How open is publishing?

The most important people in publishing are the writers and illustrators, those who create brilliant books and stories. Last week I read comments from [new Publishers Association president] Joanna Prior in The Bookseller regarding innovation in publishing: "We're not a closed world that is difficult to get into, we're open to innovation, to doing things in new ways." I thank her for starting the debate because I think publishing can be seen as a closed shop and needs to do much, much more to harness the masses of untapped creative talent that I see every day.

Low entry-level pay and unpaid internships are stifling creativity in publishing. I laugh every time I hear "…but Kevin, you’re not a London publisher" - as if geography dictates what great books you publish. But this is a worrying insight into how some people (and these were big noises in the industry) think publishing is and should be about.

And then I get annoyed because publishing is missing a trick, and countless sales opportunities are lost. As Dan Holloway, author of Opening up to Indie Authors, and a speaker at this year’s London Book Fair, says: "I understand that big publishers genuinely want to find new and exciting things but I don't think they know how to do it or where to look. As long as they keep recruiting and interning from the graduate elite, they will always be pulling from an opinion base whose sense of taste and quality and innovation has been moulded in a very controlled and limited environment. What are they doing to get in touch with street artists and aspiring rappers, and out into the poorest schools and after school clubs to ensure that those kids whose parent(s) don't have a room of their own, let alone a space for their kid to do homework in, will be inspired, encouraged and enabled to convert the angers and passions and hopes of their experience into the great literature of 10 years' time? Because unless they are actively doing that, any pretence to be really interested in what's new and exciting is like dangling a bit of string over the side of a rowing boat in the Med and saying 'Hey, I'd love to catch a deep sea Humboldt squid.'"

Having talked to several owners of independent publishing houses, there is a feeling that it is the smaller presses who are the ones taking the risks with innovation and new writing. Every business must look at the financial implications of publishing a book but if it becomes the only consideration, then this stifles innovation. The very idea of a corporate [publisher] offering more than a two book deal is anathema these days. I would suggest that the smaller presses' first thought is: "This is a brilliant book, we’ll have a lower print run and find the necessary readers and nurture this talent." Corporate publishing has different sensibilities due to the very nature of their global operations, and first and foremost they are beholden to their shareholders, meaning they take fewer punts on new writers and replicate what they think is successful. Thus they put more of their weight and heft behind brands. When some c.e.o.s of corporates fail to mention author’s names and bundle them as mere "brands," then, I think, their creativity and innovation has left the building. It is the independent presses that are championing innovation and new writing. Melville House, Galley Beggar, And Other Stories and, dare I say it, Bluemoose Books too, plus many others. It seems the independents are the R&D departments for the big corporates.

I hope this debate continues because it is imperative that publishing becomes more inclusive. There are readers and sales to be had and if the publishing industry doesn’t broaden its search for talent, readers won’t be reached, sales will be lost, and the next great writer will remain unread.

 

Kevin Duffy is the publisher of independent Bluemoose Books, based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.