In news whose tolerability likely correlates directly to your own patience for its chief proponent, American restaurant chain Chipotle has begun printing specially commissioned short pieces of prose on its bags and cups at the suggestion of Jonathan Safran Foer, the divisive author of Everything is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Eating Animals. The texts are designed to be read in two minutes or so, and come from a range of big-name contributors, including Toni Morrison, George Saunders, Sarah Silverman, Malcolm Gladwell and Judd Apatow.
The Bookseller Industry Awards took place last night in London, with a crowded field of winners led by Blackwell’s, named Book Retailer of the Year, and Little, Brown, who took home the evening’s biggest prize, Publisher of the Year. The latter was Little, Brown’s second win in the category since 2010, bestowed for a banner year that saw it publish hugely successful titles including Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and J.K. Rowling’s pseudonymous Robert Galbraith novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling. Blackwell’s, meanwhile, was cited for its work integrating digital and physical book sales from its development hub in Shoreditch, amongst other innovations.
Penguin Random House today launched My Independent Bookshop, a combination social network and e-commerce platform that hopes to benefit independent booksellers whilst providing a virtual counterpart to browsing their shelves. The site allows users to create their own ‘bookshops’, selecting 12 titles they would recommend to others and giving them space to tell other users why, hoping to capture the feeling of a personal recommendation that might be found in brick and mortar bookshops, outside of the standard Amazon algorithms. Those 12 titles can be rotated as often as desired, and the bookshop containing them can also be personalised to users’ own tastes.
Even the tube strike didn’t stop hoards of existing fans, and curious readers attending the event which gave the independent authors the opportunity to simultaneously launch their books.
Being read to is somewhat cathartic. When we read to ourselves, we are taken on a journey, but we dictate the speed and impact of the words. When someone who has written a novel or a play reads the text, as it was meant to be communicated; as a listener you have no choice but to relax, and take in the story.
So #OBBL was inspiring. It was moving to hear authors themselves reading through their own work. I was slightly in awe of the way each author took something so close to their heart; and read it to a room full of strangers – seeing their reaction to the final version.
I’d like to go to more events like #OBBL, more events where authors get to ‘go on tour’ and get the kind of publicity that can only be achieved by an event of this scale.
I took home The Clean Collection by Sabrina Mahfouz. A collection of plays and poems that Sabrina eloquently and expertly read from at the event. Not something I would have normally picked off the shelf as I tend to read non-fiction, but I was influenced by the sheer impact of hearing the spoken word.
Well done to all the organisers. It was a great evening and there’s plenty to think about in terms of raising the profile of independent authors.
Two Sides to Every Story: London Book Fair through the eyes of a Fledgling Print Author and a Digital Native
Gill Guest (56)
Gill Guest is an aspiring children’s author and sheep-keeper based in Shropshire. Previously a freelance garden journalist, her work has appeared in The Times, Telegraph and numerous glossy gardening magazines. You can find her on twitter @gillguest
Welcome to the London Book Fair. A three day assault and battery by words. It’s my first visit and I follow the wordpath snaking across the tarmac and up the Earls Court steps with some trepidation.
Duly badged, scanned and deluged with more leaflets than I can cope with, I find myself teetering on the edge of a vast shanty town of stalls bursting with books that completely fills the cavernous Earls Court space. I feel completely overwhelmed.
Where to start? What to look at? Who to talk to? I squeeze onto a white banquette next to a woman in killer heels and we beat our handouts into submission. We consult our maps and she heads off, heels clacking. Determined. Professional. Scary.
I phone a friend.
Well, actually, my daughter, who propels me firmly to my first seminar in the Children’s Hub, where I sit on a foam pillar and listen to two illustrators talk about picture books. I take careful notes then stay for another on App and Digital Development: brilliant. Encouraged, I explore the stalls, and eventually get my head round navigating the warren of similar passageways: left at Penguin, right by Switzerland, past the Hatchette book tower and over the irresistible interactive goldfish pond floor mat, creating digital ripples as I go. Virtual paddling is almost as much fun as the real thing.
I’m getting the hang of this now. I meet up with the agent who’s been reading my children’s manuscript, Annette Crossland from A for Authors, for a face-to-face session. I’m invited for networking drinks at the BIC Bar in Tech Central. There I’m told alcohol is free, but tea I will have to pay for. I crook a surprised eyebrow at my daughter and she shrugs.
“What?” she says, “This is a publishing event.”
Clearly, I still have lots to learn next year, at Olympia.
Natalie Guest (27)
Natalie Guest is Digital Content Executive at Ixxus, a tech company building digital solutions for the publishing industry. She curated the Tower Hamlets Writeidea Festival 2013 Literary Fringe, and has written for The Independent, The Sunday Times and New Statesman. You can find her on twitter @unfortunatalie
Publishing is an industry in free-fall, we’re told. Print is dead, content is king, and everyone’s a publisher now. From the thriving mess of stalls at London Book Fair, though, you could hardly be blamed for thinking that this was an industry in its prime.
But this is very much an industry in transition, still trying to get its head around what it means to be a publisher in the digital age. Nowhere is this more apparent than from the topography and semantics of the fair itself: whereas the area dedicated to technology used to be known as the “Digital Zone”, a small and zoned-off patch of earth, it’s now expanded to become “Tech Central” as more and more publishers focus their business strategy around digital. And Digital Minds, the pre-conference conference focussing on digital disruption and innovation, is now an established cornerstone of the fair.
I catch up with walking tech-hub Alastair Horne, perhaps better known by his twitter handle @pressfuturist, for his thoughts on this year’s event. He proffers a battery pack in my direction from his bag of tricks; I’ve been tweeting so much that my phone (and my fingers) are flagging.
“The conversation seems to have moved on only a little since last year,” says Horne, “Digital marketing – as seen in the session at Digital Minds – continues to outstrip digital content so far as innovation is concerned, and the mainstream remains as unaware as ever of the experiments at the edges of the industry.”
Horne’s comments about the mainstream remind me of a joke one of my colleagues told me. “How many publishers does it take to change a lightbulb?”, it runs, the answer, of course, being a bewildered “…‘Change?’” But change is here, if not yet thoroughly embraced across the entire industry. It will be interesting to see whether next year’s change of venue (from Earl’s Court to Olympia) will be one that finally ushers in an entirely new digital landscape.
Continuing a big week for industry prizes, this year’s Kim Scott Walwyn Prize has been awarded to Anne Perry, editor with Hodder & Stoughton. The award is presented annually to women who have worked in publishing in the UK for up to seven years, celebrating both their achievements to date and their promise for the future. Perry joined Hodder & Stoughton as an assistant editor in 2012, and was promoted to editor less than a year later. She is also co-founder of The Kitschies – awards for fantasy and speculative fiction in the UK – with her husband, Jared Shurin. Perry wins £1,000 and a two-day course at the Publishing Training Centre.
Perry’s initial duties at Hodder & Stoughton focused on science fiction and fantasy, fostering links online with fans of the genres, commissioning new works of genre fiction and working on backlist and digital titles. Oliver Johnson, associate publisher with the company, describes her as ‘one of the most talented and innovative young editors in the business’.
Co-chairs of the prize advisory committee and judging panel Denise Johnstone-Burt and Catherine Clarke say Perry was ‘the stand-out candidate from a superb shortlist. The judges marvelled at the speed, imagination and determination with which she has championed genre fiction in this country. Anne not only publishes excellent science fiction and fantasy, she also writes it brilliantly. She actively seeks out new readers and has set up the Kitschies Awards, already widely recognised for the quality that it rewards in her chosen field. She is the acme of today’s multi-talented and multi-tasking publisher – a fearless pathfinder who has set a standard to which we should all aspire.’
Also nominated were Waterstones’ Melissa Cox, Penguin Random House’s Lynsey Dalladay, The Poetry Translation Centre’s Sarah Hasketh and Janklow & Nesbit’s Hellie Ogden. Perry is the second American émigré to win the prize in a row, with last year’s award going to Miriam Robinson for her work as Foyles head of marketing, on a shortlist that also featured BookMachine’s own Laura Austin.
This is an extract from The Content Machine: Towards a Theory of Publishing from the Printing Press to the Digital Network, by Michael Bhaskar.
In conversation with publishers, one sometimes gets the sense disintermediation – a cutting out or unbundling of publishers from the literary value chain – isn’t taken seriously. Publishers assume they’ll always be wanted and needed and that their imprimatur means any attempt to disintermediate will be at worst equivocal, at best footnotes in the grand history of the written word.
Such thinking is mistaken. Papyrus workers, scribes, rubricators, hot metal typesetters and even map publishers probably all once thought themselves relatively secure, yet they have all been rendered irrelevant by new technology. For publishing, digital technology is an ‘out-of-context’ problem: like the Conquistadors in America being technologically more advanced and following imperatives incomprehensible to the indigenous population. Even recognising the true nature of the problem isn’t obvious. It can’t be couched in the usual terms.
Paperback romance maven Mills & Boon isn’t a literary brand you would normally associate with formal or technological innovation – unless your sole exposure to the books is listening to your gran unconsciously recite passages she’s read from them as she drifts in and out of sleep in her armchair, in which case they might come across as automatic writing sprung straight from Barbara Cartland’s id – but it seems to be looking to change that with the launch of a new multi-platform venture. The Chatsfield centres around a fictional London hotel, telling multiple stories through a central website and across social media, e-mail, YouTube, blogs and even text messages.
DAN RANGER. Breathe that name in: DAN. RANGER. Magnificent. Like a piece of Alan Partridge-penned Chris Ryan fanfic made wonderfully real. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
On the occasion of her 88th birthday, HarperCollins has announced that it will finally release an authorised digital edition of Harper (no relation) Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird on 8 July, 54 years after the book’s initial publication. A long-time holdout against the transition to digital, Lee acknowledged the changing times in a statement through her publisher (newsworthy in and of itself, so infrequently does she make public utterances), saying: ‘I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries. I am amazed and humbled that ‘Mockingbird’ has survived this long. This is ‘Mockingbird’ for a new generation.’