Publishing success in Ireland, Part Two

Eoin Purcell

This is Part Two in a series (currently of indeterminate length but I suspect five) of posts. Read the first, Here.

The Categories
I promised at the end of my last post to offer up some analysis of the ICM in terms of categories and trends. The first thing to say about this is that I don’t think people will be surprised by the list in the image below. It reflects the top ten best-selling categories in the 2008 ICM. The image is small but clicking on it will take you to a google document that will have quite a lot of other data as this series moves ahead.

The Top Ten Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000
The Top Ten Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000

What strikes me as the most interesting part of this top ten categories is that the overwhelming winner is General & Literary Fiction. At 30.9% of the Top 1000 it is 3 times larger than the next biggest, Crime & Thriller, which is also fiction. If you add in Young Adult Fiction and Childrens Fiction to the mix, fiction makes up a solid 47.29% of the Top 1000. Impressive no?

Interestingly, Autobiography of all varieties makes a solid appearance in the top ten, which is not all that surprising when you consider that it includes titles like:

    Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything
    Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes
    The Diving-bell and the Butterfly
    Parky: My Autobiography
    Would the Real Gerry Ryan Please Stand Up
    My Booky Wook
    Ronan O’Gara: My Autobiography
    Carra: My Autobiography
    Sonia: My Story

Yes readers, the celebrity publishing is alive and well in Ireland, just in case you thought we had a more literary bent here in Ireland.

What does the top ten not show us?
Well for one thing we miss the fact that the 11th most popular category was True Crime. I’m not surprised by this and I suspect most people would not be either. The rest of the top 20 is a bit more diverse. But the number of units and the percentage of the market these categories represent slide rapidly towards less than 1% of the whole ICM Top 100.

The Top 11-20 Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000
The Top 11-20 Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000

Which neatly brings me to the core message this category analysis exercise MIGHT suggest, that publishing fiction is a good route to success. After all fiction seems to account for the bulk of the Top 1000 sales. On the face of it that makes sense, but I’m not so sure about it. However I think I will leave the next post to explain why that is the case.

Two very interesting meetings today,
Eoin

Eoin’s Christmas Recommendation – Non-Fiction

Eoin Purcell

First Things First
So I’ll get the shameless self promo out of the way from the get go. I heartily recommend my own addition to the Food & Drink genre, Our Grannies’ Recipes. It is a wonderful collection of recipes gathered and collated from ourgranniesrecipes.com and set beautifully in a hardback b-format for the relatively decent price of €14.99 (I hear H&H are selling it at €12.99). Whatever price you get it for, Age Action Ireland will get €1 for each and every copy sold. That’s good news I like to think. Not much chance of it getting to you by post so drop into your local bookstore and buy it there.

Our Grannies' Recipes
Our Grannies' Recipes

Other Great Ideas
Given the tumultuous times publishing is passing through I thought it might be nice for those who enjoy books and the bookish life to read Gabrieal Zaid’s So Many Books. It is a great read and well worth the tiny amount of time and effort you will expend reading it. So Many Books is a really nice company whose slogan is, Publish Few But Wonderful Books. There is a lesson in that for us all!

So Many Books FCP
So Many Books FCP

I have a weakness for Niall Ferguson so I could hardly write this post and not mention his rather great looking,The Ascent of Money. I think they rather smartly retooled the TV series to make this appear a far more skeptical tome than had originally been envisage, but I’ll wait until I have read the text to judge that.

The Ascent of Money FCP
The Ascent of Money FCP

I read and loved Adam Zamoyski’s Warsaw 1920. It is a really excellent book that in a short few pages paints a picture of a forgotten conflict that might have had much further reaching effects were it not for the cataclysmic World War Two. Alternatively you could conceivably make the case that the world would be different for the better now but I hesitate to suggest that, the Europe of 1920 was hardly ready for a war with Russia the like of which it would have had to face had Poland succumbed to the ALMOST unstoppable juggernaut.

Warsaw 1920 FCP
Warsaw 1920 FCP

A smaller list than normal this year. The sheer volume of good material made me lean in the direction of the truly great stuff. I hope no one minds.

Fiction tomorrow,
Eoin

Serious Non-Fiction: Doomed?

Eoin Purcell

Bodley Head thinks not
I’m honest enough to acknowledge that if I was the average buyer of books, our industry would be in a fairly fantastic position. Firstly I buy too many (even with a mostly effective book buying bar I’m tallying about 5 or 6 a month) and I buy expensive (a weakness for serious non-fiction and hardback new release genre fiction). I’m rarely swayed by 342 offers unless someone does it across the range when I take advantage to pick up a selection of backlist titles I have eyed for a while (mostly non-fiction).

In any case, I am not the average reader and that makes for a tricky time for serious non-fiction publishers. In fact there have been some signs that serious there will be thin times ahead and the dumping of books by W&N as mentioned twice before on this blog is just the tip of the iceberg.

There is an interesting piece in today’s Independent (the London variety) which paints the market in a very negative light:

Anecdotal evidence abounds that high-quality works of history fail to arouse the level of support in the retail trade that they once did. That, in turn, inhibits editors who seek to commission more of the same.

Dissing retailers is easy enough for most book people but the really harsh words though are reserved for publishers:

Too often, even the most dedicated houses have been content to print good popular history rather than really publish it. That attitude no longer suffices. Given high-street resistance, 50 per cent and more of likely sales for many top-notch histories will soon come from online outlets. Which means that publishers have to toil to recruit and retain virtual communities with a passion for the past.

All this makes the relaunch of Bodley Head as “a list devoted to quality non-fiction” quite a strange and perhaps a brave move. You will find a fascinating article on the topic by imprint publishing director Will Sulkin in Publishing News:
So why The Bodley Head? Why now? What does Random House think it’s doing?

Well, for a start, if you’re a major player in any field then you need to know you’re playing with a full deck. We didn’t have a World’s Classics list, so we started Vintage Classics. (And what a success that’s turning out to be.) We haven’t had a Penguin Press, so we’re launching The Bodley Head.
And this, for the first time, allows Random House to concentrate its formidable resources on the acquisition, design, marketing, publicising, production and selling of quality non-fiction – to become a specialist in the field. It gives the likes of Misha Glenny, Jonathan Powell, Roger Penrose, Karen Armstrong, Simon Schama, Nicholas Stern, Stephen Greenblatt, Norman Davies, et al a purpose-built platform for their wares – somewhere the texts can be hand-crafted and polished by a peerless editorial team and sent out into the world in the best shape and with the best chance of reaching the broadest possible readership.

I like the idea here. Basically he is saying We did it because we could!! How is that for confidence? You have to admire the ambition too.

Hoping it works,
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 6/04/2008

Eoin Purcell

More from the guardian on the Weidenfeld & Nicolson story I wrote about before
Here

The Irish Independent comments on the shortlists for childrens literature prizes (i disagree in places, no doubt it will be clear where)
Here

The hype surrounding Robert Miller’s coming imprint and the reality (Judge which is which for yourselves)
Here and Here

An interesting little rant on the current status of some hallowed Company/Imprint names
Here

Liking time
Eoin

High Society – The kind of press you don’t need

Eoin Purcell

UPDATE: THIS IS GETTING QUITE CONFUSING NOW. I WAS ON LUNCHTIME WITH EAMON KEANE COMMENTING ABOUT IT. MY ONLY TASK WAS TO SAY WHAT I WOULD HAVE DONE IF PRESENTED WITH THE BOOK. I’M FAIRLY SURE G&M DID EVERYTHING I SUGGESTED.


Publishing is about risk

The risk of losing money and of a book flopping, the risk of missing the market and in some cases, the risk of believing someone you shouldn’t and taking the brunt of that when your error is uncovered. This has blown up in publishers faces recently. The James Frey episode being a glaring example of it. What seemed a true and exciting memoir was in fact an embellished, only partly true account.

There is no evidence that that is what has happened in the case of Gill & MacMillan’s recent book The High Society. In this case, it seems not to be a case of lying. By the account of RTÉ and G&M there are, at the very least, contemporaneous notes about every interview conducted for the book and accompanying TV series. That satisfies me if not others, we have always trusted journalists notes and I don’t see why we shouldn’t in this instance.

But it still must be unsettling when stories like this one emerge about a very controversial book:

RTÉ and Gill & Macmillan declined requests to see interview transcripts claiming confidentiality agreements, but they both said they remained confident about the authenticity of the material.

And when the follow up is a clip of the author on radio saying something that turns out not to be the case, its damn worrying. After all, we operate on a trusting basis with most authors and we rely on their word.

Feeling a little bad for G&M, RTÉ and Justine Delany-Wilson today, the whole affair strikes me as a concentrated effort to bring doubt onto a book that challenged the “great”, the “good” and the powerful in Ireland to face up to and tackle our Drugs problem (though the whole thing will most like sell more books).
Eoin