In England: The Society of Authors’ CEO Nicola Solomon is Retiring

In News by Porter Anderson

The 12-year CEO of the United Kingdom’s trade union for writers, illustrators, and translators, announces a coming retirement in April.

Nicola Solomon. Image: Society of Authors

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Harris: ‘Energy, Passion, and Formidable Knowledge’
News released today (October 4) by the Society of Authors in London is that the union’s longtime CEO, Nicola Solomon, will step down at the end of April. She will have held the position for 12 years, since taking it up in 2011, and the organization’s staff says that a search and recruitment program for a new chief executive to succeed Solomon is now in play.

If anything, Solomon has demonstrated the peculiar balance of a “labor boss” and a culturally astute personality that are needed in the person who helms a trade union of this kind.

The Society of Authors’ membership has grown by nearly 40 percent during Solomon’s tenure from 9,000 in 2011 to 12,400 today, the staff tells the news media.

Easily one of the most interesting distinctions about this writers’ service organization is the revenue stream that the organization derives from its management of 58 literary estates of some of the greatest luminaries in English-language letters, including those of Virginia and Leonard Woolf; St. John Ervine; WB Yeats; TS Eliot; John Wood; and, greatest of all, George Bernard Shaw.

Another interesting and related role taken on under Solomon’s leadership has been the administration of a broad raft of British book and publishing awards programs. As our internationalist readership is aware, the United Kingdom’s publishing industry is easily the world’s leader among avid bookish award enthusiasts. Making itself an operational hub for so many of these prize regimes, the society has created an important, appreciated role for itself and apparently bringing in some revenue to this writerly program.

By comparison, an organization such as the New York-based Authors Guild must rely on other models of income production for the essential advocacy and legal services it provides, although the two programs frequently have operated in impressive concert on various issues, especially in recent years under guild’s leadership of CEO Mary Rasenberger, Solomon’s counterpart.

At the society, Solomon’s direction has included the development of the Authors’ Contingency Fund, for which her offices today report that she led efforts to raise more than £1 million (US$1.2 million) during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. The society says that more than £300,000 (US$363,900) is awarded to authors in financial straits annually from that fund alone.

The Society of Authors during Solomon’s tenure also has been recognized as taking a notably holistic approach to its community, supporting illustrators as well as writers and, as Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, for example, literary translators who clearly deserve credit on book covers of works they translate. Behind such efforts, Solomon has been a stable, supportive, intelligent presence, frequently–as is so often the case in creative talent management of all kinds–needing to work as much in cat-herding mode as in the decisive authority respected by state and corporate players.

Intellectual Property and Media Law

The society’s media messaging today is pointing out that Solomon’s work has included a strong emphasis on supporting author communities and connections, bringing thousands of members together in local groups, national events and professional forums, while expanding the union’s public affairs capabilities to react swiftly and knowledgeably to a changing world, most recently in the area of artificial intelligence. Under her leadership, her offices write, “We have extended our work in the devolved nations, with employees in Scotland and Northern Ireland now working directly to support and lobby for authors in those areas.”

Solomon’s focus on intra-industry development has included driving author payments for festival appearances; securing private label rights on ebooks; setting up the “AuthorShare” program to pay royalties on used book sales; initiating the “Creator” campaign for fair contract terms; and working on cross-industry sustainability.

She also has become a go-to expert in areas as disparate as data protection and contract law. She has served as a deputy district judge and chair of the Creative Rights Alliance and a board member of the International Authors’ Forum and British Copyright Council. Solomon is a solicitor by trade, formerly with the media firm Finers Stephens Innocent, and she has extensive experience in intellectual property and media law. She studied law at the University of Warwick.

Solomon also has suffered nattering questions at inopportune hours from journalists (this reporter may be one of them), and has often managed to display a sense of humor while working with an industry that generally prefers the performative gratification of melodrama.

In a prepared statement for today’s news, the society’s management committee chair, author Joanne Harris, is quoted, saying, “Nicola has been an incredible force for change since the day she joined the Society of Authors.

“Her energy, passion and formidable knowledge of law and industry have led the modernization of the Society of Authors during a time when developments across the creative industries, falling author incomes, and a cost-of-living crisis—as well as a panoply of existential threats to authors’ careers—have made trade union support more essential than ever.

“Nicola will be hugely missed, but she can rest assured that she leaves a Society of Authors that is more ready and resilient than ever to serve our members.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Society of Authors is here, on the United Kingdom’s market is here, more on book and publishing awards programs is here, and more on authors and writers is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.