To the V&A in South Kensington last night for the annual Orion Authors party where, as CEO Peter Roche pointed out, agents (220) outnumbered their clients (200). "What this says about the industry, I'm not sure," he told writers who included Kate Moss, Edna O'Brien, Michael Palin, Andrew Lycett and Max Arthur, and agents Sheila Crowley, Caroline Michel, Sophie Hicks and Bill Massey, all drinking champagne in the museum's entrance hall.
Distinguished trio: Lord Weidenfeld, with wife Annabel, left, and Lady Antonia Fraser
Guests also included Lord Weidenfeld and his wife, Annabel, who held their own private, mini-party, with Lady Antonia Fraser, over to one side of the hall. Weidenfeld & Nicolson will celebrate its 60th anniversary this year, when its co-founder (and owner of the finest eyebrows in the whole of publishing) will celebrate his 90th year.
Roche continued: "The received wisdom is that books are recession-proof and I think that view will be tested as never before in the coming months. The book market shrank by one-and-a-half percent last year, the first time it has done so in living memory. We expect a larger reduction this year and as we move forward into a foggy landscape we just have to hope that this downward slope isn't taking us towards the edge of a cliff.
"But we mustn't panic. The industry has been changing, and we have been changing our publishing to match those changes. We are taking steps to ensure that we don't waste money - but that doesn't mean we will be ushering in a period of joyless austerity: hence this party......" To which there were cheers all around.
Yesterday was arguably both a good and bad day for other parts of the Hachette Group. The news that Sceptre had arranged an exclusive deal with Waterstone's to sell the hardback of Glen David Gold's Sunnyside when it is published in July has led to an angry reaction from some independents. The trouble is, UK indies lack a body which speaks only for them, enabling them to act as one, so any talk of boycotting other Sceptre titles is unlikely to lead to any mass action.
Hachette UK CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson and Curtis Brown's Sheila Crowley
Yet it is also true that on a corporate PR front, the deal has not been good for Hachette. This is somewhat ironic, since indies admire the stance the group has taken in its long-running terms dispute with Amazon, and should remember too the backing it has given to Independent Booksellers Week. However, Hachette UK CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson cannot be too worried - when it comes to publicity for the book, the deal has been a masterstroke. Suddenly, everyone is talking about an author whose name often receives the reaction "Who?" .