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Small press case study: Influx Press – an interview with Sanya Semakula and Kit Caless

Thanks to Francesca Zunino Harper for setting up this interview.

After being awarded the Republic of Consciousness Prize last week for Attrib. And Other Stories by Eley Williams, Kit Caless and Sanya Semakula, the team agreed to tell us a little about the life of a small press, and the challenges and advantages that come with it.

1) Describe Influx Press and its mission

Influx Press publish stories from the margins of culture, specific geographical spaces and sites of resistance that remain under explored in mainstream literature.

2) Is it harder to create a press, publish books or get them out (to book shops and in the hands of the readers)?

Creating a press is the easy part. Publishing books is harder. Getting them out there in the hands of the readers is hardest. There’s so many books in the world, to convince someone to buy the ones you are publishing is a Sisyphean task.

3) What are the three main challenges of publishing with a small independent press, and what are the three main advantages?

The challenges are:

1. cash flow: money goes out quicker than it comes in. We are constantly on the edge, consistently close to closing. Awards like the Republic of Consciousness are a lifeline to us – it can mean all the difference;

2. time: at a bigger press, you are there five days a week and you can plan accordingly, but all three of us work other jobs or have other commitments; and finally distribution: the best advice you can give anyone setting up a press is ‘sort out your distribution before you start’. It’s hard to sell books if they aren’t in the shops! It took us a while to find Turnaround, our distributors, but they do a fine job.

On the other hand, the advantages are: the passion, care and sheer amount of energy we put into each book/project. Sometimes they sell well, other times they don’t, but working on each one has been a privilege; the fact that we publish what we like. There isn’t a sales or marketing teams behind us telling us what we can and can’t publish. That’s how a book like Eley’s or Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young (Galley Beggar) get published by smaller presses, sometimes big publishing puts silly barriers up to books and authors that really shouldn’t be there; and finally, pubs! A lot of literary stuff happens in, or near pubs. All three of us very much like the pub.

4) What do you think about literary prizes for authors and for readers – what do they change in terms of visibility, sales, opinions?

There is an increased visibility, they act as promotion, which would translate to an increase in sales. It definitely helps a book if it has been shortlisted for a prize as readers are likely to pay more attention to it. I think other award committees pay attention too, so it might get nominated for another award, meaning it’s generating even more attention. After the win, Williams’s Attrib. is getting a lot of buzz, so from the Republic of Consciousness award it’ll potentially reach readers that it might not have initially reached.

5) Finally, the million-dollar question: what should the publishing world do or keep on doing better to support and promote small indie presses and their authors?

The support from the independent booksellers in the UK is phenomenal. The specialist media like BookMachine, LRB, TLS are very supportive too, but it’s very hard to get the ear of the national media in general. To support authors people just need to buy their books. To support the presses? Well, one thing would be nice to collaborate on events with much bigger publishers, if they could share a bit of their platform with us that would be more than enough. Oh, and an invite to Hay wouldn’t go amiss.

EVENT: Join BookMachine on Wednesday 16th May when representatives from three of Britain’s most exciting small publishers bring their unique insights and passions to the table. Tickets here.

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