The Books are Alright

This spring it will be the job not just of booksellers, but of every single one of us to press books on others wherever we can. Not my words, but those of our associate editor and non-fiction previewer Caroline Sanderson introducing her May preview, a bumper crop made bumpier by how the lockdowns tend to concertina release dates into the available slots when high street booksellers might be open. My emphasis.

Caroline is right too, we will all need to lend a hand. If the growth in the number of titles we preview each week is anything to go by, then booksellers are going to be busier than ever when they unlock, with titles from Deborah Levy, Max Hastings, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Paris Lees, Kazuo Ishiguro, Dara McAnulty, Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé and Benjamin Dean just a few of the treasures awaiting booksellers when they open their doors in the spring. (For more of these check out our Buyer’s Guides, published at the end of January, or join us at the Springboard online event in the first week of March——at which booksellers will hear first-hand from our fantastic previewers what is exciting them for the season ahead.)

I doubt it is unique to our world, but there is a curious mood about the trade at the moment as we await the great unlock, with no real clarity around what the UK government will announce next week (or, indeed, how the devolved administrations will differ in their strategies), while in the background the vaccine rollout dukes it out with the new strains for supremacy over the national mood.  

Those publisher presentations I have attended so far this year have been heartening. I tend to leave the comment about the actual books to my better-read colleagues, but after what turned into a decent year for many publishers, the investment in new titles, the unearthing of fresh talent and the broadening of the lists is continuing apace, from the first of Sir Lenny Henry’s new children’s books (You Can Do Anything, Tyrone) to débuts from Greg Buchanan (Sixteen Horses, Mantle) and Kirsty Capes (Careless, Orion). This week we announced that we intend to introduce a Black authors’ preview in April, covering titles to be published from May this year to June 2022 (along with an LGBTQ+ spotlight). We may not want to clap too loudly—this week’s Publishers Association figures on the make-up of the industry make sobering reading in terms of representation—but the ability of publishers to quickly (OK, relatively) re-engineer their output during a time of lockdown and pandemic has been notable, and worth our further encouragement.

Of course, this goes beyond the books. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, more than half a million companies are at risk of collapsing by the spring unless the government extends support schemes until the economy has fully reopened. According to James Daunt, 80 of his 290 Waterstones branches could close when leases expire unless business rates fall. If this feels like a between-time, it is. The books are “alright”, the rest for now is a little less certain.