Hope Eternal

<p>Every year in the late spring/early summer an expectant mother pigeon checks into the left-hand window box on the ledge outside our living room and attempts to raise a family. And every year, so far, disaster strikes: the egg fails to hatch, the window cleaner drives her away or the chick plunges to its doom on the pavement three floors below. But she never loses hope: the following year she'll be back to try again. Right now, she has two big fluffy chicks in the nest, flapping their wings as they get ready for their first flight.</p>
<p>I can only admire her persistence. It's a reminder of the bedrock of every publisher's creed, the unshakeable belief that this year's list will fare better than last year's. And it's precisely at this time of year that our faith is most severely tested. The list that looked so solid at budget time last year has developed alarming cracks and fissures. Our bestselling novelist is running behind schedule and won't be delivering until late August. The price tag on the promotional slots we're pitching for in the run-up to Christmas&mdash;if we're lucky enough to get them&mdash;exceeds the entire marketing budget for the year. The American blockbuster for which we paid a king's ransom has failed, like a dud souffl&eacute;, to rise above number 1,034 on the Amazon chart, despite a flattering review in the <em>Colchester Evening Echo</em>. Richard and Judy have unaccountably overlooked that heart-warming tale that reduced Maureen in publicity to tears at the sales conference. Tesco has turned up its nose at the stunning new matte-laminated, gold-foiled, embossed packaging we commissioned, at their suggestion, for our category-killing, chick lit wunderkind. And our TV chef has been relegated to a 7 a.m. slot on a double-digit Sky Channel.</p>
<p>Other than that, I'd say that things are looking pretty good. And next year's list is shaping up to be a real scorcher.</p>
<p>The other piece of really good news is the readership survey carried out by Manchester University and reported in the press last week. The research demonstrates that the percentage of people who read books in this country has soared over the past 30 years from 13% to 17% of the adult population. This will certainly put a spoke in the wheels of those who argue that we are a sunset industry. It means, if I've read the figures correctly, that only 8.3 of the next 10 people you pass on the street will never enter a bookstore. I do hope those baby pigeons will make it this year.</p>