Tuesday 11 September 2012

Who’d’ve thought?

Congratulations to Salt for the Booker shortlisting of Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse. Half the books on that shortlist are from small independent publishers. Half the books on the Forward Prize shortlists are from ditto.

Cue some generalising statement about the increasing prominence of small presses on the big stages, but I’ll resist that temptation. The joy/frustration of the whole business is its unpredictability. Among the feedback comments on last Saturday’s Free Verse book fair are some pointing out that those publishers with tables on the upper floor were at a disadvantage, as a number of potential buyers never made it upstairs – yet the highest sales so far reported were from an upstairs table. There are comments too about styles of selling, suggesting that it’s not enough for publishers to just lay out the books and then sit behind the table and wait – yet the CBe table, staffed through the whole day by volunteers who hadn’t read the books and couldn’t answer questions, sold far more than last year.

Brooke Sharkey (above), who at last year’s book fair sang to a listening, attentive audience, this year could hardly be heard above the continuing talk and movement. She didn’t mind, she’s used to this. There’ve been times, she says, when she’s sung to an appreciative audience of several hundred, who’ve then bought the music, and then the next day she’s busking and everyone walks straight past.

Q: Which title is third in the rankings of CBe books sold to date in this financial year? A: ‘Not So Barren or Uncultivated’: British Travellers in Finland 1760–1830. Another volume, covering 1830 to 1917, is planned for later this year.

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