London Wall Publishing

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

Shelf Lifenews from around the book business September 2017



Recent months have seen a fluidity in publishing, with editors shifting house and literary agents in big agencies leaving to set up on their own.  All these individuals are keen to make their mark and this, coupled with a revived Waterstones and a healthy independent sector, has put new energy into the book business which is being warmly welcomed.


Agent Juliet Mushens, who recently left United Talent to set up her own agency Caskie Mushens with Robert Caskie, formerly with PFD, said that as a result editors were more “acquisitive”.  Fellow agent Jenny Brown agreed: “The market does seem pretty buoyant, helped by all the recent editorial changes and more positive bookshop sales.”


So what sort of books are these editors looking for?  Ah, the $64,000 question (to which agents say: “If only we could get that sort of advance…”).  Well, the appetite for psychological thrillers is still there, but agents say there has been such a glut of titles following the success of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train that advances have now plateaued.  Mushens said: “I think publishers are getting crowded when it comes to psychological thrillers, so while they are still looking to acquire them, they are getting pickier.  The title has to really stand out for them to sign it, or they risk cannibalising their own list.”


Phillip Patterson at Marjacq Scripts believes the market is in the process of change.  “Crime continues to thrive, although everyone is looking to what’s next.  Psychological thriller and domestic noir are still selling, but a number of publishers are talking about saturation and the genre falling off a cliff.”


He continued: “We are still seeing good five and six-figure deals for débuts.  There seems to be more opportunities for publishing manuscripts with new players like Zaffre/Bonnier, good digital publishing, new lists and a whole new generation of editors coming through.”


While, as always, literary fiction and more experimental work is a harder sell, agents praise the work of Waterstones.  “We are cheered by how Waterstones champions individual titles, often against all odds and trends,” says Karolina Sutton at Curtis Brown.  “This has given confidence to literary publishers who are willing to experiment and commission books for the Waterstones readership.”


But of course, there are increasingly other routes to market now.  In the US, Rupi Kaur, a young Canadian poet, began putting her verses on Instagram, the photo-sharing site – and began to build a following.  This led to an approach from publisher Andrews McMeel and now her collection Milk and Honey, has topped the US charts for overall sales in the first six months of 2017, with more than half-a-million copies sold.  And this from beginning on a photo-sharing site.  It just underlines what a new world the book – or ‘content’ – industry finds itself in.


Diversity remains an ongoing concern.  Penguin Random House (PRH) has just announced its 150 budding authors for its WriteNow 2017 scheme which aims to “bring new perspectives to bookshelves across the UK”.  The programme will see 150 writers from under-represented backgrounds, including BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] and LGBT [lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender] meet one-on-one with PRH editors at free regional events in London, Bristol and Newcastle to get feedback on their books and advice on how to get their voices heard.  Following these discussions, ten “exceptional” writers will be given one-on-one mentoring with the goal of having their books published.


HarperCollins’ imprint Borough Press has joined forces with the Cheltenham Literary Festival to launch the Cheltenham First Novel Competition.  The competition is open solely to first-time novelists, with the winner receiving £10,000, a publishing contract and representation by agent Luigi Bonomi at Luigi Bonomi Associates.

Borough Press’ publishing director, Suzie Dooré, said: “Borough are always looking for the best new voices, and I’m excited to discover a new literary superstar.  The Borough Press and Cheltenham are the perfect partners, and I’m delighted Luigi will be judging entries the entries alongside us and representing the eventual winner.”


Finally, there were many tributes to the legendary British science fiction writer Brian Alldiss who died on 19 August at the age of 92.  He was a true ‘man of letters’, a throwback to a previous age in many ways.  He wrote around 100 books, including novels, poetry, essays and memoirs, as well as some 300 short stories.  And he gave his 1990 memoirs one of the best titles ever: Bury my Heart at WHSmiths.

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.