Fascinating article from Private Eye on UK fiction publishing
Here’s a fascinating piece from Bookworm published in Private Eye last week. It’s an insight into the challenges of publishing fiction:
When Penguin and Random House completed their merger, there was speculation that, as both behemoths had dozens of lists, many of them overlapping, some would have to be either slashed or scaled back. As literary fiction rarely makes money, the relevant imprints (such as Random House’s Cape and Chatto, which already overlapped) appeared most vulnerable.
Post-merger austerity has yet to bite Random House’s upmarket Vintage division, however, with insiders confiding that recent major awards for Cape’s Helen Macdonald and Chatto’s Richard Flanagan should keep the bean counters at bay for a while.
Penguin, by contrast, seems to be dramatically reducing its commitment to non-formulaic fiction, judging by the shockingly thin July-December 2015 catalogue just released in time for London Book Fair. In the autumn season (traditionally where publishers place their prize contenders), Hamish Hamilton – not so long ago the hippest of lists, with Zadie Smith and Hari Kunzru as its standards-bearers – will be releasing just one novel, by Pat Barker, plus two non-fiction works, also by veterans – a wretched total of three books in half a year.
Nor is this a case of Ha Ha being downgraded while other lists take up the slack. The only other literary novels the Penguin General group is publishing next season – there will be plenty of crime and chick lit novels from other divisions, of course – are one apiece from Viking (John Banville), Fig Tree (Alexandra Shulman) and Penguin (Livi Michael). With salami-slicing evidently proceeding, it seems that only books by the publisher’s established and usually senior literary authors are still safe: young first-timers now stand little chance of being picked up by Penguin, which has clearly lost all enthusiasm for taking risks and making discoveries.