This is a guest blog by Thom Cuell. Thom is the Managing Director of Dodo Ink, an independent publisher specialising in difficult and daring fiction. His writing has appeared in 3am Magazine, The Weeklings and The Literateur, and he has an MA in English and American Literature from The University of Manchester.
From the outside, the publishing world can seem like a scary place. The image of the stuffy Old Boys’ club might be a little outdated, but breaking in is still tough. Moving to London, or taking an unpaid internship, isn’t for everyone. But are there alternative routes into publishing? I’d like to tell you a bit about how I went from amateur book blogger to Managing Director of an independent press.
After I left University, I began writing a book blog, The Workshy Fop, mainly so I could still use the skills I’d learned on my degree. I had very little awareness of publishing at this time, and my readership didn’t extend far beyond my social circle. Later, I met Jane Bradley and Alex Herod of the For Books’ Sake website, who were a great inspiration. Their mission to promote writing by women has branched out from a website into a series of anthologies, festival appearances, writing workshops, spoken word events and more. They showed that it is possible to bridge the worlds of amateur enthusiasm and professional publishing, and that publishers were happy to engage with people from outside the industry.
Through my blog, I gradually built up contacts within the industry, and found that writers and publicists were far more approachable than I’d originally realised. I wanted to do more than just write about books though – I felt like I needed to create something of my own. Firstly, I organised a literary salon with the novelist Sam Mills; we invited sixty or so authors, publishers and reviewers to mingle at the Phoenix Arts Club in London. This was a bit terrifying at first, until we realised that we were essentially trying to get a bunch of publishers drunk in Soho – how hard could it be? The event was a success, and we’ve held them regularly since.
Talking to people at the salon, there was a general feeling that the industry was avoiding ‘risky’ and challenging novels. Sam’s friend Tom Tomaszewski had been working on a novel, The Eleventh Letter, which had been sent to various agents without finding a home because it was too difficult to categorise: part ghost story, part crime novel, but also extremely literary. Through my blogging, I’d seen the success that publishers like And Other Stories and Galley Beggar Press had achieved publishing ambitious novels. I’d also spoken to many publishers, and found that most came from ‘non-literary’ backgrounds: so why not try to publish The Eleventh Letter ourselves? It is a great novel which deserves to be on the bookshelves, and needs a publisher who can take it on its own terms.
We teamed up with Digital Marketer Alex Spears, who has an industry background, but is passionate about trying new approaches, and Dodo Ink was born. We received some fantastic submissions, and have already built up a list which we are proud of. None of us are wealthy, so we have decided to raise our start-up funds through a Kickstarter campaign. This is in keeping with the ethos of Dodo Ink – we are connecting with people beyond the publishing bubble, and hopefully inspiring a few of them to start their own projects too! The response has been fantastic, and we are already close to reaching 50% of our target, with five weeks of the campaign left to run.
By running a Kickstarter, we are allowing a little daylight in on the magic of publishing. We have the opportunity to build relationships with our backers, and to start to build an audience before our novels are available in bookshops. The response we’ve had so far has been fantastic, and gives us assurance that there is a market for the kind of daring fiction we ourselves want to read – we can’t wait to share it with readers next year.