Author Jojo Moyes has pledged to save Quick Reads from closure by funding the adult literacy programme for the next three years.
The Me Before You (Michael Joseph) author offered to provide the costs of running the scheme after reading about its struggle to secure the £120,000-a-year needed to continue in The Bookseller last month. The money will ensure the campaign will be rescued from closure, and that coordinators The Reading Agency can commission another series of short and accessible titles from famous authors in 2020.
The author revealed she was was "completely dumbfounded" on learning of the scheme's closure and is believed to have donated around £360,000 to help it continue.
“Having written a Quick Reads myself [Paris for One, in 2015] and spoken to readers who had benefited from the scheme, I knew how important it was," she told The Bookseller. "It is relatively low cost and loved by authors, publishers and readers. At a time when libraries are ever more endangered, it seemed a completely regressive move to lose Quick Reads."
She added: "I can see how it helps reading because I get so many emails from people who have said they read my Quick Read title [to start with] and have gone on to other things, so I know my book won’t be the last thing they have read.”
Moyes described the scheme, founded by Penguin Random House chair Baroness Gail Rebuck in 2005, as a “'gateway drug’ because of how it takes people on to other things”.
“Recently I visited a women’s prison and the great constant was the lack of literacy,” Moyes said. “If you can’t read properly you are hamstrung on reaching out of poverty and disadvantage. Reading is such an important building block for success and for building empathy in children, empathy is often in short supply.”
The book trade reacted with dismay when it was revealed Quick Reads was closing after 12 years due to lack of sponsorship. For six years, between 2010 and 2016, Galaxy funded the campaign, but last year the company shifted its corporate social responsibility to cocoa producers in Africa and India. Contributing publishers then stepped in to help carry the scheme, along with private donations, but the programme required a long-term sponsorship of around three years, costing £120,000 a year, to continue, The Reading Agency said. An 18-month funding struggle followed but no sponsor was found until Moyes stepped in.
While Moyes did not wish to discuss the financial element of the funding, she revealed she had initially considered helping with the crowdfunding campaigns suggested by other book industry figures on social media, before speaking to The Reading Agency and realising it needed three years to stay afloat.
“I had wanted to do a literacy project for a while but didn’t have the time to devote to it and logistically it would be too difficult, so I knew that this would be a good idea.
“Some charitable projects fail because of woolly thinking or a lack of organisation, but Quick Reads was not one of those. It has a really well-run system and is supported by an amazing team. Because of the Arts Council funding there is a lot of data about how it works.
“The next week I said ‘how much do you need’ and they said three years and I talked to my husband and he was as passionate as I was.”
Moyes said she understood the “constant battle” with technological distractions many faced and encountered it herself with her three children, but she hoped Quick Reads and its emphasis on reading would “help people who are feeling tired from scrolling on their phones and always feeling connected, it is a chance to escape that”.
The writer revealed that The Reading Agency c.e.o. Sue Wilkinson was “very cool” when she rang up to offer the donation. “I thought I must have been one in a long list of people offering to do that," she said. “When I spoke to Sue later she apologised for seeming cool and said she had been in shock,” she said.
Moyes (pictured below) will also be meeting members of The Reading Agency team to see how she can be “most useful” to the scheme, such as taking on an ambassadorial-type role. “Rest assured, I will be contacting the authors I know to see how they can help,” she said.
“I will be an ongoing support to the campaign, I will be looking at how to strengthen the scheme and ensure that there is more funding found when the three years is up. I hope to make it as diverse and inclusive and as entertaining as possible. I am hoping that having the freedom not to think about funding… will mean that the team can be a bit more liberated.”
Rebuck told The Bookseller that she was “thrilled” with the news.
“In fact when Sue Wilkinson told me [three days ago] I had just stepped off the plane to New York and thought I was having a jetlag fantasy,” she said.
“I have enormous gratitude towards Jojo. You can see in all her books her faith in the human spirit and how invested she is in humanity, which is reflected in this decision. I hope she will bring fresh insight to the campaign over the next three years.”
On the future of the scheme and possible changes, Rebuck said it was "early days but there is everything to play for. We have an extraordinarily creative and engaged author on board”.
When asked if publishers should be sponsoring Quick Reads instead of Moyes, she said “let’s take it one step at a time”.
However, Rebuck (pictured below) called on publishers to continue supplementing the scheme financially, in the way they did following the withdrawal of Galaxy’s sponsorship. She has also said World Book Day (WBD) should begin supporting Quick Reads again.
“I would call on World Book Day, who gave £20,000 for many years, if they did this again this would ensure the relationship between children’s and adults’ literacy could continue. I hope that the contributing publishers will think again and carry on funding the scheme... and stand up to the mark and supplement this extraordinary and generous gift, to keep Quick Reads going.”
She added: “It is a lifeline to emergent readers, it is the only initiative of its kind, I am just really delighted that it will continue.”
Quick Reads authors have responded with enthusiasm to Moyes' gift. Kit de Waal, who wrote Six Foot Six (Viking) for this year’s campaign, told The Bookseller: “For those in publishing, it is literally a dream come true. It restores your faith in humanity and shows the dedication that authors have in their readers.
"What an amazing thing to do, I have so much respect for Jo – what an incredibly thoughtful and generous gesture. Those of us that make a difference it is great to have the opportunity to do something. For all those vulnerable readers and those who want something quick to read they can still feel like they matter.
Dorothy Koomson, who wrote The Beach Wedding (Arrow) for this year’s Quick Reads, described Moyes’ donation as “fantastic news”.
“I was really pleased and really grateful, it’s a wonderful and generous thing she has done not just for Quick Reads but for literacy everywhere,” Koomson told The Bookseller. “There is so much that needs to be done for literacy and the loss would have been devastating.”
Fellow Quick Reads 2018 author, Tammy Cohen of Clean Break (Transworld), told The Bookseller: "What an amazing woman. I was so thrilled to hear the news.
"Reading is not an elitist hobby, it is a fundamental human right and it changes lives. I am just so pleased the scheme will go on because it is amazing. There should be more schemes like this because it is something we can do to improve the lives of people everywhere."
Wilkinson said: “The moving testimonies from the public, authors and all of our partners last month demonstrated how much they value these wonderful books and how Quick Reads have touched so many people’s lives. As a charity, we are continually working to secure enough funding to keep our high quality programmes running and support the 1.4 million people who rely on our work each year, so this is an extraordinary gift.”
She added that it was "with a heavy heart" the Reading Agency took the decision to end Quick Reads last month, after seeking ongoing support for the initiative for 18 months. "We couldn’t be more thankful to Jojo for recognising the importance of the scheme and so generously providing the funding to enable it to continue," she said.
The Reading Agency’s chair Matthew Littleford said: “Quick Reads have never been so important; at a time when one in six adults doesn’t read for pleasure, they are an essential part of The Reading Agency’s life changing work to make reading accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds. We are extremely grateful for Jojo’s support, which will enable this valuable programme to continue for another three years, and look forward to working with her in developing it in the future.”
According to Nielsen BookScan, Moyes has sold 3.13 million books for £16.3m, with the original 2012 edition of Me Before You [Michael Joseph) her bestseller, shifting 913,785 copies. The author has also previously offered her cottage as a retreat for an aspiring writer, leading to successful applicant Candice Carty-Williams landing a six-figure deal with Orion last year.