Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Five Leaves' annual report

The cliche of our time for anything related to business is "difficult trading conditions", which assumes that in the past business people would say "goodness, that was an easy trading year". But, forgive me, this has been a year of difficult trading conditions. The first year after Borders shut its doors, taking 47 major book outlets from the High Street, saw Waterstone's sales stagnate. There are a lot of great independents out there but there is no doubt dtc had an impact on us. Our sales are up, about 20% by the look of things, which is no reason to be complacent (another business cliche, like in the past we might have said "this is the year to be complacent") as our output of titles was up. What was noticeable was that when a book sells badly in the trade, even by small press standards, it sells really badly. This is fairly new. I guess there will have to be even more focus on our writers getting out there to sell, sell, sell.
Still, there are not many publishers that can say they have increased their sales by 20% this year...

The other big change is that we now have a city centre office and a second worker, Pippa Hennessy. Pippa was employed mostly to do promotions, but it looks like she will end up doing everything, currently shepherding four of next year's titles through to publication.

Apart from the publishing side, Five Leaves has various other duties. Lowdham Book Festival, which we jointly organise, ran well in its first year without public funding. Audiences were as high as ever and we are looking forward to our twelfth year. A new project was States of Independence, a major day event for and with indie publishers, in Leicester, jointly organised with the creative writing team at De Montfort University. Several hundred people and fifty small presses were involved. States of Independence II will be on March 19th and there is likely to be a States of Independence series in Nottingham. I've joined the board of Housmans Bookshop in London, which looks like it is catching the wind of radical protest, with sales rising steadily, enabling the shop to become better stocked and better looking, though you will always be able to notice the difference between Housmans and Topshop. We did however, fail in attempting to open a new bookshop in Nottingham when the landlord withdrew the property (and then let it to Silky Hosiery!).

Our friend and author Colin Ward died in February, and we were involved in a large memorial meeting, which was mostly organised by Ken Worpole. In the New Year we will publish a pamphlet of the speeches at the memorial event. Five Leaves took the lead in organising a day event celebrating the life of Alan Sillitoe in Nottingham which was a great day, attended by 200 people. It would be nice, however, to have a year without memorial meetings not least as this year also saw a big event celebrating the life of Stanley Middleton, mostly organised by David Belbin.

Five Leaves published 25 books this year. Take away a couple of weeks for holiday and that gives you a book a fortnight. We've been busy.

The titles were: Rosie Hogarth by Alexander Baron (New London Editions); Scamp by Roland Camberton (New London Editions); Rain on the Pavements (New London Editions); Vintage by Maxine Linnell (young adult); Tolpuddle Boy by Alan James Brown (young adult); Revolution by Sherry Ashworth (young adult); Follow a Shadow by Robert Swindells (young adult); The Ivy Crown by Gill Vickery (young adult); Golem of Old Prague - new edition - by Baruch Simons and Michael Rosen (children's); Personal Copy by Ray Gosling; Poems of C Day-Lewis read by Jill Balcon (CD); Things to Say by John Lucas (poetry); Next Year Will Be Better: a memoir of England in the 1950s by John Lucas; Swimmer in the Secret Sea by William Kotzwinkle; Holocaust by Charles Reznikoff (poetry); Night Shift edited by Michael Baron, Andy Croft and Jenny Swann (poetry); Old City, New Rumours - poetry from Hull edited by Ian Gregson and Carol Rumens; 40 Years in the Wilderness: inside Israel's West Bank settlements by Josh Freedman Berthoud and Seth Freedman; Stratford: another East End by John Gorman (pamphlet); Goodnight Campers! - a history of the British holiday camps by Colin Ward and Dennis Hardy; No Return by Romek Marber (Holocaust memoir, Richard Hollis); Poems and Journals by Susan Alliston (Richard Hollis); Memories of Ted Hughes by Daniel Huws (Richard Hollis); The Rose Fyleman Fairy Book (Bromley House Editions); Jazz Jews by Mike Gerber

This was the first year of our Richard Hollis imprint, an autonomous imprint run by Richard in London. The arrangement is working well. The first book in the Bromley House Editions appeared, late, thanks to the curse of the fairies, though it is one of the most attractive and unlikely books Five Leaves has published. Whimsy has not heretofore been our strongest feature. The second BH book is a novel of the lace trade in Nottingham by the late Hilda Lewis and has been delayed until 2011.

Press and review coverage has ranged from the Observer through to the newsletter of the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. One of the most interesting results has been Mike Gerber's Jazz Jews turning into a monthly radio programme of the same name.
Much of our programme would not have been possible without the support of Grants for the Arts support from the Arts Council. We have serious concerns about the impact of Government cuts in arts funding as well as funding for libraries, the Booktrust and other areas of culture. This led Five Leaves to organise a protest letter by 100 local writers to Nottinghamshire County Council about their library cuts. We also signed a national letter signed by 1,100 writers and publishers against library cuts nationally. I am sure we will return to this subject in 2011.

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