The Literator: Inside Publishing

Click to follow
The Independent Online
You haven't won yet, Tim

It will be mid-February at least before Tim Waterstone knows whether his bid for the bookshop chain that bears his name - but which WH Smith's owns - has been successful. However, the entrepreneur is, as ever, confident of triumph. So much so that Waterstone has put his grandiloquent six-volume novel, The Emerson Chronicle, on hold. The sextet - billed by agent Ed Victor as the late-20th century equivalent of The Forsyte Saga - was to have been completed next autumn, when the first of the six was scheduled to be published by Orion. Editor Rosie Cheetham will have to wait.

Smith's values the 200 Waterstone shops at pounds 300m. Founded by Tim Waterstone in 1973 with pounds 10,000 borrowed from his former father-in-law, Waterstone's was sold to WHS 16 years later for pounds 49m. It has increasingly been seen as the jewel in the group's now rather tarnished crown, with sales of pounds 200m last year and growth of 8 per cent. Thus, WHS's demerger announcement last autumn, in the face of Tim Waterstone's bid for the whole group, was something of a shot in the foot, since it played into the predator's hands, so to speak.

But Waterstone should not count his chickens: there are many who predict that the American giant Barnes & Noble will ride in with a cheque, thus getting even with its rival Borders, which last year bought Books Etc and this week announced plans to open 20 superstores in the UK over the next three years. The consolation prize for WHS may be the purchase of the station bookstalls currently owned by Menzies, which has just announced its own plans for a demerging and selling off of the business.

What's brewing, Whitbread?

Tomorrow evening literary London will troop into Whitbread's City HQ for the announcement of the pounds 21,000 Book of the Year. This year's favourite is Jim Crace's Quarantine, which was also shortlisted for the Booker, though with the exotic mix of final round celebrity judges, which this year includes Edwina Currie, you never can tell.

Whitbread has added to its always impressive hospitality by creating a cocktail in honour of each contender. "Q", the Crace special, is a mix of vodka, blue curacao and grapefruit, while champagne, triple sec and cranberry make up "Hugo's Ego", in honour of Graham Robb's biography, Victor Hugo. Paula Melville's The Ventriloquist's Tale is celebrated with "Ventriloquist", a rum-based number, while the Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes (a topical presence) is feted with "Ovid's Tale", a mix of banana and rum to mark his collection Tales from Ovid. Children's authors will, quite rightly, have to make do with the non-alcoholic "Whitbread Fizz".

Ted coughs up at last

Huge relief this week at Hodder Stoughton. The former prime minister Sir Edward Heath has delivered the manuscript to his autobiography - though updating will continue until as close as possible to publication in time for this autumn's conference season. And events in the Conservative party move exceeding fast these days - unlike Sir Edward, who has been promising his memoirs ever since he left office a quarter-century ago. At least he has beaten John Major, who has only just started on his.

Red faces over productivity

The Bookseller-sponsored annual survey of employee productivity in Britain's publishing houses reveals the faintly embarrassing fact that Whitaker, owner of The Bookseller, is one of the worst performers, with sales of just pounds 67,231 per employee, down 2 per cent on last year. Top for the second year running is Little, Brown (publisher of Kevin Keegan, Iain Banks, Patricia Cornwell and Douglas Hurd, among others) with a whopping pounds 356,701. The average is pounds 146,302, up 5.5 per cent on last year. Down 40 per cent, however, is none other than O'Mara Books (pounds 167,619), despite the best efforts of Andrew Morton. HarperCollins, which lately seems to have metamorphosed into the publishing arm of the Conservative party, apparently declined to participate.

Cash pours in for Book Day

Preparations for the second World Book Day, 23 April, are well under way, with plans to give pounds 1 book vouchers to 12 million youngsters in the 4-18 age group and an all-day celebrity reading at London's Globe Theatre well in train. Some 30 publishers have contributed money, along with agents and book clubs, while Securicor Omega Express is providing free distribution of the 55,000 information packs that will shortly begin going out. The total pot stands at around pounds 600,000, with many publishing houses contributing pounds l5,000 each. Inexplicably, however, the Orion Group has declined to cough up.

A stash for Lily's handbag

Lily Savage, the peroxide broad from Birkenhead, will spend the next few months coupled with her word processor. For she/he - real name Paul O'Grady - has signed with Headline to write a full and frank autobiography, a book that will surely be a contender for the bestsellers list next Christmas.

No word on the advance, but her editor said this week that "it's enough to keep Lily in Chanel handbags for some years yet".