Four independent publishers have come together to form the Northern Fiction Alliance (NFA), a cohort assembled to showcase the output of northern indie presses to the international market in an attempt to “level the playing field” and promote regional diversity in publishing.
Put together by Manchester-based indie Comma Press, the Alliance will facilitate independent publishers in the North of England to work together and represent themselves and their authors internationally.
The core NFA cohort includes Peepal Tree Press (Leeds), And Other Stories (relocating to Sheffield from High Wycombe), Dead Ink Books (Liverpool) and Comma Press (Manchester). The cohort will showcase and sell the work of "exciting and diverse” authors to help build the cultural identity of independent British fiction as well as British publishing based in the North.
Funded by Arts Council England’s International Showcasing Programme, the Alliance has been awarded £56,167 to visit Frankfurt Book Fair - as well as fairs in New York, Beijing and Buenos Aries - to explore markets, meet potential buyers, and gain practical experience in how international rights sales are negotiated.
A spokesperson for the Alliance said in a statement: “Independent publishers traditionally find it harder to sell international rights because they lack the contacts, global reputation, and logistical infrastructure. We will level the playing field with the provision of global exposure to selected NFA authors and collective rights representation for other northern publishers who will be featured in our promotional material."
Ra Page, founder and managing editor of Comma Press, told The Bookseller: "This is an opportunity to show the international market that British publishing doesn't just equate to London publishing. Indeed, when it comes to issues like diversity and work in translation, Northern publishers actually out-perform the London houses, proportionally speaking."
Page also said that Northern publishers are "strengthened" by the range of people working for them, yet are consistently ignored by the rest of the industry.
"Staff at these small houses are drawn from a much broader range of backgrounds, not just the most privileged", Page said. "This has a very real effect on what, who and how these houses publish. The industry is always crying out for more diversity, inclusivity and range; yet the reports that highlight these problems often fail to even include the Northern independents in their surveys. Literary publishing should be in the business of bringing in perspectives from the peripheries; yet publishing is one of the most centralised and metropolitan of all cultural industries. This investment from the Arts Council is an opportunity to redress that in the wider market.”
Nathan Connelly, editor and director at Dead Ink, said the north has a "vibrant and ambitious" independent publishing scene, but their location outside the publishing hub of London, means that the presses also have to work "creatively and look at ways in which we can support each other".
"This alliance is an exciting opportunity that shows publishing in the North is ready to take on the world,” he said.
Publisher of And Other Stories Stefan Tobler added: “We were so happy to find Comma Press welcome us to the North with the Northern Fiction Alliance. Smaller publishers working in literary fiction can do more together, and this network of publishers is shaping up to be a workable, friendly thing that will help us sell our authors' rights more effectively at trade fairs. Publishing can seem very London-centric, but most of the interesting smaller independent presses are elsewhere.”
The cohort plans to scale up the project after the initial 18-month funding period, which will see the growth of the NFA to include additional independent publishers from the North.
The Spare Room Project was launched earlier this year in a bid to tackle the issue of regional diversity in publishing. It aims to offer accommodation to those who live outside of London and don’t have somewhere to stay during an internship or work experience placement.
Earlier this year Faber c.e.o. Stephen Page criticised publishing for being too "London-centric" and the chief executive of New Writing North has also recently said the book trade should be doing more to promote diversity in publishing and that there is "a lack of awareness within the publishing industry about the rest of the country”.