Independent Publishers: Coming Out Of A Crisis?
September 3rd, 2020, was ‘Super Thursday’, 579 new titles hit the bookshop shelves, huge quantities of new books will have been bought. The autumn is always a bumper time for publishing but this year the number of titles is up 28% because many books planned for release earlier in the year were delayed by Covid-19 and the closure of bookshops. This autumn deluge ushers in the Christmas season. The one time of the year when people buy books for family and friends and sales rocket.
The big publishers launched their big titles – Ant and Dec, Caitlin Moran, Nick Hornby, Ruth Jones, Alan Davies, Jamie Oliver, Nadiya Hussain and Richard Osman are among the heavyweights. I was excited about the new titles, I published three major reviews. But I’m aware that this isn’t a universally great day and that the effects of lost trade haven’t been made up by all publishers. I’m particularly thinking about small and independent publishers. This rest of this piece is about them.
Every time Jamie Oliver releases a new cook book or a monster of a title like Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club comes along bookshops have to clear space to display them. Independents, who rely on getting titles in front of readers, find it hard to get space and prominence as big titles squeeze them out, more so this year than ever. Major publishers are hungry to recoup lost time and lost sales and they have the resources to do it – independents don’t. The Thursday Murder Club is brilliant by the way, an ideal gift for cosy crime fans, it’s got a feel good factor about it, so I’m not saying don’t buy it, but I am saying think about titles from independents too, it could be a matter of survival for them. If I’ve learned anything in reviewing books these last couple of years it’s that independents produce some of the best writing out there. Given that Covid-19 has hurt many publishers, some to breaking point, the marketing and push by the titans will add to their woes unless readers step up. It’s like coming out of a battle bloodied but alive only to be carpet bombed by your own side on the journey home.
The good news: 2019 saw record book sales of £6.3bn, which is up 20% on 2015. Sales were on course for £10bn by 2030, (assuming the education sector keeps growing and a no deal Brexit is avoided). The Publishers Association puts a lot of that growth down to audio books and non-fiction, but also crime which overtook general and literary fiction sales in 2017. Then Covid-19 hit, the drop in income has been estimated at 11% on the year overall, the instant hit for some small publishers was as high as 75% down. Some had to stop trading, many have not been eligible for the government support scheme and half have been unable to furlough staff. Obviously with bookshop closures Amazon was the big beneficiary. It has to be said the inventive way publishers organised book sales online, and everything from festivals to book launches has been inspiring but book production was hit, distribution disrupted and the ability to get copies into readers hands severely hindered. Book wholesaler Bertram’s went bankrupt, the distributor owed £25m, but had finds to cover £600,000. Some of the 450 jobs may be saved by a takeover but that doesn’t cover creditors, many small publishers among them. In recent weeks both Blue Moose Books and Salt Publishing have had to mount campaigns to attract sales not to build up the profit but to survive. I tried to contact one publisher for this piece and couldn’t raise any of the four people I usually deal with, I’m worried they’ve gone, if wouldn’t be fair to name them, but they produced high quality fiction and were/are well respected. Another publisher in America told me that the crisis had not only hit business but they had family health problems to deal with that meant the firm was not a priority, there was nothing I could say except to wish them well.
Jacaranda Books, produce diverse books that centre around the voices and experiences of Black people, people of colour, women and other underrepresented voices, and Knights Of creating quality content for kids – with as many perspectives as they can squeeze into the making-of each book. They organised a crowdfunding initiative that raised way over the £100,000 target for grants for independent and diverse publishers. It was a brilliant initiative but it doesn’t save everybody.
When the bookshops opened sales jumped, obviously, an estimated £32.6m in the first week of July, roughly 3.8m books. Nielsen’s reading survey suggested the amount of time people had spent reading had gone up from 3.4hrs per week to 6.1hrs during lock down. But it hasn’t all been rosy, and particularly for those independents they are struggling to get back to normal. Maybe you buy less books from independents but you still want them to be there when they do have a title you want. That means buying their books. I’m not going to go back over how hard things have been, I did that in my first feature on Covid-19 this time I’m going to introduce you to a range of publishers, fact, fiction, crime, whatever, they have books to just might want to make your next read.
Cassava Republic Press are an independent woman led publisher who publish books by Black writers. Many of their books are available from their website, both physical and e-book. Cassava publish one of my favourite thriller writers, Laye Adenle, his Lagos set mysteries are crackers.
The Whispering Trees is a short story collection by award-winning writer Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. This collection of absorbing and surprising stories blur the line between myth and reality and will transport you to Northern Nigeria, immersing you in family dramas, a community dealing with an epidemic, political intrigue and paranormal goings on. Available as eBook and Kindle.
On Ajayi Crowther Street Elnathan John & Alaba Onajin the noisy Ajayi Crowther Street in Lagos, neighbours gather to gossip, discuss noise complaints, and faithfully head to church each Sunday. But beneath the surface lies a hidden world of clandestine love affairs, hidden pregnancy, spiritual quackery and hypocrisy, that threatens to destroy the community from within. On Ajayi Crowther Street peels back the curtains on the lives of Reverend Akpoborie and his family, to reveal a tumultuous world full of secrets and lies. His only son, Godstime, is struggling to hide his sexuality from his parents whilst his daughter Keturah must hide the truth of her pregnancy by her pastor boyfriend to preserve her and her family’s image. But it is the Reverend himself who hides the darkest secret of them all, as his wondering eye lands on Kyauta, their young live-in maid.
Paperback and eBook available 5/11/20.
A Man Who is not a Man by South African novelist, Thando Mgqolozana is among new wave of Black South African writers who are transforming the literary landscape in Africa and we are keen to bring this unique voice to an international audience. A subtle novel with big and universal themes such as, the confusion of boyhood, trauma, truancy, love, male tenderness and the making of men through violence. A Man Who is Not a Man joins a growing body of contemporary works attempting to redefine masculinity. It will now be released on 12th January, 2021.
In the Palace of Flowers, the debut novel by Nigerian-British writer, Victoria Princewill. Inspired by the only existing first-person account of an Abyssinian slave in Iran, the novel tells the story of the two Abyssinian slaves: Jamila, a concubine, and Abimelech, a eunuch in the Shah’s court. Although we are all familiar with stories about trans-Atlantic slavery little is known about sub-Saharan and Iranian slavery, in this debut, Oxford University graduate Victoria Princewill shines a light on an area of history about which many readers will know little in a way that feels fresh and contemporary. The new publication date is 16/2/21.
Our 2017 title When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Popoola set in 2011 explores the racial tensions and riots which occurred after the death of Mark Duggan at the hands of the police is relevant at the current time of when protests over the killing of George Floyd by US Police. Other titles include Better Late Than Never Chika Unigwe, When Trouble Sleeps Laye Adenle, The Score HJ Golakai.
To check latest publication dates and to order you can go direct to Cassava Republic Press: https://cassavarepublic.biz/?v=79cba1185463
Les Fugitives is a nano-indie literary press that dreams itself a free-form collective of book lovers, editors and translators. It started with very little fanfare, a heavily pregnant team of one, and Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger (2015). Each
new book has been an extraordinary slog, making the team of one want to give up. Several titles later (14 to date) and the team has grown more diverse, to include a dyslexic, LGBTQ Oxford grad (Jessica Spivey, the Assistant), a young northerner who doesn’t
read French and loves the English Gothic novel (Ellen Dunsdon, the Webmeisterin), a still life photographer turned book cover
designer (Dominic Lee, the Husband), an in-house promising young intern (the Child), and a small constellation of helpers, among
whom the editor Angeline Rothermundt, and the publishers Charles Boyle and Pete Ayrton – all of whom have given their time for fun and for free. Publicist Nicci Praça has helped raise the profile of the press in a noticeable way. We are also proud to be represented by Inpress Books, alongside a whole flotilla of awesome fellow indies.
Les Fugitives publishes new French voices in English translation; mostly women, mostly short books that push the boundaries of fiction and non-fiction. Titles have won or been finalists for many prestigious literary awards, and are published thanks to support from funding bodies, notably the Institut français du Royaume Uni, PEN UK and, more recently, Arts Council England and the Jan Michalski Foundation.
Public and private funding has pulled us to safety. Applying for funding in itself has caused fateful delays but here we are, on terra ferma, with more work on our hands than planned three months ago. A dramatic upsurge in direct online sales has kept up the morale, also giving us a sense of a very real community of readers. Our website offers subscriptions and bundles, with free UK post and discounted post for Ireland and Europe, as well as gift cards, and a complementary collection of original short stories by British authors including Lauren Elkin, Preti Taneja, Joanna Walsh, Jen Calleja and Selma Dabbagh and French authors including Noémi Lefebvre, among others. See here.
Currently about half of our titles are available as e-books, through Kindle, Kobo and Mobi. The others are better enjoyed in paper format.
THE WHITE DRESS by Nathalie Léger, and LITTLE DANCER AGED FOURTEEN by Camille Laurens. One inspired by the Italian performance artist Pippa Bacca, the other by Marie Van Goethem, the model of Degas’s iconic sculpture. And our first ever feel-good read A RESPECTABLE OCCUPATION, a mini-autobiography by one of France’s most exciting young voices, Julia Kerninon.
In our backlist, Anne Serre’s THE GOVERNESSES, tr. by Mark Hutchinson, and Sylvie Weil’s SELFIES, tr. by Ros Schwartz are books with a charm and a sting; bold and winning voices we published last year. We found these titles sold especially well at bookfairs, but seem to be neglected by online buyers.
Les Fugitives is committed to Young Adult literary Fiction, as we gear towards a YA edition of Ananda Devi’s novel EVE OUT OF HER RUINS (2016), tr. by Jeffrey Zuckerman for spring next year, together with an audiobook and, in partnership with non-profit organisation Shadow Heroes, translation workshops for sixth-form pupils. In 2021, we will also be publishing our first book originally written in English, A BUS DIARY by Lauren Elkin, and in 2022 TANGENTE VERS L’EST, a novella by Maylis de Kerangal.
Brash Books & Cutting Edge.
BRASH BOOKS launched six years ago to publish “the best crime novels in existence.” Our authors include many Edgar Award winners…and two Mystery Writer of America Grandmasters…even a National Book Award finalist. Our list of over 100 titles is 80% reprints of previously out-of-print books and 20% brand-new novels. We’ve seen a surge in ebook sales during the pandemic…perhaps because people in lockdown need good books to read to kill time and our customers know they can count on our titles to deliver escapist entertainment. We’re reaching readers through our mailing list and social media advertising. Our biggest titles in May were our new release CHAMPAGNE COWBOYS by Leo Banks and our reprints of BLANCHE ON THE LAM by Barbara Neely and Jimmy Sangster’s YOUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD DEATH PEDDLER. Our site is www.brash-books.com
CUTTING EDGE primarily republishes out-of-print books from across many genres, from crime novels to westerns to television reference books. We launched the imprint only a few weeks before the pandemic, so it has hit us hard. We haven’t had a chance to establish ourselves, build our list, and create a customer base before the shut-down. So sales have been low. We also have lots of titles that have been stuck in limbo in the production pipeline since February. The logjam is beginning to loosen, however, and sales are starting to trickle in on our existing titles. Our most successful titles right now are FACE OF MY ASSASSIN by Carolyn Weston & Jan Huckins (reviewed on NB) and THE COMPLETE ASHE by James Howard. Our site is www.cuttingedgebooks.com
Scribe UK is an independent trade-publishing house based in London, with headquarters in Melbourne, Australia. Committed to publishing books that matter – narrative and literary nonfiction on important topics, and the best of local, international, and translated fiction. Our authors include the International Booker-nominated Tommy Weiringa, Hwang Sok-yong and Nino Haratischvili, as well as the acclaimed non-fiction writers Azadeh Moaveni, Rachel Louise Snyder and Bryan Stevenson.
We decided to publish only a select few particularly timely books over the summer – including Extraordinary Parenting, a guide to homeschooling and #ENTRYLEVELBOSS, a guide to getting on the career ladder – and move the rest of our new releases into autumn and 2021. We wanted to give these books the best chance at success, and because of the closure of bookshops, we thought moving them into a less uncertain time would
do that. We know a lot of publishers have done the same, which will make the rest of the year very competitive, and potentially tough on sales.
Our books can now thankfully be purchased/ordered from any bookshop across the UK. If you’re still hesitant to venture out to bricks and mortar bookshops, you can buy them via the Waterstones, Foyles, Blackwells etc. websites, as well as Hive.co.uk and Amazon UK, (although, like all book publishers, we would encourage you to order them via your local or independent bookstore if possible). We also offer weekly eBook deals via our newsletter, click here to sign up.
Elly by Maike Wetzel (translated by Lyn Marven) A gripping literary thriller about a young girl who goes missing, returning years later, older and much changed. Called ‘a devastating study of grief and loss’ by the Daily Mail, Elly is a tale of longing and doubt that takes every parent’s greatest fear and lets it play out to an emotionally powerful, memorable climax.
Extraordinary Parenting by Eloise Rickman is the essential guide to homeschooling from parent educator Eloise Rickman (@mightymother_). In this warm, accessible book, Rickman tells you everything you really need to know about parenting and educating your child at home. Whether you’re planning to make a permanent move to homeschooling or you’re temporarily balancing it alongside paid work, Extraordinary Parenting shows that you don’t need a huge house, endless free time, or a host of expensive resources to unlock your child’s potential.
Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel Mallory Ortberg From the beloved writer behind The Toast and Slate’s ‘Dear Prudence’ column comes a personal essay collection exploring popular culture, literature, religion, and sexuality. With wit and compassion, Daniel Mallory Ortberg revisits beloved cultural and literary figures in the light of his transition. Called ‘wonderfully funny’ by The Telegraph.
Don’t applaud. Either laugh or don’t. (At the Comedy Cellar.) by Andrew Hankinson (published on 27 August 2020) From the author of the cult-classic You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat], comes an experimental history of the Comedy Cellar – the comedy club that launched the careers of the world’s biggest comedians and, since it hosted Louis CK’s return to comedy after he was accused of sexual impropriety, has been at the frontlines of the debate around freedom of expression in comedy. Through a series of interviews, complaints, emails, text messages, letters and petitions, Hankinson lays down the many-sided conversation about the politics of modern comedy and the limits to free expression. Deeply researched, Don’t Applaud features some of the biggest names in the business, including Stewart Lee, Dave Chapelle and Judy Gold.
Comment: This has been a really challenging year, and the ripple effects are only just beginning to be felt, but we’re really proud of the way the industry, including our own team, has adapted and innovated during this difficult time. Now with bookshops back open, we are excited that readers can once again experience the joy of finding something new when browsing, or picking up something great from a bookseller recommendation (and we hope some of these books will be ours!).
Saraband is a small publisher of nature and place writing, memoir, history, general non-fiction and literary fiction, based in the Manchester area. We publish writers from all around the UK and from other parts of the world, occasionally in translation, but focus particularly on authors from the North of England, Scotland and the islands. Our small team consists of three of us in-house in Salford, several core freelancers, a shared London-based sales team, admin in Glasgow, and lots of collaborative partnerships. Our authors have won or been shortlisted for most of the major book awards in the UK and plenty of international and regional ones, too. We publish diverse voices from across all kinds of boundaries.
We didn’t have any problems moving immediately to home working, even before lockdown became official, because we already had flexible home-working in place for staff. But one of our team was new, starting just as lockdown hit. She’s only ever been in the office for an interview and an induction day! Nevertheless, she’s integrated brilliantly into the team.
Initially, we felt a severe sales impact, with April sales drastically down (to 20% of April 2019). Spring is crucial for us, because our seasonal non-fiction in nature writing, local and heritage titles depend on the tourist season – and our spring fiction relies on a long season of events and festival appearances for author exposure.
More than half of our year’s titles were either in distribution or en route to the warehouse when lockdown hit, so furloughing was not an option. Also, no one wanted to be furloughed. Instead, we worked extremely hard on being creative and flexible, putting everything online and troubleshooting the supply chain.
Within three weeks we had relaunched our website, uploaded videos, conducted live Q&As and other live and recorded events on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Soundcloud and elsewhere, launched a podcast (Cabin Fever Fables), and put a lot of extra resource into social media. We then relaunched our newsletter, too. Meanwhile, we redoubled mainstream publicity efforts, managing to take advantage of press and media slots that became available when large publishers postponed their major releases.
All these strategies produced good results, with May and June sales much improved and closer to normal levels, and sales are increasing even more now with bookshops reopening. We reopened our online shop and have signed up to Glassboxx for ebooks and audio. We’ve previously sold physical and digital books from our site, but in recent years focused efforts on supporting bookshops instead. In lockdown there was no choice. We’ll continue with direct sales for the time being, although we’re so happy to see bookshops back!
The Nature of Spring and Nature of Summer: two titles by Jim Crumley – https://saraband.net/sb-title/exclusive-seasons-bundle-the-nature-of-summer-the-nature-of-spring/
I’ll always wax lyrical about Graeme Macrae Burnet, and especially his Booker shortlisted title His Bloody Project: https://saraband.net/sb-title/his-bloody-project-booker-prize-shortlisted-2016/
Our forthcoming (Feb 2021) inaugural winner of the Northbound Book Award, Castles from Cobwebs by debut author J.A. Mensah, is fantastic: https://saraband.net/2020/06/19/castles-from-cobwebs-northbound-winner/
Another wonderful forthcoming title for Feb 2021 is a memoir by another debut writer, Jill Hopper: The Mahogany Pod.
A Scottish historical novel and recent winner of the Paul Torday Memorial Award, As the Women Lay Dreaming, Donald S Murray https://saraband.net/sb-title/as-the-women-lay-dreaming/
And in an attempt to widen the net beyond a middle-class literary audience, we have two excellent books with grassroots sport subjects that are appealing across class lines: The Boxing Diaries, by Marion Dunn, who took up the sport in mid-life. https://saraband.net/sb-title/the-boxing-diaries/
And Twenty Football Towns, forthcoming next month, by Steve Leach, which looks at lower-league clubs and their importance in twenty towns, mostly in the North.
You can subscribe to our newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/gZhSij
Sandstone Press is an independent publisher based in the Scottish Highlands, producing inspiring fiction and non-fiction by innovative authors. We’ve brought internationally renowned voices like Man Booker International winner Jokha Alharthi and bestselling author Volker Kutscher to English-language readers, alongside critically acclaimed UK writers like Daniel Shand, Michèle Roberts and Lesley Glaister. Booksellers have always been our biggest champions – with bookshop doors closed, and hand selling temporarily on hold, our sales have unsurprisingly taken quite the hit.
Sandstone books are available from all good bookshops, the usual online places, and from our shiny new online shop. Our offers on book bundles from our online shop have been very popular over the past few months!
We’re very proud to be publishing Stolen Lives by Louise Hulland this September – it’s a powerful yet sensitive investigation into human trafficking and slavery in Britain today, including what we can do to make a difference. Please pre-order it from our online store, or from your favourite bookshop.
We published Lesley Glaister’s Blasted Things at the height of lockdown. While it received wonderful reviews, this beautifully dark historical novel missed out on the live events and bookshop attention it deserved.
Things are difficult, but we’re feeling positive. The indie publishing community is wonderfully supportive, and a joy to be part of.
The March Fallen by Volker Kutscher the latest in the Babylon Berlin series is published this month.
Barbican Press is a micro publisher, with myself [Martin Goodman] at the helm and a wondrous posse of freelancers providing expertise. Working from home is our norm. I surrendered my university post last Autumn to give the Press my all. 2020 was the summer of our relaunch. One day I pitched our titles to the sales team of Compass for the first time, and then on my way home social distancing was announced. Our entire new stock arrived in the distributor’s warehouse and an hour later was locked away.
What’s our way forward? Fingers crossed that each title wins a major national award, and well done such awards for going ahead. Maggie Hamand’s metaphysical Vatican thriller Virgin & Child had a quiet birth in hardback on April 2nd, launch events cancelled, but has been garnering sterling reviews. We reduced the ebook price to help spin it into the world and hopefully the world can become ready for a paperback party.
Our two other big summer novels have shifted back to an August release. Colin W. Sargent’s Red Hands is a thrilling true-life tale drawn from interviews with the Romanian dictator’s daughter-in-law Iordana Ceausescu. We still can’t guess why the big houses missed out on this one, and so trust it to make its splash. Another true-life novel that brings a woman’s voice and tale to the fore is Miranda Miller’s Angelica, Paintress of Minds. Angelica Kaufmann was a portraitist who powered her way to the pinnacle of 18th century art, befriending the likes of Goethe and Emma Hamilton along the way. This book was twinned with the Royal Academy’s three month exhibition of Angelica Kaufmann’s work. Sadly that exhibition has been cancelled, but the book hasn’t! Let Angelica’s voice be heard! (Both reviewed on NB).
Shifted back to early September is James Thornton’s second poetry collection, Notes from a Mountain Village. For twenty-five years James visited a mountain village in the Pyrenees and penned this collection about the play of people and the natural world in this French valley. Even he can’t go there this year, just as he’s had to cancel a promotional tour, but his collection takes us on an intimate journey into this special place on Earth.
We’re committing to next year’s titles, and have even moved one forward in the calendar. Chris Westoby’s The Fear Talking is a vivid account of the anxiety that battered his teenage years – and batters him still. A pandemic makes the need for such a book urgent, so we’ll be bringing it out in time for Christmas.
Comment: Each of Barbican Press’ books enriches the world. That’s our reason to keep on going. Readers, please join us!
Quartet publishes books outside the mainstream. Our chairman Naim Attallah is the last great independent publisher of his generation. We’re unstoppable and have been been publishing throughout the crisis! Our very small team are still working away at home.
We have published three new titles since lockdown. Sadly we had to cancel the book launches, but we’ll be celebrating the release of these titles whenever we can!
We’ve certainly experienced some hiccups releasing titles during lockdown. Our sales team are unable to do the rounds and the speed in which orders are fulfilled has certainly slowed, but everyone has been understanding and patient. The press have had to make do with PDFs and we’ve still managed to receive some great coverage for our new titles… Here are our new ‘released in lockdown’ titles:
Pomeranski by Gerald Jacobs is ideal escapist fiction. This novel is an ode to post-war Jewish Brixton and its cast of characters. ‘Colourful and episodic…Mr Jacobs keeps the mood genial and the yarns flowing’ (The Economist)
We’ve also published a revised edition of The Making of an Immigration Judge by James Hanratty. In this new edition, Hanratty gives insight to the day’s most vital immigration issues: from the much debated ‘points-based system’ to migrant Channel crossings; Windrush (Hanratty sat on the Windursh Lessons Learned Review) to Hong Kong, where he was legal advisor to the British government in the 1997 handover.
‘Naim Attallah’s career has been the stuff of legend’ (Daily Mail). His new title, reviewed on NB, is an engaging and illuminating potpourri of vignettes selected from his fifteen books of memoirs and interviews, along with a sprinkling of blog posts, giving a taste of late 20th century London culture and evoking the shifting fortunes of publishing life over the past forty years.
Some of our authors have been writing about lockdown and the world today… Val Henessy wrote a short story ‘Lockdown’ which was read by Simon Paisley Day and can be viewed here and you can read Venetia Welby’s powerful and thought-provoking piece Vanishing Attention Span.
The Author’s Club hosted a fantastic online festival Lockdown Lit Fest and Gerald Jacobs was interviewed on Pomeranski. Ted Gorton was shortlisted for the Author’s Club First Novel Award and read from Only the Dead in the lead up to the winner announcement here.
Comment: It certainly hasn’t been easy but we’ve stayed positive and are excited to be emerging from the worst of the crisis with some brilliant new books!
Hope Road is an independent publisher, set up in 2010 by Rosemarie Hudson focusing on Africa, Asia and the Caribbean and exploring themes of identity, cultural stereotyping and disability. Bringing neglected voices from the margins to the centre of the page in ranges of books for adults and young adults. In 2019 new imprint Small Axes was launched, overseen by Pete Ayrton as Editor, mixes postcolonial classics that helped to shape cultural shifts at the time of their first publication with titles by contemporary authors that continue in the tradition of rebellion and contesting the canon.
Our August to October titles are: A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN – British Muslim Women Write About Love and Desire, editors, Claire Chambers, Nafhesa Ali and Richard Phillips; THE COFFER DAMS by Kamala Markandaya and DUPPY CONQUEROR by FERDINAND DENNIS. All adult fiction.
Our two April titles were THE TAINTED by Cauvery Madhavan, historical fiction and ARTEMISA by Anna Banti, art history. In February we published ON TERRORISM- Conversations with My Daughter by Tahar Ben Jelloun, non-fiction.
Comment: Like most small presses money is always tight. We are using this period to plan for when this current situation is over so we can continue to bring great books to our current and new readers.
Prototype was founded in 2019 by Jess Chandler, co-founder of independent publishing houses Test Centre and House Sparrow Press. We publish poetry and novels, alongside more experimental interdisciplinary works. Prototype strives to increase audiences for experimental writing.
Fatherhood Caleb Klaces (reviewed on NB). Fatherhood is the debut novel from award-winning poet Caleb Klaces, combining prose and poetry in an experimental work of verse fiction. Following the birth of their first child, a couple move out of the capital to the northern countryside, where they believe the narrators great-grandfather, a Russian emigrant, was laid to rest. The father dedicates himself to parenting, writing and conversation with his dead ancestor, newly conscious of the ties that bind the present to the past. It is a time of startling intimacies, baby-group small talk, unexpected relationships and tender rhythms, when every clock seems to tell a different time, and the solidity of language is broken. As his daughter begins to speak, the fathers gentleness turns to unexplainable rage. He begins to question who he must protect his child from the outside world or himself. Their new house, the family discover, is built on a floodplain. Moving between history, memory and autobiography, its shifting form captures a life and language split open by fatherhood. An experiment in rewriting masculinity, it asks how bodies can share both a house and a planet.
I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For Jen Calleja A novelist questions why shes been shortlisted for the Prize of Prizes Prize; an artist duo has a messy break up; a schoolgirl is saved from a predator by a flash flood and a gang of dead animals; a surgeon has an incurable identity crisis; a budding actor cant see whats so funny; a pregnant food writer gets a craving for luxury consumerism. These thirteen stories by writer and literary translator Jen Calleja pick apart the hidden motivations behind our desires, and the ways we seek out distraction from difficult truths. They investigate histories, power dynamics, rituals, institutions the roles we adopt, as well as the ones we inherit. Known for her acclaimed poetry and translations, and as a performer in numerous bands, these facets manifest in an attention to the latent ambivalence of language, and the nature of storytelling itself. This writing is direct and considered it asks to be read, read out loud, retold, refashioned into fables with a distinctive mouthfeel. Im Afraid Thats All Weve Got Time For is a sharp, bold, inventive and prescient fictional debut from a versatile and brilliant writer.
The Boiled In Between Helen Marten. The Boiled in Between is the debut novel by Turner Prize-winning artist Helen Marten, a bold and daring work of fiction which transposes the poetic sensibility of Martens visual work to the page. It is a challenging, playful, enigmatic, tactile and deliberately ambiguous work of great inventiveness, which will establish Marten as an exceptional talent and unique voice in contemporary fiction. The novel began as an attempt to map the structure and stories of a house; within its tilted, sensuous, alchemical world, characters navigate strange, meticulously indexed landscapes real and conceptual to question language and definition and illuminate the associative movements of our minds. Spliced between three voices, the narrative is a project always in movement. The characters traverse these in-betweens: the hot-blooded living world; the curious disembodiment of the imagination; and the rampant snipping away at time in a progression morbidly (and comically) ever closer to death.
Comment: Things are looking up in the book world! Waterstones and many of the independents are open, and the supply chain seems to be kicking into action again. One thing is for certain … people are reading a lot more during lockdown. We’ve seen our ebook sales increase quite dramatically, and our print sales, having been down nearly 90 percent in April, are starting to come back, which is incredibly reassuring, particularly when we have a spectacular line-up of new books for the Autumn, and well into next year! We’ve changed our marketing strategies slightly to appeal to digital readers and the online community, but readers of all descriptions are obviously making the most of enforced time at home to read, and both back and front list titles have seen an increase. It’s not over yet, that’s for sure … and we undoubtedly will have some nailbiting months to come, as the inevitable recession hits our collective pocketbooks, and buyers are more cautious about shopping in person, which does matter for books, which are often an impulse buy, purchased after browsing, or on the recommendation of a bookseller. We are, however, confident that books will continue to provide relatively inexpensive entertainment, and also supply much-needed distraction and succour.
July: we published Eve Smith’s exquisitely written, incredibly prescient debut thriller The Waiting Rooms, which centres around an all-too-real near future, in which an antibiotic crisis has decimated the population. It swings from the UK to a richly described South Africa, as a woman searches for her birth mother, with catastrophic results. I cannot even find the words to tell you how stunning this book is!
Rod Reynolds’ fast-paced, sophisticated standalone thriller Blood Red City, set in contemporary London. Rod is best known for his historical, rural American Noir and this is a complete departure for him. The Literary Review has already given it a glowing review, with much more to come, and this is a smart, moving, modern London thriller that literally screams TV series! Watch this space!
August: Helen FitzGerald’s divine disaster-noir, family-drama thriller Ash Mountain, set in small-town Australia in the height of the bush fires. Helen’s books are dark, gripping, notoriously funny and poignant, and this one is no exception. Review coverage is going to be cataclysmic … we’ve seen reviews already in Sunday Times, Literary Review and Independent, with much more to come. This is the book Helen has always wanted to write, and we are honoured to publish it! Helen’s previous book, Worst Case Scenario, has been shortlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and there is an immense buzz about her at the moment!
Doug Johnstone’s The Big Chill, sequel to A Dark Matter, and next in the Skelfs series (Doug’s first-ever series). It’s been optioned for TV and the adaptation is under way, and reviews have been consistently glowing! A Dark Matter is our bestselling book of 2020, and with its dark humour and beautifully wrought characters – three generations of women in the Skelfs family, funeral directors and part-times PIs – this series has appealed to a huge range of readers.
Will Carver’s immense Hinton Hollow Death Trip, third in the loose Detective Sergeant Pace series, and a follow-up to the critically acclaimed Good Samaritans and Nothing Important Happened TodToda
In September, we’ve got a brand-new, hard-hitting, emotive and poetic Michael J. Malone title, A Song of Isolation, and proofs are printing now! Also in September is Agnes Ravatn’s long-awaited new psychological thriller The Seven Doors (translated by Rosie Hedger). Her English debut, was one of our bestselling books EVER … a BBC Book at Bedtime, shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award, and more!
October sees two from Iceland, with Lilja Sigurdardóttir’s award-winning standalone thriller Betrayal (translated by Quentin Bates), and an immense debut from Eva Björg Ægisdóttir, The Creak on the Stairs (translated by Vicky Cribb), the first in the Forbidden Iceland series, lined up for multiple awards and press. The sequel, Girls Who Lie, will be out next year and is already in the translation suite!
In November, Gunnar Staalesen’s ‘vintage’ Fallen Angels (translated by Don Bartlett)… the book that cemented his status as one of the godfathers of Nordic Noir, and it’s mesmerizingly dark and chilling. We’ll also be publishing the sequel to French-Canadian Roxanne Bouchard’s award-winning literary thriller We Were the Salt of the Sea – The Coral Bride (both translated by David Warriner), set in the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, and it’s BEAUTIFUL! Proofs coming soon!
December has a BRAND-NEW signing and we are still a little stunned that we managed to negotiate rights. Ragnar Jónasson is BACK with the final instalment of the Dark Iceland series, Winterkill. We’ll be publishing a trade hardback for the first time, perfect for the Christmas market, and a paperback in late January. Since we first published Ragnar’s Snowblind, he has gone on to sell over a million copies of his books worldwide and he is, hands-down, our bestselling author EVER. More on this soon, but watch social media for our teaser campaign!
Our website is currently being redeveloped, with lots of bells and whistles, and our newsletter now goes out every other Thursday, to keep our 12K+ subscribers up to date on our news!
I also asked Orenda to comment on PIRATING, it seems pretty apt to look at this now.
Comment: It’s pretty difficult to quantify what impact this has on our sales, but for every book ‘stolen’, it means at least £2 less for the author and the same again for us. That can quickly add up. Digital theft affects Orenda and the authors it represents. It has a big impact. Every penny matters in a little company and too many people are out for a freebie or a bargain, despite the fact that we aim to keep our ebooks affordable. You only have to run a search for a few of our books to see the scale, and every one of those ‘free’ downloads costs us and, through that, our authors, much needed income. We would, on average, after commission from our ebook distributor, and retailer (Amazon, Kobo, Apple, etc) share, earn about £2.50 per book. It doesn’t take long for that to add up. Barely a week goes by without my overworked assistant having to post cease and desist notices on pirate sites. Usually they come down pretty quickly, but it’s a question of scouring the site to ensure that all books are taken down (sometimes the whole list is there), and they have to be addressed one by one. A weekly exercise is keywording books into search engines to see how many pop up on illegal sites. Recently, our big distributor (USA based) was hacked, and a big percentage of our books were ‘stolen’ for this type of use.
It’s already illegal, so I don’t know what the government can do other than increase the penalties significantly. At present, we don’t even bother to report the piracy. We have never had any real response. Our ebooks are rights protected (DRM); however, this doesn’t appear to make any difference. I don’t know what the answer is, and the authors can’t do much either, other than be diligent in reporting what they see. It’s costing us all money, but there aren’t a lot of options. We need to educate readers so that they understand that they are stripping publishers and authors of their livelihood, all for the sake of saving a few pounds. If it becomes morally unacceptable to pirate, we might see a decrease in incidence. digital piracy threaten both the lively hoods of both author and publisher. If our books are available for free in multiple places, who is going to bother to pay for them? At its extreme, it could potentially drive a company out of business. We have print books, too, which are harder to pirate, but it has been known for books to be ripped over via pirated pdf and sold.
NYRB Classics is dedicated to publishing an eclectic mix of fiction and nonfiction from different eras and times and of various sorts, the kind of books that people run into outside of the classroom and then remember for life. We publish works by American and British writers though literature in translation constitutes a major part of the series, simply because so much great literature has been left untranslated into English or deserves to be translated again. NYRB Poets features the work of poets from around the world. In addition we publish contemporary writers in our New York Review Books line, graphic works in New York Review Comics, and classic and new books in two series devoted to children’s literature.
Our office, located in New York City’s West Village, has been closed since mid-March and everyone has been working from home. We don’t expect to return to the office until September. We have managed to publish 15 books since March and have a substantial list scheduled for the autumn. Independent bookstores have been shut but many of them set up “shops” on bookshop.org. Also, we have seen an increase in e-book sales over the last few months.
In June the independents began to reopen but the timing varies by state. Some bookstores are open for browsing but are limiting the number of customers allowed in at one time because of the need to social distance. Other bookshops offer curbside pick up only. Fortunately, most independent bookstores continue to accept online orders and ship books, either from the store or from a wholesaler. Our distributor has started to ship directly to many bookstores, again, as the stores have opened. As for the chains, Barnes & Noble has opened most of its stores as have Indigo in Canada and Waterstones and Blackwells in the UK.
NYRB had to cancel in-store events but virtual events have proved successful and we now reach a non-local audience. Store events might have had 30-40 people but we’re reaching upwards of 125-130 people with virtual events and the audience is truly international.
We have an event series with Brooklyn’s Community Bookstore. Editorial director Edwin Frank has been in conversation with authors, translators, introducers, and critics. In July Edwin will talk with with Diane Johnson, author of The True History of the First Mrs Meredith and Other Lesser Lives, Jonathan Buckley, author of Great Concert of the Night, and critic Madeline Schwartz about Anna Segher’s Transit. The recorded events may be viewed on Community Bookstore Live. We’ve had virtual events with other bookshops, including NYC’s McNally Jackson and San Francisco’s City Lights. We do whatever we can to support the independents.
Unwitting Street by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (August 14th, paperback £13.99) A collection of the 20th century Ukrainian author’s philosophical and phantasmagorical stories in a new translation from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull.
Lost Property: Memoirs and Confessions of a Bad Boy by Ben Sonnenberg (June 16th, paperback, £14.99 ) and Stories I Forgot to Tell You by Dorothy Gallagher (September 29th, hardback, £13.99 ). Ben Sonnenberg’s reissued memoir is a tale of youthful riot and rebellion by the founder of the literary magazine Grand Street. His widow Dorothy Gallagher’s beautiful book, written conversationally, confidingly, and unpretentiously, moves between the past and the present to evoke the life she shared with him.
J R (October 20th, paperback £19.99 ) and The Recognitions (November 24th, paperback, £22.50 ) both by William Gaddis. The Recognitions, Gaddis’s first work, was dismissed uncomprehendingly by the critics on publication in 1955 and ignored by the literary world for decades after. Now, this nearly 1,000 page book, is recognized as one of the great American novels. It’s a sweeping depiction of a world in which everything that anyone recognizes as beautiful or true or good emerges as anything but: our world. J R, a nearly 800 page novel and winner of the National Book Award, is the story of J R Vansant, a sixth grader, who manages to run a massive Ponzi scheme out of a phone booth in the school hallway. It’s an appallingly funny and all-too-prophetic depiction of America’s romance with finance. J R will be introduced by Joy Williams and The Recognitions will be introduced by Tom McCarthy.
And finally a note on:
Bridging the Divide
The fifteen-part BookBlast Podcast “Bridging the Divide” series championing independent publishers, their authors and translators, and a guest interview with the publisher behind Nordic Noir, Christopher MacLehose is now on.
Dreamed up last Autumn, the series has become rather timely: owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, 9 of the 11 books featured have been published during the lockdown, so festival appearances, launches and talks were cancelled.
A friend who usually directs BBC drama — currently at home — is doing the sound editing (the interviews were recorded using ZOOM).
The series kicked off on 30 July with 2 podcasts and runs weekly until November.
Translation and amplifying new or unheard voices have been threads running throughout . . . ever more important since the current bigger picture is far from ideal . . . hence keeping on keeping on each in our different way . . . to create a wonderful unified kind of chorus of support for good words and writing and ideas from anywhere and everywhere!
Check it out.