Questions for: Jon Woolcott

News - Interviews Tuesday, 20th October 2020

Jon Woolcott works for the publishers Little Toller Books, which on Tuesday 3 November opens a bookshop, also called Little Toller Books, in the Dorset town of Beaminster

Describe your current job
We're a tiny team at Little Toller so we all overlap one another's roles, but primarily I look after sales and marketing, and I also edit The Clearing, our journal for new writing about nature and place.

What was your first job in the book industry?
When I was travelling in Australia after university I got a job helping to run a bargain offshoot of an independent bookseller near Melbourne. We sold books by weight - $2, $3 or $4 a kilo, an approach which some might say influenced my later career.

Who has been the most influential person in your career?
I always take something from every place I have worked, and found inspiring, and sometimes difficult people in each workplace. Probably though it would be the late Alan Clifford, who ran the little chain Methvens before his tragically early death. 

How has the industry changed since your first job?
It's both the same and fundamentally different. When I began, we still had retail price maintenance and there was no internet, so looking back it felt cosier. We still thought it was the End of Days though.

What's the biggest challenge in your job?
Small publishers, and especially those outside London, struggle to get attention from the media, which remains very focused on the south east. But we try! And in the case of Dara McAnulty's Diary of a Young Naturalist we've been very successful. We tend to punch a bit above our weight, we hope. Overall, for small publishers the challenge is always the same: staying afloat, juggling the many balls. We're throwing a few more in the air this autumn by opening our own bookshop, in Beaminster, West Dorset.

What are the most interesting things you're seeing at the moment in the industry?
There's a deliberate, and overdue movement towards publishing more diverse voices, which will inevitably mean that the stories we read will be more varied and richer. 

What do you think might be the next big thing?
Publishers aren't good at predicting that, on the whole, so I think on this occasion I'll avoid being a hostage to fortune.

How do you think the industry will come out of the Covid-19 crisis?
The most important question is bigger than our industry, and that is: what will happen to our city centres and bookshops there that for so long have been the way that people discover their next books? It will have profound consequences for booksellers, and therefore for publishers. Predicting how this works itself through is some way above my paygrade.

What do you most like doing when you're not working?
Like many at the impecunious end of the sector I have a second job - working for Cranborne Chase AONB. Beyond that, I'm writing a book, like everyone else.

What is the best book you've read in the last year?
I really loved Melissa Harrison's All Among the Barley

What are you reading now?
Kerri ni Dochartaigh's incredible memoir Thin Places (Canongate, Jan 2021), Kathleen Jamie's latest, which makes me wonder why anyone else bothers with trying to write prose; and Dominic Sandbrook's Who Dares Wins, detailing the social and political history of the early Thatcher years.

How do you like to read: on screen, on paper, or do you listen to audio books? 
I'm pretty old fashioned like that - it's all about the paper for me. I save my audio time for music or podcasts (but only about books, naturally).

Photo of Jon Woolcott by Jay Armstrong

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