John Seaton retires after 51 years in publishing

John Seaton retires after 51 years in publishing

Canongate head of backlist and inventory management John Seaton leaves publishing today (31st March), after exactly 51 years in publishing.  

"A legendary figure in the industry, Seaton started as a paid apprentice at Hutchinson in March 1970, when ISBNs were in their infancy, decimalization was a year away, and Harold Wilson was Prime Minister," Canongate said. "Thirty years at Penguin followed, broken by a period at Pan, as well as roles at Simon & Schuster, Faber and finally 10 and a half years at Canongate. Throughout he remained always in backlist publishing – though he still wishes a less downbeat term could be found." 

Seaton's partner Mo Siewcharran, director of marketing and communications at Nielsen BookScan, died in 2017, aged 59. The following year he launched the Mo Siewcharran Prize with social enterprise Creative Access to encourage young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue a career in the Arts. 

Seaton said: “I consider myself very fortunate, and for two main reasons: the people and the books. I view my time at Canongate as a sort of Indian summer, loving every minute of it. If it’s now retirement, I hope it’s only quasi-retirement; I don’t feel clapped out, and don’t want to stop entirely.”   

He told The Bookseller: “I worked for Penguin for 30 years altogether. Curating that backlist was like looking after the best library in the world. I left Penguin in 2005 and had a very good year at Simon & Schuster and regained my confidence that year, then Stephen Page had an idea for a Print on Demand (POD) backlist not just for Faber but elsewhere to make books available. In some ways that was the most exciting thing I did, I enjoyed doing it.” 

He said that he wants to remain in the sector. “When people say they can’t wait to retire, I don’t feel like that. I’m 71 and I don’t want to fully retire, I use this irritating expression ‘quasi-retirement’. I’m keen to do some mentoring, some of that has been lined up and am open to if people want help with their backlist management I am available. I would like to stay in the industry at a modest level. I want to put my knowledge and experience to some use.” 

He is keen to continue diversifying the industry in honour of his late partner. “Tragically my darling wife Mo died suddenly and so I set up the fund with the wonderful Creative Access under her name. There was also a writing prize we ran with Sharmain Lovegrove, which ran two years ago and didn’t run last year for obvious reasons but we are running it this year.” 

Jamie Byng, c.e.o. of Canongate said: “Working with John Seaton this past decade has been an endless education as well as a hugely enjoyable experience.   His affability and warm sense of humour can sometimes belie a ferocious determination and attention to detail that can border on the terrifying.  But his expansive knowledge, infectious curiosity, charming smile, love of great music and extensive collection of shorts are just some of the many things that I am going to miss sorely when he leaves us at the end of this month.  His departure truly feels like the end of an era although he is going to continue in a mentoring role which is a bright silver lining.” 

“It has been a privilege and a pleasure to work with John for the last ten years. He is at once a traditional gentleman and a very modern man.  At Canongate we will miss him for his dedication, his generosity, his vocabulary. He has passed on much of the benefit of his experience over the last few months. But as he enters semi-retirement, I wonder if there are enough hours in the day for his vast raft of interests; taming Surrey hills on his bike, lunch-time concerts at Wigmore Hall, visiting London’s historic sites with old colleagues. Or theatre, museums, The London Library, ale drinking, and hours of reading or jazz.  I don’t suppose anyone will ever come to me again with a request to change their hours to suit a Test match schedule. But that’s John; a quite unique character. He has been a wonderful colleague and I trust he will continue to be a wonderful friend.” Caroline Gorham, production and systems director of Canongate said. 

Seaton can be contacted on his own email: