Orion Publishing — one of Britain’s biggest publishing houses — seems to be in the press a great deal lately. This is probably due, at least in part, to the London Book Fair which kicks off at Earls Court next week. Firstly, we heard that Orion senior executive and publisher Jane Wood was leaving the company to join the young turks at Quercus Publishing. The Guardian reports today:
This start-up independent [Quercus], backed by publishing colossus Anthony Cheetham, continues to attract some of the most talented editors from the conglomerates. The latest recruit is Jane Wood, Orion’s fiction editor-in-chief, who will join former Hutchinson publisher Sue Freestone, and Jon Riley, who made his name editing the likes of Kazuo Ishiguro, Peter Carey and Andrew O’Hagan at Faber.
To howls of indignation from literary purists, a leading publishing house is slimming down some of the world’s greatest novels.
Tolstoy, Dickens and Thackeray would not have agreed with the view that 40 per cent of Anna Karenina, David Copperfield and Vanity Fair are mere “padding”, but Orion Books believes that modern readers will welcome the shorter versions.
The first six Compact Editions, billed as great reads “in half the time”, will go on sale next month, with plans for 50 to 100 more to follow.
Malcolm Edwards, publisher of Orion Group, said that the idea had developed from a game of “humiliation”, in which office staff confessed to the most embarrassing gaps in their reading. He admitted that he had never read Middlemarch and had tried but failed to get through Moby Dick several times, while a colleague owned up to skipping Vanity Fair.
What was more, he said: “We realised that life is too short to read all the books you want to and we never were going to read these ones.”
Research confirmed that “many regular readers think of the classics as long, slow and, to be frank, boring. You’re not supposed to say this but I think that one of the reasons Jane Austen always does so well in reader polls is that her books aren’t that long”.
Hmmmmm call me a purist, but this idea is perplexing.
Anyway, anyone who is anyone in publishing will be in London this week, and I’m looking forward to meeting my colleagues at the London Book Fair returning back to Olympia.
I’ll leave the last word to Joel Ricketts of The Guardian and The Bookseller:
Predicting the “big book” of the London Book Fair used to be tricky: would it be a breakthrough piece of science writing, a set of rediscovered war diaries, or a stunning literary debut? These days it’s much easier: simply name a celebrity who hasn’t yet written an autobiography. In 2006 the jaw-dropping pre-fair publishing deal was for Take That singer Gary Barlow, and in 2007 it is for Dawn French — at more than double the price. The bolshy comedienne will be paid a sum close to £2m for her life story by Century, the Random House imprint which brought us the record-shattering book by another comedian, Peter Kay. The theory is solid enough: French is a national treasure, who has won generations of admirers with The Comic Strip, French and Saunders and The Vicar of Dibley. She generates the feelgood factor, and her marriage to Lenny Henry adds the requisite personal interest. Yet does she inspire Kay’s kind of fervent fans, men and women of all ages, who helped him sell out a 180-night stadium tour? There’s no question that she’ll be in the Christmas 2008 top 10, but will she shift the books needed to recoup that £2m? Of course, none of these questions will trouble the thousands of international publishers descending on London for the book fair this weekend.