London Wall Publishing

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

Shelf Lifenews from around the book business November 2016



The death of the literary agent Carole Blake on 25 October, at the age of 70, shocked the publishing industry.  A much-loved and highly respected figure, her many successful clients included the novelist Lawrence Norfolk and the crime writer Peter James who said he was “immensely sad” and described Blake as “one of my closest friends”.


Blake spent some 50 years in the business and was the author of the best-selling guide for new authors From Pitch to Publication.  In a close-knit industry that at times can seem like a giant family, her passing means one of those fixed points of the publishing business has been taken away: many, many people have felt her death keenly, as the huge amount of traffic on social media has proved – Blake was famously active on twitter and was posting just a day or so before she finally succumbed to the cancer she had been battling.


October’s Frankfurt Book Fair would have been Blake’s 47th.  With the continuing success of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, everyone is looking out for the next psychological thriller.  Settings for some of these novels have gone in two directions: on the one hand, very unusual, on the other quiet and suburban.  With some of these novels it is all lonely figures at bedroom windows wondering about the new people who have moved in next door.  In others, it is psychological dramas taking place in settings like cruise liners heading for the Northern Lights.


There is even a phrase for the quiet ones set in the suburbs: ‘house thriller’.  This was coined by Viking’s commissioning editor Katy Loftus, who said it was “a sub-genre of a sub-genre”.  One much talked-about novel of this type that was hot at Frankfurt was the suburban-set The Woman in the Window, which is represented by Felicity Blunt on behalf of the ICM agency.  This is a claustrophobic thriller whose narrator suffers from agoraphobia.  And if the agent’s surname rings a bell that is because she is the sister of Emily Blunt who plays the lead role in the film of Hawkins’ novel.


Unreliable narrators are the order of the day too.  On the eve of Frankfurt, HarperCollins publishing director Kate Mills pre-empted Sometimes I Lie by Alice Greeney, who is a graduate from one of the writing courses run by the Faber Academy.  Mills is represented by Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown who snapped the novel up less than 24 hours after submission because of its “humdinger of a twist”.


One trend everyone is talking about across the industry is the sudden proliferation of new imprints at the major houses.  Hachette has two: the literary riverrun (which takes its name from the word which opens Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake and which is all lower case, as is the fashion these days), and Tinder Press, which is also literary, but perhaps with a more mass market element too.  HarperCollins has Borough Press and Pan Macmillan has the crime imprint, Mantle.  Jon Riley, editor-in-chief at riverrun, has this explanation for the appearance of all these imprints. “They are primarily directed at booksellers, rather than at authors or agents.  It’s all about making a narrow retail market aware of the range and differences of the lists of major companies. And I think it’s happened partly as a result of the success of small publishers such as Salt and Oneworld, who have both had titles on recent ManBooker shortlists.”


He was speaking just before this year’s ManBooker whose winning novel, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout was also published by Oneworld, making it one of very few indie publishers to achieve a ManBooker double (it won last year with Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings).


Of course, the other reason for the arrival of these new imprints is the sheer size of publishing groups now.  One editor, speaking anonymously to the Bookseller, said: “It’s an indictment of the lack of imagination at many publishing companies. They’ve obsessed about market share and becoming bigger and bigger to stand up to Amazon, and they haven’t thought about what they do, how they present themselves, how anonymous they are.”


For writers, it is excellent news.  It means there are new outlets to try, new editors to whom to pitch – all of which is good for the literary health of the nation.  And one person who would have been pleased about it all – and who was pleased in fact – is Carole Blake whom the industry fondly remembers this month.

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.