Starting up from scratch, competing with the ‘big boys’; quite a challenge. What made you decide to do all of this?
Both Gary Budden (co-director) and I came to this through a shared history of DIY culture and zine publishing. Had we known the work that went into creating a book publishers we might never have started! The press really started to come together after we spoke to a few publishers about Acquired for Development By (whilst we were editing it), who actually advised that we did ourselves. Partly, I think, because of the book’s niche-ness but also to make us go away and leave them alone. The real inspiration came when we met Tom Chivers, director of Penned in the Margins (excellent poetry press) , who was incredibly encouraging and gave us invaluable advice and guidance from the start. Since we started taking it seriously, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the interest and support people have shown us. We have two more books already lined up along the ‘site-specific’ theme which we will be starting in September.
You mention on your site that you’d rather deal directly with booksellers than have them purchase books via Gardners/Bertrams. What is the aim of this?
I feel, personally, that developing a good, personal relationship with people selling your book is important. If we can deal directly with the bookshop both parties win, and we feel involved with the people who are supporting us on a human level. Being such a small press, we can’t force wholesalers to pass on what we feel is a decent discount to the bookseller. The ‘new publishers’ offer from wholesalers is simply unaffordable for us, and doesn’t seem to benefit the bookshops either. This may well change depending on how many orders wholesalers get from booksellers who we haven’t made contact with yet, but right now, before the book is released it isn’t a great position to be in. It’s been a frustrating process so far, but I kind of understand why. If we don’t have the financial or promotional clout to make other people lots of money, why would they bother helping us out? We’re not angry about it, as this is something we are new to, but it seems counter-intuitive for a wholesaler to offer a book to a bookshop with very little discount. The bookshop won’t make any money from their end, which means they won’t buy it, which means the middle guys won’t make any money either, and we won’t shift the book. It feels very stagnant.
What have been your biggest challenges so far as an independent publisher?
Money. Raising money to cover all our costs. Time too. Both Gary and I have regular jobs and haven’t taken a penny out of the setting up process. Maybe in the future we can do this full time. Also, accounting and financial stuff doesn’t come naturally to either of us. We are both writers/editors so it’s not something we’ve ever spent time learning in the past. You should have seen my first spreadsheet, it was the most embarrassing thing in the world. Thankfully since then, I’ve picked up a lot of advice and teaching from friends involved with that sort of thing and we’re much more confident about it.
And what parts have been most enjoyable?
I think putting Acquired for… together was probably the most enjoyable so far. It was such a lovely feeling to see the proofs of the book and have it in our hands. In the very near future, our events will be fun I think. We are part of Stoke Newington Literary Festival, and we’re setting up lots of events in bookshops around the capital.
Why should we read the book?
Acquired for Development By is a unique collection of stories set in one place. It isn’t just about Hackney, but about urban-living in general. It has elements of psychogeography, satire, whimsy, anger, surrealism. The work is varied enough that there is something in there for everyone, yet it pulls together as a lucid, fluid work in its entirety. Amongst the twenty-five pieces, there is some great work from Lee Rourke, Gavin James Bower, Molly Naylor as well as new and exciting unpublished writers. The short story is a great form for expressing a perspective or point of view concisely. When you have a collection like Acquired for Development By, you really get the sense that you’re seeing the same place from twenty-five different viewpoints.
And finally, what if I want to read it on my Kindle?
There will be an e-book version soon. We are in the process of converting the files etc. For a small press like ours, we think e-books and physical books can co-exist peacefully. From a personal perspective I prefer a paperback, but I have friends who just buy e-books. I wouldn’t want them to miss out on reading our work just because they choose to read in a different way to me. I think the biggest hurdle that we face with an electronic version is how to distribute and where to make the book visible. We are working with a guy who is fascinated with digital publishing so hopefully we can work something out and perhaps get a little innovation going. When you’re a start up anything it’s good to experiment because you don’t have the rigid formulas and systems of previous directors or larger, more cumbersome hierarchical practices. You can make decisions quickly and adapt more readily. On the other hand, you lack the exposure that will get your book to people who maybe interested in it.