After 20 years as publisher at Virago, the “inspirational” Lennie Goodings will step back from the role, taking on a new position as Virago chair, working three days a week. Deputy publisher Sarah Savitt will step up to replace her, the company has announced.
Goodings has described Savitt as “my perfect successor” and she will now join the Little, Brown board, reporting to m.d Charlie King. Goodings will remain on the board, also reporting to King, and will continue to edit and publish her authors alongside some new commissioning. The changes will take effect from 3rd July.
The two other members of Virago’s commissioning team will report to Savitt: Donna Coonan, editorial director of Virago Modern Classics, and commissioning editor Ailah Ahmed, who continues to report to Clare Smith for her Little, Brown titles.
King said: “Lennie has always been, and remains, an inspiration to us all. She is a uniquely brilliant publisher who has made a truly outstanding contribution not just to Virago and Little, Brown, but to our wider cultural landscape.
“Although she has decided to step down from her current role, we are absolutely thrilled that Lennie is staying on as Virago chair, and equally thrilled to have appointed Sarah Savitt as her successor as Virago publisher. Sarah has got it all: a finely-tuned editorial sensibility, razor- sharp commercial instinct, great industry relationships, and first-rate management and leadership skills.”
He added: “We could not have found a better successor to Lennie; Sarah has already added a great deal to Virago in her time here, and I am so excited to see what she and the Virago team will do for the list in the years to come."
David Shelley, who will soon take over from Tim Hely Hutchinson as Hachette UK chief executive, praised the “singular job” Goodings had done with Virago. He said: “She has kept the imprint perennially fresh, relevant and at the cutting edge – and one of the extraordinary things about her achievement here is that, more than 40 years after Carmen Callil founded it, Virago is stronger and more successful than ever. I do also want to pay tribute to Lennie’s unique skills as a publisher: her empathy with authors, her relentless drive to get their books into the hands of as many readers as possible, and her absolute passion for Virago and all it represents.
“I admire and support the appointment of Sarah Savitt as publisher and am extremely pleased we will retain Lennie as Virago chair.”
Goodings began at Virago when it was independent and has stayed through all of its subsequent incarnations: when it was part of Chatto, Virago, Bodley Head and Cape (CVBC) and briefly owned by Random House. She was one of the management buyout team with Rothschild Venture and has been publisher since the board sold the company to Little, Brown, where Virago has been an imprint since 1995. Her authors include, among others, Margaret Atwood, Sarah Dunant, Lyndall Gordon, Linda Grant, Marilynne Robinson, Rachel Seiffert, Sandi Toksvig, Natasha Walter, Sarah Waters and Naomi Wolf.
She said: “Virago is dear to my heart and it's important that I see into place a publisher with the right sensibility and talent who can take Virago forward. Sarah Savitt is that publisher.
“I feel in Sarah that we have found my perfect successor. She's a great editor with real publishing vision right across the range that Virago has made its own, from prize-winning literary novels to polemic – and I know that she, along with Donna Coonan, will keep the Virago spirit alive and well. I am pleased to go on working with them and Ailah Ahmed in my new position as chair.
“I will edit and publish my existing authors – something I love to do – and look forward to commissioning some new ones too.”
She added: “I am proud to continue being a Virago and a champion of women’s talent – particularly in the current climate.”
Savitt began her editorial career at Faber & Faber and was chosen as a Rising Star by The Bookseller in 2014. After working at Headline as publishing director for fiction she moved to Virago last year where she has acquired authors including June Eric-Udorie (with Ailah Ahmed), Carrie Goldberg, Lauren Graham, Caroline O'Donoghue and Sonia Purnell.
Savitt said: “Joining Virago last summer was a dream job for me: I've always loved and admired the list and its ambition, as a publisher, as a reader and as a feminist. I have enjoyed working with Lennie immensely over the past year and have benefitted greatly from her deep experience and evergreen curiosity.”
She added: “I am honoured to be Virago’s publisher and I look forward to working with Lennie, Donna, Ailah and the wider Virago team, and our exceptional stable of authors and agents, to build on Virago’s unique history and take it into the future.”
Virago was founded by Carmen Callil in 1973 and has more than published 3,500 titles. The BBC Four documentary, ‘Virago: Changing the World One Page at a Time’, was aired to great acclaim in October. It starred the original Virago team including Goodings, Carmen Callil, Ursula Owen, Harriet Spicer and Alexandra Pringle, now editor-in-chief of Bloomsbury in a series of frank interviews.
The shake-up follows the last week’s news that Hachette UK’s c.e.o, 63-year-old Tim Hely Hutchinson will be replaced by Little, Brown’s Shelley, aged 41.
Earlier this month, The Bookseller explored claims that age was an issue in the publishing workplace, with older staffers in publishing being “thinned out”. At the time, agent Clare Alexander of Aitken Alexander Associates said: “…I am very aware my peer group in UK publishing is disappearing. Some are going to three-day weeks, some are retiring, some are being pushed out. Why is US publishing not pushing people out, and British publishing is?”
Dan Franklin stepped back from the role of publishing director at Jonathan Cape only last year, at the age of 66, and continues to work a part-time week as associate editor with his raft of stellar authors. Asked about the wider industry environment, he said: “I agree there is a bias towards youth at the moment, but that seems somehow inevitable in a world that has embraced the new world of social media so totally, while the old channels for promoting books (literary pages, Midweek etc) are disappearing.”