Wednesday, 31 December 2008

2008 : TVFH Literary Highlights

A subjective, unweighted and entirely personal selection of some of the news stories in publishing from 2008.

January :
Scottish author and stand-up comedian A.L. Kennedy won the 2007 Costa Book of the Year award for her fifth novel, Day; the story of a former RAF prisoner-of-war returning to Germany to confront his demons. Catherine O'Flynn won the first novel award for 'What Was Lost' and Ann Kelley's 'The Bower Bird' took the Children's award.

Margaret Truman Daniel died January 29, 2008. She was known for her mystery novels such as 'Murder at the White House' and was the daughter of President Harry Truman.

The 'Writers' strike' ended on February 12 by the Writers Guild of America, representing film, television and radio writers working in the United States. More than 12,000 writers joined the strike which had lasted 100 days.

Writer Kate Christensen won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, an annual prize for U.S. authors, for her novel The Great Man. The story is a satire skewering the art world, biographers and the myth of greatness in artists. Christensen, from Brooklyn, N.Y.received US $15,000 with the honour.

Arthur C. Clarke died aged 90 in Ski Lanka on the 19th March.

Gary Gygax the author and game creator died March 4, 2008. He was the co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons and writer of many game-related books.

The London Book Fair was held at Olympia. Notable rights deals included, the acquisition by Clara Farmer at Chatto & Windus of a mesmerising literary debut by former prison warden Anna Lawrence Pietroni from Tina Bennett at Janklow & Nesbit. Charlotte Cole at Ebury secured a memoir by Bel Mooney about her recovery from the breakdown of her marriage to broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby. Ebury acquired the book at auction, with four other publishers bidding, paying a "very large five-figure sum" for UK and Commonwealth rights in a deal done with Patrick Walsh of Conville and Walsh. Nick Davies at Canongate pre-empted a book by a Canadian journalist, John Geiger, about strange near-death experiences. Bloomsbury bought a new book by Kate Summerscale, author of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. And Kirsty Dunseath, publishing director at Weidenfeld & Nicolson acquired 'I Do Not Come to You by Chance', by a young Nigerian author, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. Dunseath bought UK and Commonwealth including Aus/Nz from Angharad Kowal at Writers House, and they hope to publish the title in late spring/summer 2009.

Pulitzer Prize winner, Jhumpa Lahiri's book UNACCUSTOMED EARTH debuted at #1 on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction list.

And 550,000 copies of the book, co-written by professor Randy Pausch and WSJ reporter Jeffrey Zaslow, were in circulation at pub date. Hyperion worked at a breakneck pace to get the first of another 1.5 million copies in stores and the sell-out continued.


The Mystery Writers of America announced the 2008 Edgar Allan Poe Award winners. Best Novel was won by 'Down River' by John Hart (St. Martin's Minotaur).

'The Shack' stormed the bestseller lists based entirely on word of mouth and a marketing budget of $300. It reached #1 on the NY Times paperback list a year after it was published.

The Road Home by Rose Tremain won the Orange Prize for fiction. Seven of the 20 books which make the shortlist were by first-time authors, with Anita Amirrezvani, Sadie Jones, Lauren Liebenberg, Heather O'Neill, Dalia Sofer, Carol Topolski and Patricia Wood nominated for debut novels.

Tasha Tudor died June 18, 2008. Born August 28, 1915. She was the illustrator of classic children's books like The Secret Garden, she also wrote some of her own and won two Caldecott medals.


Salman Rushdie was named winner of the Best of the Booker award for 'Midnight's Children'. The shortlist of six books was selected by a panel of judges - the biographer, novelist and critic Victoria Glendinning (Chair), writer and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, and John Mullan, Professor of English at University College, London. The decision then went to a public poll. Midnight's Children won with 36% of the votes.

Melbourne became the second UNESCO City of Literature. The first was Edinburgh, awarded in 2004. Nam Lee in Australia linked live with Salman Rushdie in Scotland, in a pioneering live link between the two Cities of Literature and events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Melbourne Writers’ Festival in Australia.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died August 3, 2008. Born December 11, 1918. Wrote the controversial One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, won the Nobel Prize, expelled from the Soviet Union and lived in Vermont from the mid-70s until he returned to Russia in the '90s.

Patrick Ness's first novel for teenagers won this year's Guardian children's fiction prize. Ness's The Knife of Never Letting Go, in a world of information overload, beat Jenny Downham's Before I Die, Frank Cottrell Boyce's Cosmic and Siobhan Dowd's Bog Child to take the £1,500 prize.

It was announced that children's author Eoin Colfer is to write a sixth novel in the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series, seven years after the death of its creator Douglas Adams.

Previously unknown Agatha Christie recordings were made public. The reels of tape, over 13 hours long, were discovered by the author's grandson in a cardboard box during a spring clean-out at Christie's former home in Torquay.

JK Rowling won the case of copyright infringement of the Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, and Quidditch Through the Ages through publication of the Lexicon. They were awarded statutory damages of $6,750.00.

David Foster Wallace, the teacher, novelist, essayist and humorist best known for the novel "Infinite Jest," (1996) was found dead at his home. He was 46.

Google Book Search Agreement reached. $125 million will be used to establish the Book Rights Registry, to resolve existing claims by authors and publishers and to cover legal fees. The settlement resolved a class-action suit filed in 2005 by the Authors Guild, certain authors, and five major publisher-members of the Association of American Publishers against Google breach of copyright. The agreement paves the way for a whole new approach to books accessibility and distribution via the Internet, working with Publishers and authors involvement.

Aravind Adiga
has been named the winner of the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for The White Tiger, published by Atlantic.

Le Clezio won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Two weeks earlier Horace Engdahl, the Permanent Secretary of the Nobel Committee for Literature caused controversy when he told the Associated Press that American literature is, "too isolated, too insular," and American writers are "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture. He went on to resign in December.

Michael Crichton died of cancer on November 4, 2008. Born October 23, 1942. Best known for Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park and creating the vastly popular TV series ER.

The critic John Leonard also died of cancer. Died November 5, 2008. Born February 25, 1939. Writer for New York, Harper's, The New York Times and resident critic on Sunday Morning.

Economy related news hit the publishing world with various closures and layoffs. Random House Inc. had a significant in-house reorganisation. Harper Studio and Borders agreed a new no-returns policy, breaking the mould of the classic, global, book buying model.

Harold Pinter died. The 78-year-old playwright made his career with award-winning plays like "The Birthday Party" and "The Homecoming." He won the Nobel Prize in 2005, railing against President George W. Bush and then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his acceptance speech.

Julius Fast
also died in December. Born November 11, 1914. He won the first Edgar award for a mystery short story, mostly wrote popular nonfiction like Body Language and Sexual Chemistry.

JK Rowling launched 'The Tales of Beedle The Bard' on December 4th. This is potentially the last Harry Potter related book. Its sales raise funds for the charity JK Rowling helped found, the Children's High Level Group. It topped the UK Christmas book charts by an unassailable margin of 64,000, according to book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan, selling almost 160,000 copies in the week to December 20 compared to just over 95,000 from the second-placed title, Dawn French's autobiography Dear Fatty, bought for a reported £2m in 2007. The battle of the Christmas cooks was won decisively by Nigella Lawson, who shot into third place overall from 20th the previous week, helped by her BBC2 series Nigella's Christmas Kitchen.


The year draws to an end with many wondering what next? The news of closures, layoffs and general economic instability, with all the trends pointing to an ever deepening global recession touches the publishing world, as any other industry. But it's also been a year of gradual change, adaptation and acceptance. The Amazon Kindle and Sony e-Readers have become more established, and publishers have moved to increase the number of books available as digital versions. Simon and Schuster even opened a digital studio. The Google Book Agreement laid the foundation for a different future in e-accessibility. The Book Fairs of London and Frankfurt were business as usual, with new names, rights and deals being made, albeit, with fewer, high-end advances. 2009 may see further bookseller closures - who knows the future for Borders, or could have predicted the collapse of Woolworths? The coming year may see further restructuring, along the lines of thinning layers of management, such as at Random House.And it may see a fall in book sales. But there is much to look back on and much to look forward to. Events, new book launches and news.

My personal 2008 event highlights were visits to the London Book Fair to support the launch of a collaborative collection of short stories, and the Frankfurt Book Fair at which I had the opportunity to talk to people in various parts of the industry and experience some of the behind-the-scenes. I've enjoyed reading more diversely as part of a newly formed bookclub and being part of the team here at TVFH. It's been a wonderful opportunity to look at the publishing world from a different perspective. And it's that perspective we need to keep, despite challenges ahead in 2009. For writers, it's business as usual. Keep reading, and keep on writing. Wishing you all every success in 2009 and beyond.

And if you fancy a spot of book related fun, here's the Guardian's 2008 book quiz.

1 comment:

Mike French said...

Wow a busy year - and it has been great having you on team keeping us all up to date - not sure how you manage to keep your finger on the pulse in such a diverse and rapidly changing industry!