important than ever that we shine a light on the issues.  But it is also imperative that we present voices from all sides of the argument.  We must publish books that are interesting, informative, sometimes challenging but, most of all, relevant.”


Agent Toby Munday, formerly MD of Altantic Books, said: “Serious non-fiction at its best is about creating the building blocks for civilisation, a crucially important cultural activity.  Publishers are in the civilisation business, though they occasionally forget that.  [The election of Trump] is a crystallising event and a lot of people are going to have to decide what is important.  Some kind of consensus has been shattered.  We need to understand where we are and where we’re going, and only books can do that for us.”


There is much discussion of what kinds of books might be seen in the months ahead.  Agent Robert Caskie, of new agency Caskie Mushens, said: “I want to read about activism and hope.  We need stories about human compassion and love.  There will be a surge in books that galvanise people to stand up [for their beliefs] or believe in human kindness.”


In the US, bookstores have been holding ‘Alternative Facts Fridays’, turning Trump administration ‘newspeak’ into a marketing opportunity.  In Brooklyn, Dennis Johnson, co-founder of publisher Melville House, said: “We’re experiencing a really extreme-right takeover.  It’s a place we’ve never been before, and I think it’s really up to us in the book industry to supplement the way the rest of the media is covering this.  I personally have a renewed sense of mission.”


One lone voice, though still not a Trump supporter, does venture an alternative view.  Iain Dale of Biteback Publishing – the Iain Dale who presents the weekly drive-time radio on LBC in London – notes: “Because book publishers are liberal and left-wing, nothing is being published which is pro-Trump or even fair to Trump…The fact that the books are all anti-Trump, I think, does a disservice to the book-buying public.”


Away from politics, the subject of celebrities versus ‘real’ writers reared its head again.  Some children’s authors have criticised publishers for giving lucrative book deals to You Tube stars and comedians, thus making it harder for writers who have worked at their craft for years.  Chris Priestley, author of the Tale of Terror series, said: “I understand that everyone is tightening their belts, but it seems as though if you’re a celebrity you can just express the idea you would like to do a book – like [radio DJ] Christian O’Connell did on Twitter – and you will get a deal.  I still have to pitch my books.”


Children’s author and critic Amanda Craig believes such deals “take readers away from proper, professional writing.  When you buy these books you’re not spending money on real books and real authors”.


Meanwhile, publishers had the very best news ahead of the London Book Fair in mid-March: Waterstones announced its first profit in five years, and the first under the ownership of Russian businessman Alexander Mamut.  Helped by what MD James Daunt called “better standards of bookselling”, the 270-strong chain saw sales rise 4% to £409.1m in the year to 30 April 2016, helping it achieve an operating profit of and £18.8m and a pre-tax profit of £9.9m, compared to a pre-tax loss of £4.5m a year earlier.  Even better, Daunt said the chain planned to open stores “in double figures” this year.


Writers everywhere will also be pleased that new presses continue to emerge.  Among the latest is Little Island Press, based in Stroud in Gloucestershire, which specialises in fine editions.  Among its new titles later this year is a debut short story collection called Darker with the Lights on: Stories by David Hayden, currently MD of Reaktion Books and former publishing director at the Folio Society.  Hayden also – in what must seem like another lifetime – once managed the Kinokuniya store in Sydney, Australia and oversaw the opening of one of Waterstone’s most far-flung stores, at the airport in Anchorage, Alaska, having begun his career in the book world as a bookseller at Waterstones, Preston.


All of which is doubtless perfect background for a writer of short stories.

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.