Q&A with David Shelley, CEO of Little, Brown and Orion

By   John Bond 3 min read

David Shelley joined Little, Brown as Editorial Director in 2005, after five years running the publishing at independent publisher Allison & Busby. Initially commissioning mainly crime and thriller novels and overseeing the audio and ebook lists, he became Sphere Publisher in 2007, then Little, Brown Deputy Publisher in 2009, and Publisher in 2011. Authors he has worked with include Mitch Albom, Mark Billingham, Dennis Lehane, Val McDermid and J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith. He was appointed CEO of Little, Brown and Orion in July 2015.

Image result for David Shelley1. You’ve been CEO of Little, Brown and Orion since last summer. Tell us about what your role encompasses on a day to day basis.

One of the (many) things I love about my job is that every day is different. So a day might involve a meeting of Little, Brown or Orion’s Publishing Board – where we strategize about company plans and creative direction. Or it might involve a catch-up with our CFO and a run-through of the current numbers, as well as budgeting for next year. Or it could be a presentation to an author and their agent. Or analysis of our sales strategy and data with our Sales Director and Commercial Director. I just love the variety of it, although this can also make time-management challenging, as you can imagine.

2. What have been the biggest changes in the industry you’ve witnessed during your time at Hachette over the last ten years?

Undoubtedly the biggest change from my point of view is the shift online – both in terms of ebooks and the rise of online retailing. There have been other allied changes too, including the rise and rise of audiobooks which are now so much more accessible to all as digital downloads than they were as bulky packs of tapes or CDs (or unsatisfying abridgements). I find this digital shift very exciting and generally, although there are inherent challenges, I do find any innovation that makes it easier for consumers to buy our authors’ books an exhilarating thing to witness.

3. Publishers rely on freelancers to help them with lots of their books. How important is the relationship between internal and external creative talent?

I think it is massively important and becoming more important all the time. The industry has definitely seen a shift in the last few years towards using freelancers, and I think this is a positive move in a lot of ways as it allows us to work with specialists on particular projects, as well, of course, as allowing us to manage our overheads effectively.

4. What, if anything, do you think traditional publishers have to learn from successful indie writers and self-publishing?

Lots! We already work with many previously indie writers, and they have had a huge influence on our business in terms of how we sell and market books online. In many cases it has been a great symbiotic relationship, with us both bringing something to the business partnership. We watch the indie publishing sector closely and we’d always welcome a discussion with authors who are interested in how we can work together.

5. With Frankfurt looming, tell us what you like most and what you like least about book fairs.

I like the social aspect most, as it is terrific fun to catch up with colleagues there. I find it particularly energising to discuss the books we’re publishing, or that are out on submission, with counterparts from around the world – and to hear more about the markets in their countries. It always makes me feel pleased to be part of such a vibrant, creative sector. I think people under-estimate the dynamism and strategic thinking in our industry and I love book fairs as they bring these elements of our business to the fore.

6. What should we be reading this autumn?

If you are an adult, I cannot recommend Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad (Fleet) highly enough – this is a book that will be read and studied in 100 years’ time. To show that I’m not thoroughly partisan I also recommend Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth (Bloomsbury) – she is one of my favourite living writers and this is one of her best.

John Bond
John Bond
John has been involved in publishing for more than thirty years. He held senior positions at Penguin and at HarperCollins, where he was on the main board for nine years, running sales, marketing and publishing divisions including the 4th Estate imprint and their stable of award-winning authors such as Hilary Mantel, Jonathan Franzen and Nigel Slater. He co-founded Whitefox in 2012 on the principle that the future of successful publishing would be based upon external managed services and agile, creative collaboration with the highest quality specialists. Nothing that has happened since has dissuaded him of this view.