Q&A with Myriad Editions

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Today I am delighted to welcome Candida from Myriad Editions to my blog. Myriad Editions is an independent publisher of original literary fiction, graphic novels, and ‘state of the world’ infographic atlases. Their stated mission is to publish excellent books that will change the way you see the world, to seek out homegrown talent and launch the careers of new writers from Brighton and beyond. Please read on to find out more. Their answers to my questions offer a fascinating insight into small press publishing today.

1. Why did you decide to set up Myriad Editions?

Myriad was set up in 1993 to produce the State of the World series of infographic atlases which meant that we had a solid business footing from which to expand into publishing twelve years later. When the company moved its offices from London to Brighton, we saw an opportunity to collaborate with the Brighton Festival and published The Brighton Book (2005), a mixed-media anthology of fiction, reportage, photography and graphics. The anthology was designed to celebrate the city and showcase new writers alongside well-known names, and it formed the basis and rationale for our publishing strategy: to seek out homegrown talent and launch the careers of new writers from Brighton and beyond.

Publishers are eager for debut authors now but ten years ago, just as creative writing courses were becoming increasingly popular, aspiring writers were finding it difficult to get their work published. Larger publishers then as now generally only accept manuscripts submitted by literary agents, and agents were finding it hard to place debut writers. With the international reach as well as the editorial, design and production expertise of a packager, Myriad was able to hit the ground running as a small publisher and it was exciting to be able to publish three of the authors whose work appeared in The Brighton Book: two debut novels (I Have Waited and You Have Come by Martine McDonagh and A Kind of Vanishing by Lesley Thomson) and Woodrow Phoenix’s first full-length graphic book, Rumble Strip.

2. What sort of books do you want to publish?

We want to continue publishing a range of fiction, from crime to literary, and expand to include literary non-fiction and memoir. We select books on the strength of the writing or art, and power of the storytelling. Our tagline is ‘bold, original and full of character’ and these qualities are what we’re looking for in every manuscript we read, be that a psychological thriller or a literary debut. There is nothing more exciting than reading a manuscript that is crackling with energy and keeps your attention far too late into the night, making you see the world differently, even for a moment. It is especially exciting to uncover new talent and launch a writer’s career. Our authors include Elizabeth Haynes, whose debut novel, Into the Darkest Corner, has been translated into over 30 foreign editions. Other successful Myriad debuts include London Triptych by Jonathan Kemp (winner of the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award), The Spider Truces by Tom Connolly (shortlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize), The Cloths of Heaven by Sue Eckstein (dramatised on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour) and The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock (shortlisted for the EDP-Jarrold East Anglian Book Awards).

Many of the graphic ‘novels’ we publish are, in fact, memoir. The form is a wonderful vehicle for exploring difficult subjects in imaginative and thought-provoking ways. It was heartening to see Una’s graphic memoir, Becoming Unbecoming, featured on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, shortlisted for the Emma Humphreys Prize and the Broken Frontier Awards, and voted Best Book of 2015 by Elle Magazine and many others.

We publish several graphic books that fall into the relatively new category of Graphic Medicine, including Ian Williams’ The Bad Doctor, Henny Beaumont’s Hole in the Heart and Nye Wright’s Things to do in a Retirement Home Trailer Park, and we’re actively commissioning more in this area.

3. How do you go about finding and signing authors?

We have an open-door submissions policy and encourage writers to submit their work to us directly. We also accept submissions from literary agents. We speak on panels at universities, festivals and through writing organisations, and these events help to put us in touch with writers who are just starting out on their careers or wondering how to get published.

We also organise two competitions for works-in-progress: the annual First Drafts Competition and, every two years, the First Graphic Novel Competition. These are a brilliant way for writers to get their work seen by industry professionals as well as a useful pathway for us to uncover promising new talent. We have worked with excellent and generous judges, the best in their fields, who enjoy this opportunity to step into another role. For example, novelists Ian Rankin and Meg Rosoff have been judges for our First Graphic Novel Competitions. We are currently reading submissions for the 2016 First Drafts competition. This year it has a crime theme and will be judged by some of the UK’s most prestigious writers in the genre: Elly Griffiths and Peter James as well as Myriad authors Elizabeth Haynes, Lesley Thomson and the 2012 competition winner Lisa Cutts.

4. Is your experience of marketing what you expected when you started out?

There have been tremendous changes in the book trade since we published The Brighton Book. Most notably, there were twice as many independent bookshops then as now; nearly 900 book shops across the UK have closed in the last ten years. In their place we have Waterstones, WH Smiths and Amazon, and marketing has become more centralised as a result. This can be challenging for small publishers: the books piled high in the shops and in the shop windows are not necessarily the booksellers’ choices but often as a result of publishers supplying massively discounted stock.

On the other hand, an unknown author can really take off on Amazon through a virtual word-of-mouth recommendation. This is what happened with the first crime novel we published: Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes attracted over 500 5-star reviews, won Amazon’s Rising Stars and was selected as Amazon’s Book of the Year. Success followed success with an auction for US rights, a period in the New York Times bestseller list, and an option for film rights sold.

It is much harder now than a decade ago to secure reviews because newspapers have so drastically cut available space. Digital editions and independent bloggers have grown to fill the vacuum, and small publishers like Myriad are hungry for online reviews and recommendations. When an author is active on social media they can help spread the word but what really helps kick-start a marketing campaign around a debut author is an endorsement from a well-known name. We are always touched by the generosity of authors in this respect; they are constantly asked to read manuscripts and each request steals valuable writing time. But to have a ‘name’ on the cover of an as-yet unknown author’s first book is a tremendous fillip.

Prizes are important, of course, and not only the major awards, such as the ManBooker, Costa or Bailey’s. We enter each book we publish for every prize it is eligible for: a prize listing is another way to bring a book to the attention of literary editors, festival programmers and the book trade.

For many authors, and certainly for the more literary authors, poets, graphic novelists, and for most small presses, marketing is all about handselling — at events and fairs and festivals. This can be a hugely rewarding experience for authors because they get to see and meet their readers, and they know that the signed copies will be treasured, especially if they come with a specially drawn picture from a graphic novelist.

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?

It is wonderful to see so many independent publishers and small presses thriving and creating a literary niche against the mainstream. Each one is different because the character of a publishing company is intrinsically bound up with the editors who are developing its list. Small publishers often focus on a particular area: Peirene, for example, brings us contemporary European novellas in translation, Persephone concentrates on twentieth-century writing by women, Comma Press publishes short stories.

With our graphics publishing, we have developed a niche around the Graphic Medicine titles. In contrast, our fiction covers quite a range of genres and often bridges the commercial/literary divide.

6. Latest trend or totally original – what sells?

The short answer is both. There is a glut of psychological thrillers with ‘girl’ in the title but the trend is so commercially compelling that I’m sure we’ll be seeing a few more. And this makes it all the more special when you see the success of a book that is bold and brave and completely original: Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing or Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, for example. Next month we publish a game-changing gangland thriller, We Go Around in the Night and Are Consumed by Fire by Jules Grant.

As any bookseller will tell you, there is no magic formula and often what sells is a mixture of timing, luck and a great cover.

7. Ebook or hard copy – what do your buyers want?

Until last year, we were selling twice as many ebooks as print books but these were the crime and more commercial titles. For literary fiction, people still want hard copies. And certainly those who buy graphic novels want the books because they are beautiful objects in themselves, rich with artwork, designed to the highest specifications and printed on high-quality paper with cover flaps.

8. Do you consider Myriad to be niche or mainstream?

At present I would say our graphics publishing is niche and some of our fiction nods towards mainstream. The theory is that the more commercial titles support the literary publishing but in practice publishing is an art not a science. We have to keep reading widely and copiously, trying to work out why one book has been successful whilst another has not been as widely recognised as we expected.

9. Collaborative or dictatorial?

Small publishers tend to be more collaborative and less hierarchical than larger publishers simply because there is always more work to do than people to do it. Everyone has to chip in and do their share of packing up and posting review copies, but everyone’s opinion counts when it comes to acquisitions.

We’ve found that collaborations with other publishers and arts organisations make things happen. Certainly without the University of Sussex we wouldn’t have been able to organise two First Fictions festivals, or to create the Quick Fictions app without Aimer Media helping to make it possible for us to try out the latest technology.

The most important people we collaborate with are the authors, and we include them in discussions about covers, design, marketing plans, and at just about every stage of the book and every step of the way.

10. Plans for the future?

We launched our 2016 list with Adam Baron’s incisive novel of the modern marriage, Blackheath, and we’ve just press released news about the next Elizabeth Haynes novel, a terrifying psychological thriller, Never Alone. Next month we have Douglas Cowie’s stunning novelisation of the dramatic love affair between Simone de Beauvoir and American writer Nelson Algren in Noon in Paris, Eight in Chicago.

Tom Connolly’s second novel, Men Like Air, which will be published in September, is already being heralded as ‘the Great British New York novel’. Will Volley’s masterly graphic debut, The Opportunity, is just out; in June, artist Henny Beaumont will be at the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival to talk about her memoir, Hole in the Heart: Bringing up Beth; and in July we have winner of the first Graphic Novel Competition Jade Sarson’s sexy comedy of manners, For the Love of God, Marie!.

As for long-term plans, this is an exciting time as we are looking at different ways to champion new writers and graphic creators. Market conditions are increasingly tough and we can’t always depend on the traditional bookselling routes. We want to expand our outreach through fruitful partnerships and collaborations. We’re keen to reach out to more diverse communities and encourage writers — new, aspiring and those who are only just beginning to pluck up the courage to put pen to paper — to submit their work to competitions and for publication.

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Thank you Candida 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: Myriad | Publishers of fiction, graphic books & atlases

Keep up to date with all of their news via Twitter: Myriad Editions (@MyriadEditions)

Over the next few weeks I will be reading these upcoming titles from their list. Do look out for my reviews.

We Go Around - cover     NOON IN PARIS_front

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

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