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Just reward for small publishers

By Barbara Henderson

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Barbara Henderson with her latest book, published by Cranachan Publishing on the Isle of Lewis.
Barbara Henderson with her latest book, published by Cranachan Publishing on the Isle of Lewis.

The fevered anticipation was almost too much.

Cast your mind back to March 17, the day the publishing world held its breath. The British Book Awards were about to name the regional award winners of Small Press of the Year and Independent Bookshop of the Year.

Of course, this has been a year like no other. Forty-eight bookshops and 44 small publishers were shortlisted in a bumper year for innovation and resourcefulness across the UK and Ireland. Who would walk home with the win? Who would secure the runner-up Highly Commended spots?

The Nibbies, as the awards are affectionately knowns in the industry, are a big deal.

This year I had good reason to be even more invested. My own publisher, a family business called Cranachan Publishing based on the Isle of Lewis, was shortlisted for Small Press of the Year in Scotland, alongside fellow north-of-Scotland companies Sandstone Press and Little Door Books and The Wee Book Company whose director, Susan Cohen, originally hails from Inverness. Plenty of local interest then.

Perth’s Rymour Books, Edinburgh publishers Scotland Street Press and Charco Books completed the list.

What set these publishers apart? The nimble ability to react to the pandemic with clever ways of connecting with readers. Excellence too. My hearty congratulations to winners Charco Press!

The British Book Awards said: "Charco Press shows how indies so often lead the way in translations – in this case, of Latin American literature. It had a book on the International Booker Prize shortlist, it’s second finalist in the past three years, and also grew direct sales to its dedicated followers."

For a brief moment, I was a little disappointed for my own publisher – until I heard the news: across the whole of the UK and Ireland, there were five Highly Commended small presses, a prestigious accolade in its own right. My wee publisher was among them – the only one from Scotland!

Philip Jones, editor of the Bookseller and chair of the judges for the British Book Awards, said: “After a year like no other, the shortlist shows the strength, breadth and durability of small press publishing across the United Kingdom and Ireland.

"These businesses, all of them with sales under £2 million and many much smaller, fended off bookshop closures, the loss of author events and the national lockdowns to deliver an incredible set of results with book sales up, diverse publishing on the rise, and new business opportunities taken.

"The shortlist speaks to how driven and agile these businesses are, but also how well supported they are by readers, booksellers, and their authors and illustrators.”

Linlithgow’s bookshop Far from the Madding Crowd won Independent Bookshop of the Year in Scotland – another pin in the map for when restrictions ease! I will most certainly visit as soon as I can.

In other news, I have had a bit of a bizarre morning as I write this. A while ago I was asked to record a short ‘well done’ message for pupils of Mosstowie Primary School in Moray: a welcome as schools returned, a celebration of the achievements and resilience of staff, parents and pupils.

I duly did so and sent it off. The parent council edited it all together: author Lindsay Littleson, author Jeremy Strong, Graham Tatters (the chairman of Elgin Football Club), me – and then it cuts to…

Wait for it…

Usain Bolt.

I’m not even kidding.

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