The announcement of a new imprint might seem like another corporate PR exercise. Why bother when few - if any - readers buy a book because of a logo on a spine? Of course, while the launch of Trapeze - our new imprint under the Orion umbrella - is a positive news story about the wider company, it is so much more than that. It’s about challenging ourselves, about being innovative and instigating change, the only way we can remain relevant.
It is missing the point to only measure the value of imprints in terms of their awareness outside of the industry. Imprints have an important role as trade brands; after all, if we are to furnish readers with narratives and voices that will last, we need to attract the best authors and stories. And to do that, we need to be distinct. That’s why we set up Trapeze: starting with a blank piece of paper gives us the opportunity to do things a little differently.
Launching this autumn, we will publish up-to-the-minute, vibrant commercial fiction and non-fiction. What marks us out, though, is the way in which we’ll find and shape these books. Our editorial meetings are now an open forum: all are welcome to attend and comment on our submissions, pitch new ideas or simply listen (our one condition is that you’ve read the material in advance). It’s been a breath of fresh air to hear new ideas and perspectives from all parts of the business; judging from the feedback we’ve received, this meeting has for too long been perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an inner sanctum into which only those with ‘editorial’ in their job title may enter.
We will be more inclusive from an external point of view: we will have an open submissions window relating to the theme of a book we’re publishing each month. We’re also in the early stages of planning a day of events and workshops designed to open up the publishing process, alongside working with Spread the Word to find fresh, more diverse voices.
And we’re not content to simply wait around for the next ‘hot’ book to land in our inbox. Indeed, in a consumer society built on instant gratification, we have to be proactive and nimble. Through a combination of analysis, trend-spotting and good old gut instinct, we know what we want to publish and we know where there are gaps in the market. We will be agile and dynamic in hunting down books that fulfil reader demand.
Indeed, when Sam Eades read that Tim Peake had phoned the wrong number from space, a spark of plot ignited. She then worked with the brilliantly talented writer David M Barnett, who turned that idea into something very special, and Calling Major Tom was born (we’ve already received keen interest in film and TV rights). Another launch title Hygge - a cultural, historical and practical exploration of the Danish approach to life - was conceived in a similar way, and together these books embody one strand of our commissioning strategy.
The other two are to acquire, through the traditional channels, authors that we will build into long-term, returnable brands, alongside landing those big, genre-defining category killers. Being a new start-up, we have the bandwidth to do that; we don’t have any legacy brands on the list, meaning we have the space to break new voices and the energy needed to light a fire under our books.
Being an imprint that encompasses fiction and non-fiction under one roof also enables us to launch our talent in new areas. I think some of the most exciting authors currently being published are those that straddle genres, and our structure means we can build long-term careers that move with the market and adapt to changing reader habits.
It also means that we, as editors, learn from each other. It’s a very different discipline to launch, for example, a debut than it is to launch a Super Thursday autobiography, and this has made us all think differently about how we bring our books to market.
That leads to my final, but no less important, point about why publishers launch imprints. They are to give individuals the autonomy to run a P&L and the vision to run a list; they’re about putting together the right team and seeing what can be accomplished. Opportunity leads to empowerment, and this fosters innovation - the thing we’re all striving to achieve.
Anna Valentine is publisher at Trapeze.