Publishers come in all shapes and sizes, especially in the independent sector. Today I am delighted to welcome Andy from Byker Books to my blog. Andy answered my shout out for this series on Twitter and told me of his small press which aims to publish ‘Council Estate’ fiction by the best unsigned, ignored and unwanted writers in Britain. I was intrigued.
Without further ado, let us find out more about a publisher which prides itself in producing “industrial strength fiction”.
1. Why did you decide to set up Byker Books?
Way back in the mists of time, before e-readers were invented and everyone with a blog was a ‘publisher’, (or last week if you’re the taxman) a group of people from the North East of England who weren’t that enthralled by reading the memoirs of some ‘reality show’ nonentity came together…in a pub. I was one of them. We wondered aloud where the real writers were; the people we knew on the estate who loved the likes of Irvine Welsh and Alan Sillitoe and scribbled stuff around their jobs and household responsibilities. Then, after bitching for a bit, we actually decided to get off our arses and do something about it.
2.What sort of books do you want to publish?
The whole idea behind Byker Books was to give an outlet to writers of British fiction, mainly based around the estates and suburbs – I don’t know about you but I can’t relate to tales of boy wizards, ancient codes hidden in paintings, crap erotica based on colours or super-gorgeous teenage vampires. So we came up with a plan to put together short story collections that mixed new writers (the unknown and unhinged as we like to call them) and more established authors (which we achieved with the ‘Radgepacket’ series – now up to volume six) and then move onto novels. The whole point was to unearth and expose authors that simply weren’t getting a look in.
3. How do you go about finding and signing authors?
It wasn’t easy to attract contributions and submissions in the very beginning as people view you with suspicion (quite understandably really) and one online writers circle I approached basically told me to bugger off as they were going to be producing their own magazine (I don’t think they ever did incidentally and a lot of their members thus missed the opportunity to submit for Radgepacket.) We spent many a night going through the various writers reference books and emailing writers circles and clubs etc. I think the fact we got a couple of ‘star’ interviews early on gave us a bit of credibility and the chance to be alongside the likes of Danny King, Sheila Quigley et al helped bolster the quantity of submissions. Obviously we had naysayers left, right and centre telling us we wouldn’t get anywhere so, as typical Northern boys, the bloody mindedness kicked in and we ploughed on regardless of little things like not knowing how to use the software we’d blagged! We’ve taken a bit of hiatus over the past year but we’ve just announced a two-week submission window for next April which is already creating a buzz via our Facebook and Twitter accounts so we’re confident we’ll have more than enough to choose our next novels from.
4. Is your experience of marketing what you expected when you started out?
Marketing-wise, we’re basically rubbish. It’s changed a fair bit over the years as social media has become ever more prevalent but it’s something we’ve always struggled with – maybe because our books are little more ‘gritty’ than the mainstream – but it’s something we’ll be getting to grips with next year for sure.
5. There are a good number of small, independent publishers out there publishing some great works. Do you consider yourself different and, if so, how?
We’re a bit different to some of the others that have sprung up in recent years in that we don’t really chase the sales or the money. We are, and always have been, about publishing the ‘unknowns’. For instance our Radgepacket series was responsible for getting over one hundred (that’s 100!) authors into print and a number have gone on from that to get book contracts elsewhere – to me that’s our job done.
Having said that if Random House want to make an offer to buy any rights I’m all ears…
6. Latest trend or totally original – what sells?
We’ve never been trendy, well unless swearing’s back in? Our biggest seller to date was about a woman on a sink-estate who’s ex-husband started turning up in little bits and was described as ‘Shameless meets The Thorn Birds’…
7. Ebook or hard copy – what do your buyers want?
It’s much cheaper to produce an e-book than a hardcopy so you can tweak the prices accordingly and as a result we sell more Kindle books than physical paperbacks. In fact despite the bad press they get, I think Amazon have been a bit of a game-changer for the small presses and am pretty thankful to them.
8. Do you consider Byker Books niche or mainstream?
We’re definitely niche. The closest we got to mainstream was publishing a few Danny King books – he’s written films and TV series and was nominated for a BAFTA you know!
9. Collaborative or dictatorial?
We’re a curious mix at BB towers, I listen to other people’s opinions but if I don’t like them then we’re doing things my way. 🙂
10. Plans for the future?
As I said we’ve just announced a submissions window and are looking into two novels per year going forward. We’ve also had a bit of an idea regarding the Radgepacket series…but you’ll have to watch this space…
Thank you Andy for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about this small press, including details of their books, on their website by clicking here: Byker Books – Industrial Strength Fiction!
Keep up to date with all of their news via Twitter: Ed BykerBooks (@EdBykerBooks)
If you are an independent publisher and would like to be included in this series please check out my introductory post: Shout Out to Independent Publishers