This year will see Quick Reads—the adult literacy campaign founded by Baroness Rebuck in 2006—looking to greatly expand its remit.
Not necessarily in its output. The model will remain largely the same, featuring a spread of big-name authors writing short, easy to read books with adult themes that will appeal to those who struggle with reading. The six books for 2017, which launch on 2nd February, include Jenny Colgan’s romance tome A Very Distant Shore, Dreda Say Mitchell’s gritty One False Move and Dead Simple, a crime anthology featuring stories by the likes of Clare Mackintosh, Mark Billingham and C L Taylor.
The key for Quick Reads programme manager Jo Dawson will be widening the project’s reach. She says: “Quick Reads has always relied on partnerships to get the books into the hands of people who need them most. That includes the publishers, authors and agents who work with us to produce the books, as well people in bookshops and libraries, to get them on the shelves. But there is more of a concentration [this year] about reaching adults who don’t go into bookshops and libraries.”
The key way that will be achieved is through Quick Reads’ link with literacy charity The Reading Agency (TRA) which it became part of in 2015. Quick Reads books are being used in TRA’s schemes World Book Night and Reading Ahead, TRA’s outreach programme that seeks to bring books into workplaces, further education colleges and prisons. This year, the Quick Reads books will once again be promoted directly to those organisations participating in Reading Ahead. But the big new workplace initiative is a greater link-up with unions. This year Unionlearn and Unison have purchased 18,000 copies of Quick Reads titles.
(Left-right) Pauline Martin from South Tyneside Libraries, Hazel Kjebekk and author Ann Cleeves
Karen Brodie, TRA’s head of adult reading and publishing partnerships, emphasises the importance of this outreach: “We have to go where the people are who perhaps aren’t confident enough to go into a library or a bookshop. It’s so exciting to see people through these programmes re-engaging, or engaging for the first time, with reading.” But library and bookshop support is still crucial. W H Smith, Waterstones, Foyles, Dubray’s, Eason, Tesco and a number of independents will run the Quick Reads promotion this year. In 2016, the Quick Reads titles sold a whisker under 53,000 units through BookScan, a 51% rise on 2015’s total. Partly this is down to market expansion; supermarket Tesco stocked Quick Reads titles for the first time last year.
Quick Reads has a number of backers, but 2017 will be the final year for sponsor Galaxy (owner Mars is changing its corporate social responsibility focus to cocoa growers). Dawson says “a number of exciting” potential replacements are being lined up. And author and Quick Reads commissioning editor Fanny Blake, who was a Quick Reads 20 inclusion in its two-decade anniversary year, has already signed up the 2018 tranche.
Ultimately, Dawson says the spread of partnerships—libraries, publishers, booksellers—is Quick Reads’ strength. She adds: “But the workplace push is really exciting. We live in difficult times, but unions and companies are really tackling skills shortages, and we really want to be a part of that.”
A panel discussion on Quick Reads and its crime anthology Dead Simple will be held at Foyles, Charing Cross on 8th February . Authors Mark Billingham, Dreda Say Mitchell, Harry Bingham and commissioning editor Fanny Blake will take part.