Do all publishers and authors live in Islington?

This is an article I wrote for the May issue of the Literary Review:

It never fails to amaze me how prevalent the notion is that publishers and writers live in one Georgian square in Islington and hand out lucrative publishing deals to each other over glasses of dry sherry. Last year there was an interview in the Guardian with a young writer called Samantha Shannon who Bloomsbury signed  for a vast sum of money. In it she mentioned that her agent was a friend of her father’s and she had met her editor-to-be at a party. This was taken by many in the comments section as evidence of nepotism.  As if publishers hand out six figure advances to their friends. I only wish it were like this.

Five years ago I had a book idea, an agent and a bit of time on my hands having been made redundant. My idea was to write a history of the British Empire told through booze. It would look at how the consequence of Britain uniting and becoming a great power was the creation of lot of delicious drinks. Scratch the surface of almost any drink, port, sherry, champagne, rum, and there’s a story about Britain. Everyone I spoke to thought it was a splendid idea. My agent was talking not about whether it would get picked up but for how much.  Two editors I knew read the proposal and said they could see it as a book (though they didn’t actually put any money down which should have rung alarm bells.) After much tweaking it went out in 2011 and then. . .  silence. Eventually word trickled back like the rumours of a defeat. They all said the same thing ‘ this is just the kind of thing we would have published ten years, five years, six months ago but the market. . . . ‘ Editors weren’t taking on unknown writers no matter how often they’d got drunk with them  at the British Book Awards.

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