London Wall Publishing

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

Shelf Life – news from around the book business September 2016



We are all lucky to be alive in the Harry Potter years.  We should not let familiarity make us forget just what an extraordinary period it has been – and still is.  We are living through publishing history.


The extraordinary scenes around the globe when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was published – a play script don’t forget – took everyone back to the fabulous hysteria of 2007 when the last novel was published.  In London, Waterstones Piccadilly had a Harry Potter ‘lock in’, transforming the shop into elements of the novels; in Santa Cruz in California, the Bookshop Santa Cruz took up a whole city block for its Harry Potter Festival; McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg, Canada, organised a ‘Harry Potter in the Park’ Festival that drew close to 20,000 people (20,000!); and at Kinokuniya in Singapore ‘Potterheads’ began queuing at 5am for the store’s 7am opening, that being midnight GMT which marked publication of the ‘eighth’ novel.


All of this should give hope to anyone who has ever sat in a café with a notebook – as JK Rowling did at the Elephant House Café in Edinburgh.   It can be done!  One should also heed the words of the successful self-published author and speaker Joanna Penn, who brims over with positive energy for writers.  In The Successful Author Mindset she writes: “If you believe that there can only be a specific number of books in the world ie. those that are judged worthy by a few privileged gatekeepers, then you are crushing the voices of unheard people in every culture, as well as your own creativity”.


It has been a good few weeks for independent voices.  There are five indie houses on the ManBooker longlist, including north Norfolk-based Salt, publisher of Wyl Menmuir’s The Many.  Interestingly, though an independent, Salt itself still opts for a gatekeeper approach – in this instance by only accepting submissions from agents, not direct from writers.


Four independent publishers have also come together to form the Northern Fiction Alliance, whose aim is to showcase the work of Northern independent houses to an international market to “level the playing field” and promote regional diversity in publishing.  The members are Peepal Tree Press (Leeds), And Other Stories (Sheffield), Dead Ink Books (Liverpool) and Comma Press (Manchester).  Such moves underline what is happening in publishing at the moment.  There are three tracks, each very healthy (even if traditional houses have seen ebook revenues decline).  There are the large houses, the conglomerates like Penguin Random House, publishing ‘traditionally’, via agents; there are the independent houses, such as those listed above, some allowing direct approaches, others favouring submissions by agents; and there is the growing self-published sector (which increasingly uses editorial services to make its offerings more professional).  In many ways, we are living through a new golden age.


As you might expect, the Brexit fall-out continues.  There was good news from two recent surveys undertaken by the Publishers Association (PA) and the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG).  The PA found that of 48 UK publishing houses , 73% said they did not plan to change their investment plans following the vote, and 2% said they intended to increase investment.  Similarly, 75% of the 115 IPG members polled said there would be no change to their investment plans.  Many of houses pointed to the increased opportunities for export because of the weaker pound; however, others pointed out that this might be offset by the higher costs of buying services, such as printing, in Europe and elsewhere.  Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive of the PA, said the industry remains “resilient” and “will continue to play an important role in the creative sector and the UK economy as a whole”.


So where did the 14th International Conference on the Short Story take place?  Shanghai is the answer.  Speakers included the Chinese writer Su Tong, whose early 90s novel Raise the Red Lantern was filmed in 1993.  Widely acknowledged as a master of short-form literature, he gave credit to two American short stories — William Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily” and Carson McCullers’ “The Ballad of the Sad Café” — which he said inspired him during his high-school years.

Aside from their vivid depictions of life in the American deep south, he said his biggest take-away from these works was that “the secret of writing a good story lies in its characters, in the lives of common men and women.”

But let’s finish with Harry again.  There was another Potter remembered in the window at Waterstones Piccadilly during the fun: Beatrix Potter, the 150th anniversary of whose birth is marked this year.  It seems safe to assume that Harry and his pals will last as long.

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.