Q&A with Tangerine Press

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Today I am delighted to welcome Michael from Tangerine Press to my blog. Tangerine is a London based independent publisher and bookbinder. They publish innovative, often maverick, titles in both trade paperback and hand bound limited edition formats. Please read on to find out more about a press that produces books as objects of beauty, as well as being excellent reads.

1. Why did you decide to set up Tangerine?

For the full story, we could go way back to 1996 when I ran a book mail order company called Tangerine Books, out of a little office in Battersea, south London. It was on an industrial estate, very cheap and I ended up living there too. I had a second job all that time in Elephant & Castle, spinning financial plates in other words. TB didn’t work out so in the summer of ’98 I threw the pc and hundreds of unread catalogues into a skip and entered the construction industry. But the literary itch was still there. Tangerine Press was founded in 2006. The initial impetus was a desire to publish new, neglected and innovative writing by authors I was interested in and felt weren’t getting the exposure they deserved. But I didn’t want Tangerine to be just another independent press, in the sense that it would churn out paperbacks or ebooks. I was a self-employed carpenter for 16 years immediately prior to going full-time with the press in 2013, so I was used to making things from scratch. Likewise, I was an avid reader, a consumer of books. One day I thought: why not combine these two passions, actually bind the books myself and present the work in the best way possible?

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

I want to publish books that have a boldness and originality of style. By that I mean the quite often heavily autobiographical, maverick element to much of the writing. That ranges from Tangerine’s most recent release The Glue Ponys by author/painter Chris Wilson, a short story collection about homelessness, addiction and prison, through to reissues of modern ‘lost classics’ like A Cage of Shadows by Archie Hill, to be published next year. I have been very fortunate in that sense. Just look at the press’s list: William Wantling, James Kelman, Billy Childish, Akiko Yosano, Iain Sinclair, many others and more to come.

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

It’s all down to constant research. Hardly any signings come from unsolicited manuscripts or through agents. In other words, it entails reading, reading, reading. Listening, too: specifically to people who’s opinions I value. See what stirs them up. They are not necessarily other publishers or writers; a lot of the time they are friends from my days in the building game. On occasion, a regular collector of Tangerine publications will suggest something and I will investigate. Then it’s a case of approaching the author (or the estate if they are no longer with us), explaining how Tangerine works and, if they are happy with that, we formalise everything.

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

Marketing is a lumbering, cruel giant which all publishers are trying to tame. Some days you can throw down a rotting carcass and it will embarrass you by gobbling it up. Other times you saunter along with a silver salver, present a prime cut with all the trimmings and it will turn up its nose.

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?

I agree: the indie publishing scene is extremely vibrant at the present time and doing wonderful things with gifted writers, catering to most tastes as far as I can see. Tangerine is a little different to the others in that I am a bookbinder too and therefore put out hardcover, signed limited editions in tandem with more readily available trade paperbacks. Along with all the other unusual chapbooks, prints, artwork, broadsides, random gifts that the press produces, Tangerine has found a corner it can fight for.

6. Latest trend or totally original – what sells?

This is a hard one to answer. The bottom line is a book has got to be something people want, something they feel they will be missing out on if they don’t buy it. That is especially true for an indie press, who has to determine its target audience – its identity in other words. With Tangerine I focus on what could be described as maverick or counterculture writing. No major poetry publisher would even consider putting out a collection by William Wantling, for example, despite his work being on a par and often superior to that of Charles Bukowski, the most widely read poet in the world (so we’re told). My initial thought, therefore, is to say ‘totally original’ but there can be a slight blurring of the lines. Latest trends can become original with time, is what I mean. As long as the work has integrity and written with passion and conviction, and backed up by a publisher who believes in what they are presenting to the reading public, you can sell a book to your target audience no question.

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

It’s always hard copies with Tangerine. But I do want to say something else here. There is an assumption that because I am a bookbinder as well as a publisher that I am anti ebooks. Absolutely not true. It’s all about co-existence. What is best for the individual. You can read a great poem on a piece of toilet paper or from a handbound book and the words will have the same impact. But I believe a physical book makes for a much more rewarding experience. The idea that not just the writer but also the binder/publisher has put thought and care into the production of the book is a powerful feeling and deep rooted in our psyche. The truth is, I find ebooks incredibly dull and uninteresting as a format. They are paper oriented, you still have to ‘turn’ the page. The device itself is book shaped, weighs the same as most books and you still have to carry it about in a bag. And the battery will run out and need to be charged, you cannot share it with your friends when you have finished and, the final insult, it’s not even yours to own in the first place. An inferior book in other words. When an innovative platform comes along and takes things to a new level, then I will become interested. But only as a supplement to physical books.

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

I would prefer to say Tangerine is underground but occasionally goes overground.

9. Collaborative or dictatorial?

Collaborative every time, but with firm opinions given. There’s a flexing of muscles at the start of a project, when writer and publisher jostle for position, stake out their territory, their limits, their character. Once that is over, we get to the part I particularly enjoy, when you begin to shape the book into a publishable form. Incredibly rewarding. Editing and going through the manuscript for James Kelman’s A Lean Third story collection was especially satisfying. He is my favourite living writer and a man I have admired greatly for many years. His passion and commitment to his art. He doesn’t take any crap either, you know exactly where you stand with him. I guess I could be seen to be dictatorial when it comes to design and materials for the book itself, but I always check with writers with this side of things, and am always listening. A good example of this is a recent discussion about artwork for Iain Sinclair’s new book My Favourite London Devils. Dave McKean has been commissioned to produce original illustrations for this, which is all very exciting. But ultimately Tangerine has a certain aesthetic, a continuity of style so anyone who gets involved with the press should be well aware of that. I occasionally collaborate with other like-minded folks, for example with the remarkable ‘Poems-for-All’ series and L-13 Light Industrial Workshop.

10. Plans for the future?

To keep putting out great writing in the best way I can. I would like to be in a position where I can publish at least six main titles a year. By that I mean, books I can bind limited edition of and release them in tandem with readily available paperbacks. At the moment I put out many unusual chapbooks, prints, new year greetings, etc. I really want to be able to continue that too, it helps make Tangerine even more unique.

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Thank you Michael 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: Tangerine Press: bookbinding, limited edition

Keep up to date with all of their news via Twitter:Tangerine Press (@TangerinePress)

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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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