Breaking the habit

A lot of us are so scared of saying the wrong thing that we often don’t say anything at all. With Break the Habit Press, we want to publish books that open up the conversation on topics that some of us find difficult to talk about.

It started as an idea for an online zine in August 2017 when we both found ourselves with a need to vent about the subtleties of everyday sexism, toxic masculinity, institutional racism, and sexual harassment. We wanted to challenge the accepted bad habits within society and the stereotypes we witness in mainstream media. The idea was vague but it was there.

What was an online concept quickly spiralled into something much more vast when Kezia (the words side of the team) approached friend and filmmaker Phoebe Montague, about making her powerful documentary "100 Women I Know" into a book. The documentary intimately interviews four young women about their experiences of rape and sexual assault. As research for the film Phoebe sent out a questionnaire on Facebook and received over 100 responses from the women she knew. After a quick chat with Phoebe, her original, unpublished research became the basis of our first book, 100 Women I Know. At that moment we sacked off the zine and thought we’d give publishing books a go.  

The united cry against sexual violence instigated by the #MeToo movement happened only a few weeks after we’d started work on the book. We already knew that we wanted to open up the conversation on sexual violence with this book, but #MeToo highlighted the need for these stories to be told.

With a book in tow and a combination of editorial and design experience between us, we worked tirelessly for four months to set up a publishing house and register as a company, create a brand, edit 400 pages of text from Phoebe’s research, design the book inside and out, find a distributor and send the book to print. Once the book was on press, we drummed up some publicity and got books into bookshops.

There’s nothing wrong with a conventional book launch, but we’re not a conventional publisher. Although we were inexperienced in events and terrified that we wouldn’t be able to fill a room, we soon found ourselves organising an event as part of the UN Women #HeforShe Arts Week 2018, in collaboration with 100 Women I Know (the name of the project as a whole, run by Phoebe) and feminist publication Ash Magazine.

Together we managed to pull in around 250 people for ‘The Art of Consent’ at Rich Mix in Shoreditch and raised money for UN Women. We invited Sophie Walker (leader of the Women’s Equality Party), Chidera Eggerue (a.k.a. The Slumflower), Anthony Anaxagorou (award-winning poet and publisher), Richie Brave (presenter, actor, writer and public speaker), Fiona Vera-Gray (leading academic on sexual violence against women) and Ben Hurst (ambassador for The Good Lad Initiative), to speak on a panel exploring consent. We also screened the documentary, had a reading from the book, held an art exhibition, had performances from spoken word artists and a DJ set from BBZ. How did we do it? We just asked. Turns out people are pretty great if what you’re doing is for a good cause.

Our methods of publishing may be nothing short of bonkers, and we still have a lot to learn, but we want to do things a little differently. We want to look outside the walls of traditional publishing and support projects that work towards social change. We want the books we publish to give back directly to the communities that they support (a percentage of book sales from 100 Women I Know will go towards funding workshops on consent), and give a platform to the unheard and under-represented. We can’t say too much about our next three titles as we’re in the middle of commissioning, but they will be published towards the end of 2018, probably in a similar but slightly less frenetic manner than 100 Women I Know.

We may be winging it but if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Rebecca Souster and Kezia Bayard-White are the co-founders of Break the Habit Press. Follow them on Twitter at @brkthehbt or contact them via email at thegirls@breakthehabitpress.com.