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On independent publishing and the North: Kevin Duffy interview

Kevin Duffy founded the independent publisher, Bluemoose Books, with his wife, Hetha, after re-mortgaging their house. He’s been involved in sales and marketing for the last 30 years with commercial, academic, fiction and non-fiction publishing companies. Here Stephanie Cox interviews him.

1. What kind of literature do you publish?

We publish cracking stories which are beautifully written that engage and inspire readers.

2. Many of your books have now received awards/sold film rights/been translated into numerous languages. What would you say has been your biggest success so far?

I think all our books are successes. The beauty of Independence is that we don’t have the acute economic imperative that the big corporates have. In their world if a book doesn’t succeed economically straight away, the author is dropped. We’re here for the long haul. Books we published five years ago like Gabriel’s Angel by Mark A Radcliffe, still sell really well. Nod by Adrian Barnes has sold incredibly well, and has just been published in North America. Pig Iron and Beastings by Benjamin Myers have won awards and been short listed for others too. King Crow by Michael Stewart still sells and we published that in 2011. Our biggest seller was the non-fiction book The Hardest Climb by Alistair Sutcliffe. The story of how he overcame a life threatening brain haemorrhage after being the first man to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents at the first attempt. He was on BBC Radio 4’s midweek programme and the sales went doolally tap.

3. What were some of the risks you had to take into consideration when starting your own independent publishing company?

Losing our house was the biggest issue. Getting it hopelessly wrong and not being taken seriously. Marketing, sales and building a relationship with booksellers on the high street and with libraries too.

4. What does Bluemoose Books have to offer that others don’t or what do you feel makes your company unique?

We are the delicatessens of the publishing world. Our books are honed and polished and made the best they can be. We spend an inordinate amount of time in editing and working with our authors. After all, they are the most important people in publishing, because they create the wonderful stories we want to read. As a family of readers and writers with differing reading tastes we know that once we’ve agreed to publish an author, our passion and individually tailored marketing and sales will get our books into reader’s hands.

5. Why do you feel that independents are good for the publishing industry?

I think Independents are actually in a different publishing industry than the corporates. We are the only ones taking risks with new writers and promoting new voices. We are to some extent the R&D departments of the corporate world. It is interesting to know that 4 of the last 8 winners of The Man Booker have come from the Independent sector. Our publishing decisions are made on the quality of the stories. The economic imperative is first and foremost the main consideration for the corporate publishing world. Great stories are not made round the committee table, great stories are created in the minds of authors. We give our writers time and space to create these stories. If literature is about anything it is about new writers and new voices. As the books editor of The Guardian recently said, ‘It is the independents that are driving innovation in publishing.’

6. You’re a big voice for publishing in the North and often discuss class and region in terms of publishing. Why is it so important that we continue to promote publishing up North?

Geography shouldn’t dictate what is published. I get that, historically, the publishing industry has been in London but, with internships alienating so many creative people entering publishing in London, we are limiting the creative and talented pool of people which will make publishing more dynamic. Having a Northern Power house of publishing in the North will enable wonderfully creative and talented people to get jobs in publishing without having to go down to London. Publishing needs diversity, people who have different life experiences and backgrounds not just the homogenised group of people who come from the same educational institutions and dominate what is being published today. We are justly proud to be a publisher based in the North but we are just as proud to have published stories that are sold in over 42 countries around the world.

To read the full interview, head over to Stephanie’s blog: Words are my Craft.

Bluemoose Books, Independent publisher, Kevin Duff, the North

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