When 404 Ink launched in the summer of 2016, we didn't know what we would publish so much as how we would publish. We’re loud on social media, use crowdfunding regularly and build communities around our books and authors. In January 2017 we had an idea; by December we were somehow award-winning, from business start-up awards, to the Saltire Society Emerging Publisher of the Year. We were even the first publisher to ever top The List Hot 100, an area usually reserved for the likes of Peter Capaldi and Ewan McGregor.
How? That's a question we ask ourselves frequently. But in our year and a bit of publishing as 404 Ink, there might be some lessons to offer.
We look for writers we love to work with as much as the book itself. It's our patented ‘pub test’: could we go on a night out with them? Chris McQueer, who submitted to Issue 1 of our magazine, is a prime example - he's hilarious and talented, and just a genuinely nice, hard-working guy. We also got involved with rock band Creeper at a perfect point between their debut album and touring runs and hit it off immediately. It means that while we can envisage where the books will fit and be marketed, we're also 100% behind everyone we take on.
A large success has been swift, reactionary action, mixed with luck. Our debut Nasty Women struck perfect timing to capture dismay around Trump, Brexit and the general right-wing renaissance, with our Kickstarter 369% funded, which had a knock-on effect of endorsements beyond our wildest dreams - Margaret Atwood, Shirley Manson and Ali Smith to name a few.
The campaign for Nasty Women was highly commended in FutureBook's Campaign of the Year Award for showing that you don't need money to make a marketing impact, and that's the biggest takeaway we can offer. It's a mantra we came to through necessity as two broke people trying to publish our way, but it's one we take forward. You can do a lot with socials, you can reach near enough anyone if you have the tenacity.
We look outside of our industry for inspiration. Our latest publication is Helen McClory's short story pamphlet on Jeff Goldblum, which was discovered and shared by the man himself only recently. There are no limits to the audiences books can reach if you're determined enough.
We're still learning a lot as publishers, but a part of the 404 success story is that we viewed our possibilities as endless, and no goal off-limits. Going from zero to multi-award winning in a year is a validation that being unconventional can work; now, it's not a time for complacency, but to show that it can be sustainable.
Laura Jones and Heather McDaid are the co-founders of publishing company 404 Ink.