From Zero to Hero: the next generation of passionate publishers

So it's back to school this week, and as relieved parents return to their desks, there will undoubtedly be some speculation about whether the complex summer holiday juggling might be made just a bit easier by running your own business. While flexibility might be one reason often cited for setting up a new business on your own, there are clearly many more complex motivations for making the leap. Some of the most exciting new publishing ventures to launch in recent years have had very varied motivations for getting started, but there are certainly some themes emerging across this next generation of publishers.
Small literary publishers such as Salt Publishing, And Other Stories and Galley Beggar Press are continuing to punch well above their weight in the major literary prizes, and there are also a number of new publishers doing things differently with life-style and other non-fiction content.

In an age where more and more content is digital, it’s interesting to see how so many new publishing ventures are focusing on the tangible, the collectable and the beautiful. The goal of the Hoxton Mini Press founders is "to bring photobooks to a wider audience and make them so beautiful you'll keep them for your grandchildren". This East-London based indie publisher is making collectable photography books and experimenting with subscription models, hyper locality and much more. Similarly, Kirsty Allison’s venture with Cold Lips zine is focusing on the creation of beautiful objects. Developed from her "already famous" night, Sylvia Plath Fan Club, the zine pulls in the best people from fashion, art, and music. Digital is still playing some part in how it is promoted and even presented though, with its founder Allison describing it as "an Instagram-shaped zine".

Reaching distinct communities also appears to be a theme with recently launched publishers. The Do Book Company, set up by Miranda West (previously working at Penguin Random House), publishes books by speakers from the Do Lectures whose ideas have inspired others to go and Do. Each title is about 100 pages, with a focus on the ‘doing’ rather than the background theory, and while the subject areas cover a wide range, a like-minded community of do-ers is growing around its clever positioning.

Giving a voice to underrepresented communities and reaching a more diverse market was the motivation for Valerie Brandes to set up Jacaranda Books with "a particular interest in works related to Africa, the Caribbean, and the experiences of those peoples in the Diaspora". After leaving Profile Books, Brandes felt the need "to explore publishing the kinds of books she longed to see and read but was having trouble finding", and she is now publishing prize-winning authors Irenosen Okojie and Fiston Mwanza Mujila.

There is also the range of new publishers launching with innovative business models and digital at their heart. Rising publishing stars such as the "serialised, social and interactive" The Pigeonhole; new digital publisher Canelo, set up by Michael Bhaskar; and Lost My Name, who are combining stories and technology with software that generates unique stories for children, are all examples of new businesses pushing the boundaries of how digital can reach existing and new audiences.

Finally, the visualisation of content is also still a big focus for a number of emerging enterprises. OWN IT! founder Crystal Mahey-Morgan didn’t feel like there was a space for her ideas and approaches in mainstream publishing, so instead set up a publisher of her own. Driven by story rather then format or form, their first release was a multi-media digital book which included a song and animation within an e-eook. Morgan says: "I was excited about reaching new audiences and giving a platform to new writers/artists and it felt like the only way for me to be able to achieve an undiluted version of my vision was to put my own money where my mouth is."

Berlin-based start-up oolipo has also been experimenting with what a multi-media story might look like "if designed for and driven by the technology of smartphones", and has built a new mobile platform "to enhance and expand storytelling in different ways" to be launched soon. Anna Gerber and Britt Iversen from Visual Editons have also been experimenting with where books and technology meet, with their Editions at Play project with Google Creative Labs - "a place for books powered by the magic of the internet, that champions delightful reading experiences you can read on your phone".

This next generation of publishers are putting their passion into publishing, and it’s not just aspiring entrepreneurs who might benefit from keeping an eye on them. With super-creative campaigns, social media traction to die for, business model innovation and a constant pushing of the boundaries for where content might live, there is much to be learnt from this exciting new wave.  

Sophie Rochester is c.e.o. and founder of The Literary Platform.

*From Hero to Zero takes place at Rich Mix on 22nd September from 10am to 3pm. For more information and tickets click here. The Bookseller is media partner for From Hero to Zero.