Me, the Literary Hero

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Image (c) Irena Sophia 

Influx Press put out a list of their literary heroes from 2016 last week and included me. I am still in shock. Good kind of shock, obviously. Influx are a bit rad which makes this even more unexpected and delightful.

Please go and read their post. When you see who else they have included you will understand why I am so chuffed to be standing amongst them. Or sitting down at the back drinking it all in. I shall certainly be drinking something to celebrate.

Thanks Influx. You rock.

Rather than write about our favourite books of the year from other publishers as we have done for a few years, we thought we’d write about the people in the publishing industry who we think were absolute heroes during this year.  So without further ado, we present the Influx Press Literary Heroes of 2016

Read on: Twelve Literary Heroes of 2016 according to Influx Press — Influx Press

Gig Review: The Inaugural Bath Book Bash

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There are many aspects of corporate culture that I was happy to leave behind when I resigned from my job in the IT department of a large, financial services company:

  • Team Building Days;
  • Ice Breaker Games;
  • Role Play;
  • Networking.

Why then did I choose to attend an event that would require me to walk alone into an unknown pub and introduce myself to strangers with whom I would be expected to mingle and chat for an evening? A couple of words explain all – book people. In my experience book people are lovely and the more of them I have in my life the better.

The inaugural Bath Book Bash was organised by  Jennifer Vennall, a writer and final year publishing student at Bath Spa University. Aided and abetted by Sam Missingham she had offered to help grow the concept of the Book Bash outside of London. If the number of people attending last night was anything to go by, this is a popular idea.

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The venue was The Bath Brew House and they had set aside an area near their entrance which was quickly filled by authors, publishers, creative writing and publishing students, their teachers, and a large number of people I didn’t have time to place. After introducing myself and chatting to several of the early attendees I found myself in authors’ corner where, despite feeling a bit of a fraud, the conversation proved too interesting to leave. Thank you RachelLucy and Jason for your company.

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As well as talking to these authors, I enjoyed conversations with several of the students and a representative of a previously unknown publishing house, Crimson, based in Bath. Another house I have worked with, Impress, were also there but my inability to hear well across a crowded table in a noisy pub prevented me engaging.

I discovered another writer I would have enjoyed chatting to as I was leaving to catch my train. Thank you for saying hi Joanne and apologies that I had to rush away.

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There is obviously scope for a repeat performance. I am unsure if there were any other book bloggers but I felt welcome and a part of the community.

Jennifer is hopeful that another Book Bash will happen in Bath in January. All being well I shall do my best to attend.

Q&A with Bluemoose Books

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Today I am delighted to welcome Kevin from Bluemoose Books to my blog. I discovered this publishing house last month when they kindly sent me a review copy of If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here, a stunning novel that you should all go and read now.

Without further ado, let us find out more about a small press which aims to engage, inspire and excite.

1. Why did you decide to set up Bluemoose?

I won a national writing competition and was whisked down to London by a Sunday newspaper to be wined and dined at The Ivy with the editorial director of Macmillan and an agent from Curtis Brown. It didn’t go well. A year later I read that all the big money advances were going to Irish writers so I changed my name to Colm O’Driscoll and sent the first three chapters off to Darley Anderson, Lee Child and Martina Cole’s agent. He tried to get hold of me by phone but of course I didn’t exist, so he wrote a letter. I contacted him but I had to be Irish for a year. I even had to tell my lads that if a posh man from London rings and asks for Colm, that’s me. The things you’ll do to get published.

He loved my book and so I signed up to Darley Anderson but at the time they couldn’t sell Anthills & Stars. Apparently nobody was buying comedic fiction. After 12 months I got the book back and moped and moped. Hetha, my wife, told me to do something about it, so we re-mortgaged the house, started Bluemoose Books, published my novel and a book by a Canadian writer, Nathan Vanek, called The Bridge Between. We made enough money from these two books to continue and here we are, 10 years later still publishing.

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

Our aim is to publish cracking stories, period. Books that engage, inspire and are beautifully written.

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

Writers send their work to us, they read our published books and get in touch, hear our authors at festivals, library events, through book reviews in the national and regional press.

Some even ring up on Boxing Day.

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

I’ve spent over 25 years in sales and marketing for fiction, non-fiction, academic and business publishers, so nothing is really that new, although the marketing of ‘brand names’ is quite frightening these days.

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?

There are some brilliant independents out there and we are all different. What, I think, makes Bluemoose successful is the brilliant editors we have, who all have different reading tastes and different life experiences, so when we get together and decide to publish a book, we know that there is something unique in that story and the writing that will attract readers.

6. Latest trend or totally original – what sells?

As a publisher I think you must never follow trends. That way lies madness. In my opinion you cannot predict what will sell, you may replicate what has sold and hope to sell but as an independent originality and authenticity are the two key things you look for in a new writer.

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

We find increasingly that people want paper books for sharing. However, we do sell a lot of digital books too. Our analysis tells us that people on holiday or business trips will buy digital for convenience but when they come home and want to share their reading experience they buy the paperback and share. Reading is solitary but can become communal and an online community experience too.

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

We are stridently independent and if we ever become mainstream and just publish to keep the accountant happy, take me away in a box.

9. Collaborative or dictatorial?

Collaborative but the final editorial decisions are always with the publisher/editor.

10. Plans for the future?

We have 6 brilliant books in the pipeline for this year, and several for 2017 and 2018.

Highlights in the first 6 months of this year being:

  • If you look for me, I am not here by Sarayu Srivatsa, just published;
  • Tainted Love, the second novel by Anna Chilvers, in May;
  • The Less than Perfect Legend of Donna Creosote, a debut in July from Dan Micklethwaite.

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Thank you Kevin 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: Bluemoose Books.

Keep up to date with all of their news via Twitter: Bluemoose Books (@Ofmooseandmen)

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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

 

Live Forever: Guest Post by Andy Rivers of Byker Books

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Today I welcome Andy Rivers, the man behind Byker Books, to my blog. In January, this small publishing house took part in my series of interviews with independent publishers. You may check out their post by clicking here.

Having learned about them I was then upset to read that they would be bowing out within a few weeks and approached Andy to see if he would be willing to write about why. He kindly agreed and sent me this.

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Way back in the mists of time, when Facebook was still unknown to many and something named ’Friends Re-United’ was the top social network, I was receiving my umpteenth rejection slip for a very sweary novel I’d written (Maxwell’s Silver Hammer if you’re interested) and banging my head against the wall wondering why. After all, every publisher and agent bio in the writers and artists yearbook proudly exclaimed that they wanted ‘original fiction’ (and MSH was certainly that!) and most of them were telling me they ‘liked it..but’ (there’s always a but) ‘…we can’t sell it.’ I couldn’t understand why as everyone I knew who read the likes of Irvine Welsh, John King, Kevin Sampson et al said that they would buy my kind of book. So who exactly couldn’t these agents and publishers sell it to?

Then it struck me. The people who worked in publishing, the people who wrote about books for newspapers and magazines and the people who judged the awards for books – none of them had grown up on an estate like mine had they? They couldn’t possibly relate to a book about a place like Byker so they knocked it back out of hand. Well…it was that or I was a shit writer anyway.!

After a phone call from another agent (‘Loved it. Excellent local colour. Great dialogue. Can’t possibly sell it. Bye’) an idea started to form in my mind. There had to be loads of authors like me so why didn’t I just publish my own books? Sure there was a stigma attached to it (told you it was a while back didn’t I) but giving a monkeys about what other people thought was an alien concept to me anyway.

How hard could it be?

Turned out to be really hard.

But, I started Byker Books back in 2008 anyway with the noble aim of publishing the working class lads and lasses like myself who weren’t taken seriously by the big publishers or agents. The people who didn’t have degrees in ‘creative writing’ but had crap jobs that sapped their souls instead, the people who didn’t have a ‘journey’ to bore people to death with but could make you laugh all night down the pub recounting tales from their life and the people who didn’t get to go to great schools and further education but instead had to battle their siblings for the one pen in the house to write anything down before doing their paper round in the rain and then getting a full-time job as soon as they could to help out.

That’s who Byker Books was for. People like me.

It was never about the sales or the money it was about the joy in those authors faces when we launched a ‘Radgepacket’ in Newcastle with their families and friends present (albeit helped by the free drink I always put on!) It was about giving some of them confidence to keep writing when they were on the verge of giving up and for some of them (I know this for a fact) it helped enormously in their personal lives to have the outlet of publication for their writing.

Byker Books was a ‘one-man and his laptop’ operation for eight years (and some of those laptops were proper shit as well) so I was always trying to do three jobs at once and taking on some tasks that I should really have outsourced in order to save cash. I was generally crap at marketing and had my fingers burnt a number of times when trying to kickstart sales but I was never that bothered. My only concern was whether I was letting the author down by not selling enough of their books and getting them in the public eye, in fact I turned down one of the best books I ever read because I genuinely felt I couldn’t do it justice and that I would hold the author back (no, I’m not telling you what it was called but I bet it wins a Booker Prize before I die.)

The advent of e-books (and particularly the Amazon Kindle) absolutely revolutionised the whole process and suddenly self-publishing was cool in a big way. I was pleased that everyone was getting a chance now but deep down I think I knew that was the beginning of the end. A whole industry has built up around getting your books into prime position on Amazon and where previously publishing an unknown (like BAFTA nominee Danny King – get me eh?) was about the quality of the writing, the brilliant story and even how well you got on with the author (You have lemonade in your drink Danny? Eh?) it increasingly became all about formulaic series of books all essentially telling the same story and then slavishly trying to perfect SEO on a glorified search engine. That, allied to a few changes behind the scenes meant that I could no longer give Byker Books or crucially, the authors, my full attention, time and energy. It had to end.

I’m pleased with what I achieved from a standing start and especially from knowing that over the years I encouraged and cajoled some people into print who didn’t think they were good enough – there are at least four authors walking around today who became novelists because of Byker Books. I’ve got drunk with the authors, learnt them new swear words and, with varying degrees of success, done my absolute level best to introduce them to the world.

During it’s lifespan my tiny independent press published over one hundred previously unknown writers through the ‘Radgepacket’ collections (some of whom went on to get book deals elsewhere) put out twelve paperbacks and published a number of others via electronic means. I’m very, very proud of that and I’ll always have the paperbacks on my ‘ego’ shelf at home. I’ll also still publish my own stuff through the BB label (I already own the ISBN’s – silly to waste them) and think I may have hit upon a new way to help out the struggling unknowns of the literary world.

I’ve started an e-magazine (BookD) which runs reviews, interviews and news from the world of books (and also has a column just for writers tips) that I’ve culled from all around the web which, once I’ve built up the subscriber list will be able to run cheap ads for books alongside interviews/reviews etc and will hopefully end up providing a solid (and cheaper!) UK alternative to the likes of BookBub. Have a look: BookD.

So anyway, the books will disappear from Amazon and the BB site over the coming weeks as the rights revert to the authors so you’d best check them out here and make sure you get a copy of the one that catches your eye before it’s gone for ever…worth one last try eh?

Byker Books wasn’t just me, it was every author I ever published, it was every person who bought a book and emailed me to say how much they enjoyed it, it was every review (got one in The Sun once – I felt dirty for days mind) we ever got and most of all, it was every radgepacket (loony if you’re not a Geordie) out there that loved reading and writing but kept it quiet in case their mates thought it was ‘soft’. As I said at the time it was a gut-wrenching decision for me to end it and I’ll probably get very drunk the day I delete all of the book files from the print publisher and the Amazon bookshelf but it’s been a fantastic experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

So with that I’d just like to extend a massive thank you to everyone who ever got involved over the years, I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. Here’s to the next challenge.

Cheers.

Q&A with Liberties Press

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Today I welcome Seán from Liberties Press, Ireland’s leading independent publisher, to my blog. Founded in 2003, they publish non-fiction, fiction and poetry. I am delighted that they have agreed to take part in this series.

Liberties appeared on my radar when they published Jan Carson’s debut novel ‘Malcolm Orange Disappears’. I hope to review Jan’s next book, a short story collection titled ‘Children’s Children’, in the coming weeks. You may check out my thoughts on another of Liberties’ titles, ‘Citizens’ by Kevin Curran, by clicking here.

Without further ado let us find out more about a publisher who believes that,

“important as it is for a publisher to produce an attractive book, to the highest editorial, print and design standards, it is equally necessary to make sure that that book reaches as many potential readers as possible, in whatever format they like to read, and wherever they are in the world.”

1. Why did you decide to set up Liberties Press?

To publish the best writing, both fiction and non-fiction, from Ireland.

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

We started with political biographies (Garret FitzGerald and President Michael D. Higgins) and practical guides, then moved into debut and emerging fiction (Declan Burke, Caitriona Lally, Frankie Gaffney and Kevin Curran).

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

We receive hundreds of submissions every year – all of which are assessed and responded to – and work with all the leading literary agents in Dublin and London.

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

They say that a book hasn’t been published until someone’s read it: producing a wonderful book is only half the battle. It’s a great thrill to see people buying – and reading – a book you’ve worked hard on. As with everything else, the more effort you put into marketing, the greater the rewards. We’ve also tried to be innovative in terms of who we sell to: we’ve worked with many of Ireland’s leading companies and state agencies.

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 no longer the new kids on the block, and are delighted to see a new crop of publishers coming through. (This didn’t happen during the recession, when several publishers closed their doors for good.) Despite what some people think, bookshops, book publishers and book printers have a bright future. I hope the quality of the design, promotion and editing of our books speaks for itself, but we don’t rest on our laurels. We’ve run popup bookshops, and have a direct link with customers through Liberties Upstairs.

6. Latest trend or totally original – what sells?

We try to do both. Our fiction is cutting-edge, I hope, but in non-fiction, the tried-and-tested subjects have plenty of life left in them, whether it’s the 1916 Rising or the Euro 2016 football championships.

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

E-books have rarely made up more than 5 percent of our sales. I believe they will go the way of audio books: a niche market. People like to unwind with a book – and keep it afterwards – and that means hard copy. The people pushing e-books were the ones selling the devices. E-book-only publishers haven’t fared as well as they had anticipated.

8. Do you consider Liberties Press niche or mainstream?

Mainstream but maverick: we want to sell books to everyone, but hope you’ll be challenged by what you read.

9. Collaborative or dictatorial?

Publishing is a collaborative process – which is something authors would do well to remember. If you want the best from everyone, be professional and pleasant. No prima donnas! As for my personal style, you’d have to ask my colleagues!

10. Plans for the future?

We’re proud to describe ourselves as Ireland’s leading independent publisher, and are seeing significant growth in the UK and US markets. The first ten years of a business are about survival; over the next ten, we’re focusing on growth. The growth of Liberties Press in the coming years will be driven by returning emigrants, bringing their skills – and interests – back to Ireland.
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Thank you Seán for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about this press, including details of their books, on their website by clicking here: Liberties Press

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

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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

Q&A with Gallic Books and Aardvark Bureau

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Today I am delighted to welcome Jimena from Gallic Books / Aardvark Bureau to my blog. I discovered this small press last month when they kindly sent me a review copy of The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt. This turned out to be just the sort of book that I love to read and I will be reviewing another title from their list, The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert, in the coming weeks.

Without further ado, let us find out more about a small press which aims to excite, inspire and entertain.

1. Why did you decide to set up Gallic and then Aardvark?

Jane Aitken and Pilar Webb set up Gallic in 2006, to fill what they saw as a gap – although most UK authors were translated into French, very few French authors made it into English. As a result, many wonderful French novels were not available to a UK readership.

Now that Gallic is well established, with a catalogue of more than 60 books in the UK, we thought it was the right time to expand beyond French. Compared to 2006, many publishers large and small now publish French fiction in translation. French literature is less in need of our support, although it will always be a focal point for us.

So we asked Scott Pack, with whom we had worked in the past, to curate a small list of fiction from around the world. And that is how the Aardvark Bureau was born in 2015. Our catalogue so far ranges from a Japanese forgotten classic, to the best of Australian and New Zealand contemporary literature, plus British authors worth discovering. And this is only the start.

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

Gallic and Aardvark aim to publish books that engage with subjects or settings not found in other novels. Many of the Gallic titles explore French history. Our ‘noir’ author Pascal Garnier delighted in depicting France at its bleakest – not glamorous, it’s the France of anonymous villages and sullen small towns with bad restaurants, tacky hotels, cheapo carnivals. Jean Teulé’s books explore the nineteenth-century Breton poisoner Hélène Jégado and the mob murder at Hautefaye in 1870. We also look for intriguing characters like Muriel Barbery’s concierge in The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

At Aardvark Bureau we are looking for wonderful writing with a strong sense of place. But most importantly, we publish books that we love.

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

To launch Gallic, we immersed ourselves in the French market and read as much as we could. We were looking for books that French readers love, but that would also resonate with English-speaking readers. But now we tend to rely on our contacts among French publishers – they know what we like and are good at selecting from their lists for us.

Scott found the original Aardvark titles in a variety of ways. He found The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt, for example, by listening to Radio New Zealand in the middle of the night! I think that led to other Australian and New Zealand titles – we now have four Antipodean authors.

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

The publishing industry has changed a lot since we started in 2006. The main change has been the rapid development of the digital book. And, more recently, the role that social media and book bloggers play in spreading the word about books. Authors and publishers now have an open channel of communication with readers through social media; Facebook, Goodreads,Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are all effective tools for marketing a book. It is a big change, but one worth celebrating.

And it means that you can have an effective marketing campaign without using costly Tube posters or expensive advertising. In our early years we did spend money on these things and we don’t miss that!

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?

Gallic is part of the family of publishers of translated literature. With them we share the challenges and excitement of bringing unknown authors to the English-speaking audience. But we are different because we also have a bookshop, Belgravia Books.

We stock a curated selection of fiction, history, biography, children’s and cookery to suit our local market, but also to reflect our support for other independent publishers publishing translated fiction.

6. Latest trend or totally original – what sells?

Good stories always sell, and as publishers we must use the best tools we have to reach audiences. A very important element is knowing who your readers are, and what they like. If you have this knowledge, you are very likely to have loyal people who will be looking forward to your upcoming publications.

We don’t tend to go with the latest trend, preferring to try to choose books that take our readers into worlds they haven’t been to before.

Our bestselling title, Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, of which we have sold nearly 400,000 copies, would definitely count as original, rather than as part of a trend.

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

Buyers want to have the option, so all our titles are available in print and eBook. Our eBook sales are usually 25% – 30% of our total sales. And we find that books that are popular in print are also popular in e-format. We haven’t yet had a book where we’ve had digital success that has not been reflected in our print sales.

8. Do you consider yourself niche or mainstream?

Gallic is indeed a bit niche in terms of its strategy, as we only publish French literature in translation. However, we aim to appeal not only to Francophiles but to all lovers of good books. We believe readers are up for discovering something new.

Aardvark Bureau gives us the freedom to look for wonderful writing worldwide. At the moment we are focusing on great books written in English but not published in the UK. These are very exciting times as there is so much out there worth publishing.

9. Collaborative or dictatorial?

We are a small company which means the team works very closely and the decision-making is quick, efficient and fun. So, definitely collaborative.

10. Plans for the future?

We will continue to bring the best of French writing to English language readers. This year is a very exciting one because in February, Gallic will publish its first graphic novel – a beautiful adaptation of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way by artist Stéphane Heuet. We hope this book will give readers who have not yet savoured Proust the chance to enjoy this important classic in an accessible way. And we hope that lovers of Proust will enjoy the intricate visualisations of Combray and Paris.

Also, we are thrilled to be publishing the long-awaited new novel by Muriel Barbery, The Life of Elves. After the great global success of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, we cannot wait to share this new story with our readers in May. Plus, fans of the great Pascal Garnier will enjoy another of his fine noir novels with Too Close to the Edge.

On the Aardvark Bureau front, we have a strong year ahead introducing some wonderful Australian and New Zealand authors. We have Tracy Farr’s The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt (the story of octogenarian theremin virtuoso Dame Lena Gaunt), Fiona Kidman’s The Infinite Air (the fictionalised account of the life of New Zealand aviator Jean Batten) and Damien Wilkins’ Max Gate (the story of Thomas Hardy’s death told by his housemaid, Nellie). And we have a unique novel by British author Charles Lambert. The Children’s Home has been described as ‘a distorted fairy tale, raising unsettling questions that stay with the reader long after the final page.’

In general, the future for both Gallic and Aardvark Bureau is to continue to publish literature that is exciting and unique, and will give readers an unforgettable experience.

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Thank you Jimena 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: Gallic Books – The best of French in English

Keep up to date with all of their news via Twitter: Gallic Books (@gallicbooks) and Aardvark Bureau (@AardvarkBureau)

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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

Q&A with Salt Publishing

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Today I am delighted to welcome Chris from Salt Publishing to my blog. I discovered this publishing house whilst I still harboured thoughts of one day writing a book (I recovered). I stumbled across their call for submissions to ‘Modern Dreams’, a series of ebook novellas which included Michael Nolan’s The Blame (you may read my interview with the author here).

More recently I have read and reviewed The Good Son, written by another Belfast born author on their list, Paul McVeigh (who I also interviewed here). I am looking forward to reviewing a number of books from their prolific backlist as well as a selection of their new releases, in the coming months. Watch this space.

Without further ado let us find out more about this independent publisher which, since the beginning of the new millennium, has published over 1,000 books.

1. Why did you decide to set up Salt?

We started Salt in Cambridge in 1999 – it was borne out of a conversation in the common room of Churchill College, Cambridge. John Kinsella and I wanted to set something up that was a fun outlet for publishing collaborative anthologies of poetry. They never saw the light of day. Within months we were publisging single collections of poetry and the journey began.

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

​Fiction, short stories, occasionally poetry, though the list has closed now; and writers’ guides.​

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

​We work with a range of UK and International agents to acquire new books and commission some directly ourselves. We have fairly wide outreach and often bump into new talent at events and online.​

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

​Not at all, marketing is really about understanding what people want (where and when) and giving it to them as effectively as possible. Building up knowledge of what your audiences want is a constantly changing and sometime fugitive experience. Reading is influenced by fashion and by the effects of critical awareness – the social impact of reading within communities.

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 see publishing as a continuum, from​ the large conglomerates, through larger independents, smaller indies, right the way through to self-publishers. They’re all doing exciting work, and we’re both in competition and often collaborating with this big baggy community of passionate people. We don’t see ourselves as different from them, we just find books we’re passionate about and are willing to bet our own money on.

6. Latest trend or totally original – what sells?

Originality is often borne out of a realm of practice, nothing pops up in isolation, writers are responding to other writers and the world of readers. That writerly world is however distinct from the world of readerships – the two can overlap, or collide, in some cases it can be the readers producing material for their own distinct communities: fan fiction or genre specialists.

What sells is a different set of issues, this can be driven by a very wide range of influences: the media, prizes, cultural access, festivals, bloggers and booktubers, reading groups, libraries, store promotions, booksellers, the list could go on – finding a book that sells is often about navigating these different touch points in the life of the book and mediating them. In fact publishing is a highly mediated trade. No one can guarantee what sells, but you try and stack the deck in the book’s favour.

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

​About 88% of people want the physical book – and those that don’t initially, will often buy it later. In the world of literary publishing, eBooks haven’t had a huge impact.​

8. Do you consider Salt niche or mainstream?

​Mainstream, I think. Our books are accessible readers, sometimes conventional, but occasionally radical in nature.​ They’re often daring and quirky, sometimes Gothic, often feminist.

9. Collaborative or dictatorial? 

​Oh collaborative, for sure. No one can survive in the book trade without being collaborative. Not to say there aren’t the occasional dictatorial moments. We’re not a cooperative, we’re a commercial family business.​

10. Plans for the future?

Survive – one can’t be guaranteed success, and you’re only as good as your last book. Financial insecurity is a feature of all publishing and most people will face losses and bankruptcy at points in their professional lives. You need a high degree of tenacity and flexibility, there are times when in order to continue you may have to ​redesign your whole business and build it again. The key is to keep going. Keep pushing through. And, of course, enjoy the journey – the books make it all worth while.

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Thank you Chris 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: Salt Publishing

Keep up to date with all of their news via Twitter: Salt (@saltpublishing)

bitter sixteen  blackcountry

littleegypt  9781784630232frcvr.indd

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

Q&A with Galley Beggar Press

Galley_Beggar_logo-1_white

Today I am delighted to welcome Sam from Galley Beggar Press to my blog. I discovered this publishing house when I reviewed Francis Plug: How To Be A Public Author by Paul Ewen in the summer of 2014. This book inspired me to start attending literary events. If you have read the book (and you should!) then you may interpret that as you will.

Since then I have read and reviewed enough of their titles to convince me that I wanted to own everything they published in hard copy (I don’t read ebooks). For Christmas this year my wonderful husband enrolled me as a Galley Buddy and presented me with the backlist titles I had not yet managed to acquire. You may look out for my reviews of these, along with their 2016 publications, in the coming months.

Without further ado let us find out more about this “old fashioned publisher for the 21st Century”.

1. Why did you decide to set up Galley Beggar Press?

It was a question of putting our money where our mouths were, in a rather literal sense. We’d had a lot of ideas about how we’d like to publish books, the kind of things we’d like to publish, design, building a list… I’d even written a blog for The Guardian on the subject: Does the Faber name still mean much? But the impetus came when a fantastic book came along that no one else was publishing. This was The White Goddess: An Encounter by Simon Gough – and we thought it deserved a proper chance and tried to give it one.

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

It’s hard to answer this question without sounding glib, but really the most honest answer is ‘good books’. If the quality is there, we want to publish it. For us, the book comes first, and then we work out how the marketing and everything else will follow. We want to publish top quality work. Often this tends to be what people term ‘literary fiction’ and people praise our books for their fearless and uncompromising experimentalism… But quality doesn’t just mean difficult. We also like our books to have stories and humanity. I like to think that we’d take a punt on something like Harry Potter too, if it came along. We like to think people will be reading our books for years to come, long after it no longer matters if they are fashionable or not.

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

Ha! Mystery, magic and I don’t know what. It’s a process even I don’t understand. We do sometimes have open submissions, and we’ve picked up a few good writers that way, especially for our Singles Club line of ebook short stories. Otherwise, it’s a question of listening to agents, keeping our ears to the ground, taking tips. We managed to get to work with the wonderful Paul Ewen, for instance, because I used to see him at book signings and public author events, and I was curious about what he was doing. He told me about the book eventually and it sounded fantastic. I knew he was a great writer as I’d already read London Pub Reviews, his previous publication, so had an idea something special was on the way.

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

Well, I’m a literary journalist so I had a few ideas. I’ve also had a few books published so am experienced in that way. Even so, I’m always surprised by the tremendous amount of work my co-director Elly does on marketing – and how important it is to get the right book to the right person. You really have to know what people are interested in. And, we were all surprised to see Eimear Mcbride’s name on the side of a London bus. But I think everyone was surprised by that!

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?

Well, I think we’re part of a movement of small publishers for sure – and very proud to be part of that movement when so many people are putting out great things. I guess we’re different in that publishing on our scale is often a matter of personality and personal taste. So our books are always going to have a unique flavour. As are those of other publishers like us.

6.  Latest trend or totally original – what sells?

I don’t know! We do always say to each other, however, that the time we start asking “what’s fashionable?” is the time to retire. We don’t want to get caught up in trends. We just want to put out good books.

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

Most want hard copy. But we try to cater to everyone.

8.  Do you consider Galley Beggar niche or mainstream?

That’s a hard one. We don’t sell millions of books and we know some of the titles we put out aren’t going to appeal to everyone. But nor do we shun the mainstream. We’d be happy for one of our authors to go overground. The more satisfied readers we have, the happier we will be.

9.  Collaborative or dictatorial? 

It all depends on the circumstances!

10. Plans for the future?

We just want to keep on publishing the best books we can. Hopefully on a sustainable scale.

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Thank you Sam 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: Galley Beggar Press

Keep up to date with all of their news via Twitter: Galley Beggar Press (@GalleyBeggars)

francisplug Alex-Pheby--Playthings

Anthony-Trevelyan--The-Weightless-World  wroteforluck

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

Q&A with Urbane Publications

Urbane-Publications-logo

Today I am delighted to welcome Matthew from Urbane Publications to my blog. I discovered this small press last year and have since read a diverse and impressive selection of their books, a couple of which made it onto my list of recommended reads for 2015 (these are just a few of my reviews: Being SomeoneEden BurningLeavesThe Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb).

Without further ado, let us find out more about a small press which prides itself in the collaboration it offers its authors.

1.  Why did you decide to set up Urbane?

Gosh, I could natter on forever about this! Despite a general persistent theme of an industry in decline, I believed there was an opportunity for innovative, entrepreneurial publishers to grow and thrive, but only if they work with the authors, rather than assuming the authors ‘work for them’. Authors aren’t simply producers of content, they live and breathe what they write and care passionately about it, and publishers have to feel that passion too if we are to produce the best books AND engage with readers. So I took the plunge and before I knew it was knee deep in exciting new books!

The aim is to publish great books yes, but also to create a fully engaged publishing experience where all those who touch a project, from author to reader, feel part of something unique, innovative and special. It may be a cliché but sometimes if you want to do what you believe in you have to get off your arse and do it yourself. And when’s all said and done I simply love books.

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

Ridiculous as it sounds, books that I think people want to read, and will enjoy reading. I thought long and hard about whether I should be a ‘niche’ publisher, perhaps literary, or crime, or professional business books. But the truth is I want to share my love of all books. Yes I consider the commercial potential of each and every project I take on – it’s a business after all – but I don’t want to be limited to a certain genre.

The only books I don’t take on are children’s/YA and erotica, simply because the children’s market is very specialist and I don’t have that knowledge or skillset to do the authors and books justice, and because I think erotica is brilliantly served by the self-publishing market and has some amazingly talented and entrepreneurial authors who it would be difficult to compete against.

If you needed to break it down, it’s roughly 70% fiction (crime/thrillers, contemporary/literary/romance and fantasy/sci fi – and yes I’m generalising!) and a mixture of non-fiction in business (an area I know well), and one offs that interest me and I feel have potential and opportunity such as memoirs, self-development and history/politics. I’ve even published a book on architecture!

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

I’m now in the very fortunate position that authors are beginning to find me, which is incredibly exciting, flattering and gratifying. And even a few agents are now getting in touch – the thinking being I suspect that Urbane is now growing enough for them to take the company more seriously. I do still search for specific authors for particular projects or ideas I might want to pursue, though this tends to be in the business and non-fiction genres.

I try and give a response to everybody and I always try and provide useful feedback if I can, even in a rejection. If someone has made the effort to contact me they deserve the courtesy of a decent reply. I’ve been much slower recently in replying (sorry everyone) and that’s partly down to the sheer number of projects I’m sent, but also because I want to read them all so I can respond properly.

The signing process is different for every author and begins first and foremost with deciding on some shared goals for the project and how we’re going to work together. Every book is different and it’s therefore important not to template the process at any stage, particularly at the beginning when the publisher and author are both committing to the project and each other.

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

Yes, I knew it would be bloody hard and it’s even harder than that! There is so much noise now and regardless of what we might say as publishers it’s almost impossible to know exactly what works and what doesn’t. Very unscientific and scary as it sounds there’s still an element of luck in a books success, no matter how hard you work to get it right at every stage of the publication, marketing and sales process. I’ve put plenty of tools and partnerships in place to give every book a chance, from working with the brilliant sales team at Compass, hiring PR help when required or putting books on Netgalley (as well as spending far too long on social media!) and it’s a constantly evolving and engaging process. But the only marketing that is ALWAYS truly effective is word of mouth. Readers are everything and if there was one thing I could change it would be to drive home the importance to every reader that their reviews and feedback are absolutely essential to the potential success of a book.

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?

Urbane isn’t different in the traditional sense – it produces great books for a (hopefully) growing and eager readership. But I do think we offer a genuinely collaborative process. Getting the message out there has been a challenge, particularly when there are still so many misconceptions about the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong’ way to publish. Every project is different. For some authors an agent is the way to go, for others self-publishing. There’s no single right way of doing things. I’m trying to find an agile, responsive and consistently positive route through all the options so any author who works with Urbane, and any reader who engages with one of our books, enjoys the experience, benefits from the experience, and recommends it.

Urbane is, on paper at least, a traditional independent publisher, but I suspect we build far more partnership throughout our publishing programme than many organisations. Because authors are consistently at the centre of the publishing experience, from initial discussion and on throughout the life of the book. Every single project is unique and every author plays a key role in not just delivering a manuscript but bringing it to life. For too long many in the publishing industry have been treating authors as a commodity, a deliverer of content, part of a process and not a key driver of the publishing experience. This seems particularly daft when the routes to market have changed so much, are so varied and competitive – you can’t just go back to an author with a templated product and ask the author to then go and market and sell it (which happens far more than people suspect).  No wonder so many authors self-publish. I need authors to be engaged from day one – they are my most valuable piece of content. The book is their vision, I’d be mad to dismiss their input. The aim is shared goals from the outset – what do we want, how can we make it happen, how do we realise success. It makes for a lively, engaged (occasionally positively combative!) and ultimately fulfilling publishing experience where both parties want exactly the same thing – a great book that sells like hot cakes. That’s why the majority of our authors quickly earn 50% royalties. It’s not a gimmick, it’s because authors deserve a fair return on their investment and belief in their project. Not sure that all makes us very different, just hopefully a more exciting and enticing option.

6.  Latest trend or totally original – what sells?

I think it very much depends on the channel you’re trying to sell it into. There’s a huge difference in the traditional, rather ‘risk-averse’ retail channels, who are very often much keener on the ‘safe’ options, or a book with a huge, guaranteed PR spend. I get that, they want sales and revenue. And being able to engage with readers direct about a new book obviously gives the publisher much more scope to push debuts or original, challenging content.

I think the key perhaps is not seeing something as trend or original, but making sure you pitch the book effectively to the relevant channel, and  making sure you don’t just push the book with one story, but with the stories around the story. That’s the joy of books, they’re different for every reader and you need to try and capture some of that when you develop their profile. So for WHS they might want books that will appeal broadly to commuters, or an impulse purchaser; whereas if I’m trying to drive direct sales I can partner with specific groups and target very particular audiences. And don’t get me wrong, I’d be thrilled to have a ‘trend’ title that sells tens of thousands – but we must keep pushing to publish the new, the bold, the different, the challenging, because that is the lifeblood and the future of publishing.

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

Hard copy! Print forever! I find ebooks fascinating and I’m still trying to get to grips with the entire ebook opportunity, but they’re not the ‘future’ of publishing, they are simply a different format. Print is still very much key to Urbane’s business, and I suspect every publisher’s business (that offer both options). Many reviewers, booksellers, buyers won’t even consider looking at a project if it’s not in hard copy. While I detest the ‘snob’ factor that exists in some quarters around hard copy, I do understand and appreciate the joy of print. But there is absolutely a place for digital and Urbane will always offer print, mobi and epub on its projects.

8  Do you consider Urbane niche or mainstream?

Mainstream for the most part. Of course I’d like a huge pot of money from a few million copy sellers. Yet no matter how good the words, if people don’t discover and buy the books the revenue doesn’t exist to create more, so driving revenue is always going to be the key challenge – and that’s very mainstream indeed! Of course I also have to remember I’m only 20 months in – Rome wasn’t built in a day (or 20 months for that matter!) – and I’m not competing with the big boys yet. But the wonderful aspect of not having a set way of doing things, of not pursuing the same templated, overhead-slashing process for every book, means that each project can be, and is, an entrepreneurial opportunity.

The aim is always to try different strategies with each and every title, always striving to drive discoverability and ultimately sales. And even after 25 years working with content I’m still learning. This is a dynamic, incredibly fast-moving industry and one of the biggest challenges is keeping up with all the opportunities. I don’t want to miss a thing! Discoverability and sales are the ultimate goal for every project, because for all the quality in every book they have to sell to be deemed successful. In that sense we’re niche because we’re always trying to find the right audience for every single title.

9. You talk of collaboration with your authors – who drives?

I drive, but it’s a car with dual controls so I’m not averse to the author dabbing the brakes now and again (or in most cases wanting to put the pedal to the metal!). I like to think the author is going to trust in Urbane’s experience, but it is vital they not only see where we’re going but why we’re taking a particular route. There’s nothing better than a happy author when they receive a final copy and it genuinely reflects the vision they had for their book.

10. Plans for the future?

Still here hopefully, publishing great books! If I can take the company to the point where author AND reader genuinely thinks of Urbane as their first choice, then that would be a huge achievement. There are 60 titles lined up for 2016, and the plan is to grow even more in 2017, so we’re well on our way to our goal of becoming one of the UK’s leading independent publishers.

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Thank you Matthew 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: Urbane Publications – Ordinary words made extraordinary

Keep up to date with all of their news via Twitter: UrbanePublications (@urbanebooks)

leaves  eden-burning

alastair stubb  Being-Someone_front-cover-RGB-e1394650362511

 

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

 

Q&A with Influx Press

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Today I am delighted to welcome Kit and Gary from Influx Press to my blog. I discovered this publishing house when I reviewed the outstanding Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson last summer. Since then I have also read Total Shambles by George F. and Place Waste Dissent by Paul Hawkins. I do not choose to read a great deal of non-fiction but this would change if all were as impressive as these.

Without further ado let us find out more about this independent publisher, committed to publishing innovative and challenging fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction from across the UK and beyond.

1. Why did you decide to set up Influx Press?

Gary: It actually happened by accident. It all started because we wanted to produce one anthology, Acquired for Development By… back at the tail end of 2011. We made that book, learned an awful lot about the nuts and bolts of book publishing in the process and made enough money to keep going. So we did, and it all got a bit out of hand. I can’t say there was much of a rationale beyond producing that one book at the beginning.

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

Kit: We want to publish anything that speaks from the margins of culture, specific geographical spaces and sites of resistance that remain under explored in mainstream literature.

Gary: Anything that interests us really, especially the stuff that doesn’t seem likely to get published elsewhere. Our attitude to it is publish books that we would want to read that don’t yet exist. We want books written with literary skill about subjects that are not necessarily deemed literary – hence the squatting memoir Total Shambles and experimental protest collage of Place Waste Dissent. We’re proud of those books and doubt they’d have found homes elsewhere.

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

Kit: Three ways.

The first way is that we approach authors directly to write a book for us from scratch. This has happened with a number of our books and is a really fun and exciting way to publish. As editors we are more involved with this stage as the book is unwritten and we collaborate more closely with the author. Marshland by Gareth E Rees or Chimene Suleyman’s Outside Looking On were created like this.

Second, we have submission windows (one is currently open) where we invite (unagented) writers and agents to send us finished manuscripts – so right now we’re looking for novels (for details click on this link: Submissions — Influx Press), particularly from BAME writers. Linda Mannheim’s Above Sugar Hill came to us as a full manuscript, but we still asked her to write a long afterword to her short story collection!

The third is after receiving a pitch from a writer, but there is no current manuscript. Darran Anderson’s Imaginary Cities is a great example of this.

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

Kit: I don’t think we had an expectation of marketing at the beginning. We just wanted as many people to hear about the books as possible, but on no budget! Marketing with no money is still a mystery, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We don’t choose our books on their marketing potential, but rather if we think they are saying something important or telling a story that people don’t already know.

Our distributors, Turnaround do a great job of repping the books to bookshops – but all publicity is done by us. Social media has been a great help with this, as have generous reviewers, bloggers and writers who have supported what we’re trying to do so far. There’s a lot of books out there to buy, but somehow we still get onto some people’s radar.

Gary: We’ve learned an awful lot doing this. I’ve found that simply doing the legwork contacting as many relevant press people, bloggers, reviewers and so on, can really pay off. Not sending out mass emails but personalising them and thinking about who you’re contacting and why. We learned how to come up with interesting pitches for articles and pieces on our books rather than just say ‘will you review our book’.

We have a good Twitter presence and use it well, I think. Now through a few years of being out there presenting what we do to people, making contacts, doing events and pushing for coverage, we have a good extended network of contacts that is becoming very helpful. I have a piece of software called Highrise that keeps all our contacts and email conversations in one place. Sadly, I love it.

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?

Kit: We are really proud to be part of this current surge in independent publishing. Since we started we’ve had wonderful support from many fellow small or independent publishers such as And Other Stories, Galley Beggar, Unsung and Test Centre, often sharing information and doing events together. We’re only different in the sense of what we publish, rather than how we operate. Our rivals are, in the end, companies like Harper Collins, not other small independents – so the more we collaborate and support each other, the better for all of us. It’s a great club to be part of! It feels something like a movement at the moment, hopefully we can push it further and further.

Gary: Well for a start this isn’t our day job. I don’t know about the other indie presses – it’s such a nebulous term anyway. Only two of us (plus occasional help) work on Influx whereas other small presses publish much more and have far greater staff numbers.

One way we might be different is we had access to writers from slightly different backgrounds than some of the other publishers, allowing us to publish books about squatting and protest culture very easily. We’re not trying to ape what big literary publishers are doing – like I said earlier, we’re publishing what we’re interested in, and it seems to be working.

One thing I will say is that the small press world is very supportive of each other. I have huge respect for those independent presses Kit mentioned, and many more; all publishing wildly different things, but they all fully believe in what they publish. That belief is something you just don’t get from the big boys.

6.  Latest trend or totally original – what sells?

Gary: Latest trend. Though Imaginary Cities was pretty original and is selling well. If a book is similar to an already successful book, it’s more likely to get picked up. I read something the other day that said when the marketing department was allowed a say in commissioning , everything went to shit in mainstream publishing. It’s true. But of course not everything can be like something else, can it?

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

Gary: I’m happy for people to read ebooks. But people who buy indie press books tend to be more into literature as ‘a thing’, rather than just casual readers, and as such they buy physical product much more. The codex is going to be a hard thing to kill.

Kit: Currently we sell far more paperbacks than ebooks. Readers still love paperbacks and we put a lot of time into our book design for that reason. However, it’s not up to us to decide how a reader wants to read the books we put out, so we always have an ebook version too.

8.  Do you consider Influx niche or mainstream?

Gary: I don’t like the term niche. There’s no reason why some of our books couldn’t have a wide appeal. Imaginary Cities appeals to anyone who’s ever been alive. Other books, sure, are a bit less mainstream. But purposefully mainstream books tend to suck and pander to the middle ground, so I’m happy with that.

Kit: I’d say we are nichestream. It’s a new genre that I’ve just invented. It means something that should be in the mainstream, but is too niche to be accepted. Or something.

9.  Collaborative or dictatorial? 

Kit: As said earlier, we really like commissioning books from scratch and both love building a book with an author.

Gary: Kit is definitely dictatorial.

10. Plans for the future?

Kit: We are really looking forward to publishing an anthology of London writing in 2016 featuring some incredible authors. And we’re hoping to get some proper good novels in our submissions window (open now until March 2016).

On the business side of things, we’d love to make more money and start employing people to do all the things we hate doing like marketing, post, choosing office music. We would also love to pay someone who can settle disputes between us; we’ve been friends since we were 11 years old, so there’s a lot of history to wade through!

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Thank you Kit and Gary 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: Influx Press

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

placewaste    totalshamblescov_imaginary_hires

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