Week 44/21 – week ending 29 October

Hachette launches how-to guide to writing diversity in fiction

Vaseem Khan, author of the Malabar House historical crime novels, is to present a series of videos offering a best practice guide to writing diversity in fiction for Hachette UK’s Future Bookshelf.

Turning the Page: A Best Practice Guide to Writing Cultural Diversity in Fiction is based on research funded by the UK Arts Council, and features advice from writers, readers, and a host of industry professionals, collated by Khan over the past 9 months.

According to a statement from HarperCollins: ‘In these videos, which will be free to view, Khan will offer insights and recommendations for best practice when writers choose to write across cultural boundaries. His starting point is that all writers should have the right to write beyond their lived experience.

‘The videos will be released over five weeks in October and November 2021, culminating in an online event with Khan where a free-to-download PDF guide accompanying the series will be launched. At that event Khan will offer further insight into the project and answer questions raised by these often highly-charged topics.

The running order for the videos will be as follows: Video 1 – Diversity in Fiction: a review of the landscape; Video 2 – Cultural Appreciation versus Cultural Misappropriation; Video 3 – Write what you know: Mining your Heritage; Video 4 – Write what you don’t know: Writing in the ‘forbidden zone’; and Video 5 – Recommendations and a checklist for creating diverse characters in fiction.

Khan (pictured) said: “These issues have never been more topical. A particularly contentious area is when authors write characters not from their own cultural identity. The fact is that writers borrow from other cultures and experiences all the time.

“Personally, I believe that all authors should have the right to write whatever they choose, the assumption being that most authors would wish to approach the task with rigour and empathy. There is, however, a dearth of advice on how to go about this. This project aims to provide such guidance.”

Nick Davies, chair of The Future Bookshelf, says: “Vas’s videos offer simple, clear-headed and practical advice to writers from all backgrounds (and to editors and publishers too). It is a thoughtful and positive contribution to an important conversation which we’re delighted to support here at Hachette.”

Khan is the author of two crime series set in India: the Baby Ganesh Agency series, and the Malabar House historical crime novels. His first book, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, was a Times bestseller and has been translated into 15 languages. Midnight at Malabar House, which opens the Malabar House series, was awarded the CWA Historical Dagger 2021. In 2018, he was awarded the Eastern Eye Arts, Culture and Theatre Award for Literature. Khan was born in Newham and has spent a decade working in India as a management consultant.

The Future Bookshelf forms part of Hachette UK’s Changing the Story programme ‘and was set up in the belief that publishing should be open and accessible to all people, from all backgrounds, from all communities. They aim to demystify publishing and guide authors through the process of writing, editing, submitting and publishing, so they know what to expect and how to succeed.’

See the video here: www.thefuturebookshelf.co.uk/landing-page/turning-the-page/

Waterstones unveils Book of the Year 2021 shortlist

Waterstones has released its Book of the Year 2021 shortlist. Each year, Waterstones booksellers are asked to nominate ‘a title which they find truly outstanding and in which they have felt the most pride recommending to readers’. This year’s list includes five non-fiction titles, four fiction titles, and four children’s books. Last year’s winner was Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. The shortlist is:

Around the World in 80 Plants by Jonathan Drori; illustrated by Lucille Clerc (Orion Publishing) 
The Appeal by Janice Hallett (Profile)
Greek Myths by Charlotte Higgins, illustrated by Chris Ofili (Vintage Publishing) 
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber&Faber) 
Storyland by Amy Jeffs (Quercus)
The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present by Paul McCartney, edited by Paul Muldoon (Allen Lane) 
Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston (Illustrator) (Hachette) 
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (Penguin Books) 
You Are A Champion by Marcus Rashford and Carl Anka (Pan Macmillan) 
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint (Headline) 
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (Simon & Schuster) 
Amur River by Colin Thubron (Vintage Publishing) 
British Museum: History of the World in 25 Cities by Tracey Turner (author), Libby Vanderploeg (illustrator) and Andrew Donkin (author) (Nosy Crow)

The winner will be chosen by a Waterstones panel and announced on 2 December. 

Luke Taylor, Waterstones retail director, said: “With such a strong year for publishing it was always going to be an incredible selection of titles that would make up our Book of the Year shortlist, and as in previous years, the nominations from our booksellers are eclectic and diverse. The final thirteen that make up this year’s list are a true reflection of our booksellers’ passion for sharing outstanding books with readers. It is an extraordinarily exciting list, and one that should provide many with a welcome relief after the last eighteen months.”

Special Waterstones editions of They Both Die at the End, The Appeal and Klara and the Sun are already on shelves in stores.

The BookBrunch Report: is the supply chain reaching a crisis point?

The chaos in global supply chains is affecting everything from MacDonald’s milkshakes to building materials. UK based businesses, who have seen their deliveries curtailed or prices hiked for materials and goods, have been sounding warnings of reaching crisis point for weeks. We are already witnessing the impact on our everyday lives, from gaps on our supermarket shelves to queues at the petrol station.

The situation is being blamed on a combination of Covid, Brexit and pent-up demand, which The Economist says has ‘unleashed a furious but lopsided rebound’ – and companies are struggling to catch up.

For publishers, their attentions are drawn towards growing backlogs at paper mills, together with deficiencies in global shipments and the haulage sector. According to The Road Haulage Association, it is down by about 100,000 drivers to keep operations running smoothly. Last week The New York Times reported publishing professionals in the US were paying extortionate fees for shipping containers, which are low on supply. One container, which holds roughly 35,000 books, used to cost $2,500 but can now be as much as $25,000.

At key book distribution centres around the UK the challenges are being felt. David Taylor, senior vice president at Ingram Content Group, offers his summary of the situation. “Here in the UK, we have seen large increases in the cost of energy, challenges in filling positions, especially in warehousing and manufacture, which in turn is driving up the costs of labour, well-reported shortages of lorry drivers and shipping delays as the major ports like Felixstowe (pictured) have log jams.”

Taylor adds that we could expect deliveries to improve, but with a word of caution. “Whilst Brexit supply chain issues have largely died down, that adds one more twist to the story because it is now more expensive to ship books from the UK into the EU 27.”

Impact on the book trade
Publishing has felt the force of the disruption to global supplies. The question is on what scale, and what can we expect? Regarding the larger conglomerates, many of whom were disinclined to comment on this article, there were reports coming out of Penguin Random House and HarperCollins suggesting they were gearing up for possible challenges.

Samuel McDowell, publisher at Edinburgh-based indie Charco, is currently battling problems on various fronts. “Supply chain issues have come at us from multiple directions simultaneously,” – with significant consequences. “Nationally the triple-header of HGV driver shortages, the ‘pingdemic’, and ramping up of demand from awakening economic activity caused a number of headaches at the warehouse and distribution level.”

The outlook, McDowell admits, is likely to get worse. Charco, a publisher of English-translated contemporary Latin American literature, relies perhaps more than most on the efficiencies of a global network of supplies. “Internationally, and over a longer period, we are seeing shipping and overland transport issues into the US worsen each week,” he continues. “We have investigated alternatives, but found they are all similarly impacted in one way or another. So we are factoring the delays into our planning, and keeping a constant eye on the situation as it evolves. We are now allowing for shipment windows 2-3 times what they were pre-pandemic, at 2-3 times the cost.”

Delivery delays are also being felt at Cipher Press. Jenn Thompson, who co-runs the London-based indie, a publisher of stories by people who identify as LGBTQ+, is now preparing for longer lead times. “Our printer has been really good at answering my questions and delivering books when they say they will, but the turnaround time is longer, and there have been a few hair-raising moments of not knowing whether we’ll have books in time for an event or by publication day.”

While Thompson counts Cipher lucky that deliveries are still being made, she acknowledges that there have been a few close shaves. “We had to change a book spec due to paper shortages, which isn’t a huge deal for us but I imagine it could have gone way over budget if the book in question was longer.”

Sick transit
Deliveries transiting the British postal service to send books directly to consumers are also under severe pressure in various parts of the company. Alice Revel, md of Reposed, a monthly book subscription service operating from Brighton, relies on Royal Mail to deliver parcels containing new titles and gifts to hundreds of readers. “Royal Mail currently has between five and 10% staff unwell depending on the depot,” she reports. “That plus HGV issues equals total headache.”

For booksellers, the subject of delivery delays is also about non-book goods. Jane James, proprietor of Not Just Books in Thetford, Norfolk, sayd that while her customers have been understanding, she is experiencing “delays on non-book products such as Pokémon, but our wholesaler has been good at keeping us informed as soon as they are made aware of issues.”

That’s not to say books are plentiful at all retailers. Certain key titles, such as prize winners that come with heightened interest, are known to be patchy in stock. In an interview with The New York Times, chief executive of Barnes & Noble James Daunt, revealed his disappointment that supplies of Nobel Prize-Winning novel Afterlight by Abdulrazak Gurnah were running low in US bookshops. “We have relatively little stock and it’s all shot out the door, and we’re waiting as everybody is for the printing presses,” he said.

People have expressed particular concern for debut authors whose future deals rely heavily on how their first title performs. Rumours are circulating that publishers have postponed some release dates because books aren’t at the right stage, or announcing others at the last minute leaving marketing and publicity teams little time to generate sufficient interest. Older books, meanwhile, are not being reprinted quickly enough.

American author Roxane Gay expressed her dismay that the release date of her wife’s book, Why Design Matters: Conversations With the World’s Most Creative People, has been pushed back. Originally set to debut this month, Debbie Millman’s title is now scheduled for early 2022 because, Gay lamented on Twitter, “It’s stuck on a boat in the ocean.”

Shortage of paper
A paper shortage is playing havoc with the publishing process because of a high demand for wood pulp. In America, it is estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that the cost has increased by more than 50% in the past year alone, while the cost of paper is up by 14.2%. Why? Apparently the surge in online shopping has sent orders for cardboard through the roof. There is demand elsewhere, too, for such items as toilet paper (the perennial stockpiler favourite).

Bill Godber, md at London-based distributor Turnaround, explains that how we tend to shop today has complicated matters. “The growth of online retailing with the need to supply outlets with thousands of single unit orders on a daily basis has created challenges for the smaller and less-automated operations, and one gathers, for several of the larger ones as well.”  

The word over at Ingram is not to panic, yet. Paper stock, while in significant demand, is not wholly depleted. “Whilst we are not immune to many of these shifts in the economic landscape, we have not had any problems so far with our paper supply which we have been managing most carefully,” confirms David Taylor. “We have also been able to hold our standard turnaround times for the supply of both paper and hardback books and have not had to turn away orders, which is something that I know other printers around the world have had to do.”

Jane James from Not Just Books is, however, worried about what it will mean for her independent bookshop, which opened in October last year: “I think the biggest concern is the paper situation combined with freight issues and whether reprints of titles are going to be available in the run up to Christmas. We’ve placed our stock orders and are keeping our fingers crossed that we’ve ordered enough.”

James explains that this year presents different challenges to 2020. “Although we were open in October last year, the November lockdown meant that most Christmas shopping was done in that month and we just had to deal with what was effectively left over as we hadn’t placed the Christmas orders well in advance as we didn’t exist. This year, we’ve been bold and invested more heavily in stock from publishers than we would have envisaged doing in the run up to our second Christmas.”

James voices a shared concern among indies, who believe larger retailers will be prioritised. “We just really hope that shoppers think of the indies on the high street first. We’ve been talking to customers for quite a while about Christmas and planning ahead so hopefully we will see a steady stream of business over the next couple of months rather than the usual pre-Christmas panic.”

Preparation and plentiful stock
Implementing an earlier buying period for Christmas is one obvious way to lessen supply chain troubles. At Bloomsbury, chief executive Nigel Newton said in his first-half results statement earlier this week that “retailers and online booksellers have significantly increased stock levels over previous years to ensure they have sufficient stock for Christmas given the supply chain problems.” The result for Bloomsbury is that the company’s first half revenues “have therefore been boosted by customers ordering earlier than in previous years.”

Newton also credited his team for forecasting these challenges. “During the first half, we successfully mitigated print supply chain challenges,” he explains. Bloomsbury acted immediately, with Newton adding this included “earlier printing, well in advance of our usual peaks in the run up to Christmas and the beginning of the academic year in the autumn.” Other measures taken “included agility about where we print.”

Expect the selling period for the crucial Christmas period to be extended, and perhaps even more buoyant than previous years. “For the book trade here in the UK, we can anticipate a strong Christmas selling period but one that is likely to come a lot earlier this year,” confirms Ingram’s Taylor. “As a US wholesaler and a distributor, we are already seeing some evidence of this with earlier ordering than usual. The fear that publishers and retailers will have is running out of stock at a critical time in the sales cycle; that’s not a new fear but it’s one that is probably heightened this year by the supply chain pressures.”

Taylor points to Ingram’s print on demand programme as “an insurance policy” adding, “we saw this trend in our US market last year but the Brits have perhaps been less quick to grab this ‘just in case’ lifeline.”

Offering e-books as an alternative is a simple solution. Springer Nature, for example, is directing customers to digital versions, particularly people purchasing from countries they are currently unable to reach, which includes Mauritius and French Polynesia. Possible delays are also cited for Australia and New Zealand. Those who suggest e-books could emerge as one of the big winners of this crisis may find that print books, however imposed by production and delivery issues, are increasingly in demand. According to Nielsen BookScan, print book sales grew by 5% to £202m in 2020, and are not set to slow.

Consequences and cost
Greater demand for drivers and supplies means, of course, higher costs. There can be no doubt businesses are spending more to get hold of their goods, even when they’re late or out of reach, as is the case for Revel at Reposed, whose warehouse “has just implemented a stock quarantine on new stock arrivals.” Indeed rising Covid cases may mean people will ask questions about quarantining items or the need for extra cleaning, as we saw in earlier lockdowns.

In terms of rising costs, who will eventually pay the price? McDowell at Charco is hopeful small indies like themselves can bear the brunt. “For now we are absorbing the higher costs,” he reveals, “in the hope that this is a reasonably short term problem and that supply chains will adjust. But I imagine we will need to reassess this in Q1 2022. If this is the new normal, and costs stay high, then we will need to look at alternatives, which may mean moving some of our printing overseas (we currently print here in the UK), or indeed pricing.”

The outlook, therefore, is uncertain. How deep these supply issues will go and how long they will last is yet to be seen. For now, with the key Christmas selling period on the near horizon, preplanning and pre-ordering is essential to mitigate low stock levels.

“Whether things will improve between now and Christmas remains to be seen,” concludes Godber at Turnaround, “but I’m not sure we’ve yet seen the worst. But we remain resilient.”

BBC book club reveals autumn picks

BBC Arts has announced the full line-up for series three of Between The Covers, ‘a six-part series on BBC Two designed to bring the nation together by sharing the enjoyment of reading, which returns on Wednesday 10 November.’

According to tbe BBC: ‘In each episode host Sara Cox (pictured) is joined by a panel of four famous guests and will discuss two books from the Between The Covers reading list. The twelve books chosen for the series provide an interesting mix of genres and authors and the aspiration is to get people reading and trying books that they might not otherwise have picked up.

‘They will review a newly-published book, and for the first time, hot on the heels of the Booker Prize, the programme will be looking at shortlisted titles that didn’t win the prestigious prize, but still deserve to be celebrated.’

The complete reading list includes a newly-published book and a Booker Prize nominee (listed in broadcast order) are:

– Newly-published book: Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason  
– Booker Book: Good Behaviour by Molly Keane
Celebrity book club panel: Evanna Lynch, Dane Baptiste, Emilia Fox, Andy Parsons

– Newly-published book: The Coward by Jarred McGinnis
– Booker Book: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
Celebrity book club panel: Fern Brady, Olly Smith, Lou Sanders, John Thomson

– Newly-published book: Still Life by Sarah Winman
– Booker Book: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Celebrity book club panel: Sindhu Vee, Rob Rinder, Ben Miller, Kacey Ainsworth

– Newly-published book: Ascension by Oliver Harris
– Booker Book: The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
Celebrity book club panel: Alan Davies, Suzi Ruffell, Sarah Kendall, Iain Stirling

– Newly-published book: Small Things Like These  by Claire Keegan
– Booker Book: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Celebrity book club panel: Sharleen Spiteri, Prue Leith, Jason Forbes, Ben Willbond

– Newly-published book: Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo
– Booker Book: The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Celebrity book club panel: Greg James, Imogen Stubbs, Fleur East, Lloyd Griffith

The twelve selected books featured in the series will be labelled with Between The Covers stickers in shops, libraries and online so that audiences can read and join the conversation on social media using #BetweenTheCovers.

Between The Covers (6 x 30’) was commissioned by Emma Cahusac for BBC Arts and BBC Two and is created and produced by Cactus TV: exec Produced by Amanda Ross with series producer Pollyanne Conway.