London Wall Publishing

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – March 2019

Shelf Life – news from around the book business – March 2019



First the #MeToo movement, then diversity and now an extension of diversity to include class as well as ethnicity.  The UK book trade’s self-examination continues.  Industry magazine the Bookseller recently conducted a survey on class which revealed that 80% of those working in the industry who identify as working-class believe their background has adversely affected their career.


Some 50% of the working class respondents said they had experienced prejudice or discrimination with regard to their backgrounds, and while they admitted that some of this had been light-hearted they said it led to feelings of inferiority. 


Many respondents mentioned the industry being too London-centric, with 92% believing that publishing’s concentration in London made it hard for those outside the capital to enter the industry.  Penguin Random House’s Spare Room project is one attempt to tackle this problem.  One author commented: “Working-class writers cannot afford regular travel and accommodation to and from London.  A published author told me her publisher [one of the Big Five] wouldn’t pay for her trips to their office, despite her being on a low income.”


Author Kit de Wall, who has edited the forthcoming Common People: An Anthology of Working Class Writers (Unbound), notes that “most of the country lives beyond the M25 and I’m fairly sure a good percentage of publishers writers live outside London”.  She believes it would send a strong message to the rest of the country “if one of the big publishers opened an office in Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Newcastle, anywhere…”


There has been an odd row concerning the Man Booker Prize.  The Man Group announced that it was ending its sponsorship of the prize after 18 years.  Researchers dug up a quote from author Sebastian Faulks in which he said that the Man Group were  “not the sort of people who should be sponsoring literary prizes – they’re the kind of people literary prizes ought to be criticising”.  He was also widely reported as referring to the hedge fund as ‘the enemy’.


Virtually the entire book industry must have thought: ‘Well, if that’s ‘the enemy’, bring ‘em on.  After all, the Man Group’s investment of an estimated £25m in the Man Booker Prize and Man Booker International Prize can hardly be seen as anti-books.  Many surely thought too that ‘the enemy’ was that body or situation that has caused libraries to close in the last two years.  Faulks would agree with this of course, and later apparently retracted his remarks anyway and called Man Group ‘the good guys’.  A curious few days.


Publishers are reporting a crisis in Young Adult publishing.  Sales of the category declined by 21% in 2018, with some authors saying publishers were taking the wrong approach and publishing too many ‘worthy’ books.  One children’s author said that a broader range of topics needed to be addressed which could be achieved by publishers recruiting a more diverse work force.  The author estimated that “at the moment, 90% of children’s book editors are young, middle-class, white women.  The way ahead must be diversity.  That means more working-class books….and more cultural diversity”.


Still with diversity, new London indie Jacaranda has raised more than £25,000 in donations which is helping its ambitious scheme to publish 20 black British writers in 2020.  The initiative, called Twentyin2020, is to promote inclusivity and diversity in publishing.


New houses keep emerging which is good news for agents because it gives them new outlets to sell their books.  One of the most experienced of publishers, Amanda Ridout, who held senior positions with HarperCollins and Head of Zeus, has announced Boldwood Books which will focus on commercial fiction published globally and “energetically”.


But perhaps inevitably, the last word (ha, but will it be?) should belong to the subject that seems to have occupied the country – and the book trade – for the last two years.  Here’s Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Brexit: “It’s not just business which will be adversely affected by Brexit.  It will affect our main literary events, like the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which has previous said it will struggle to recruit staff…The threat of Brexit on the book trade should not be underestimated.  No industry is protected from the damage it will cause which is why I and my government will continue to fight for Scotland’s interests to be protected.”


No one in the book industry quite knows what the affect will be of course.  The only certainty, perhaps, is that we haven’t had the last word on the topic yet.


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.