At first it might seem odd for Inkandescent, an east London-based independent publisher whose tagline is “by outsiders for outsiders”, to name their biggest book project to date Mainstream. But that title's design, with its bold strikethrough on the first syllable, is critical. The book, to be published next summer in partnership with Unbound, is an anthology of “stories from the edges, bringing 30 authors in from the margins to occupy centre-page”, says Inkandescent co-founder and editor Nathan Evans.
The crowdfunded anthology of authors drawn from communities previously underrepresented in publishing pairs well-known writers, such as Kit de Waal, Kerry Hudson and Julia Bell, with emerging ones. Evans says: “We first had the idea about 18 months ago and partially it was ideological. Obviously, there is a lot of discussion about inclusivity in publishing, and we wanted to help continue that conversation with not just writers of colour, but also around issues of class, gender and sexuality. This is our ethos; we founded Inkandescent looking at how writers are presented [by publishers] and who gets the opportunities to be published.”
But there is also a pragmatic business side too, Evans adds. He and his partner Justin David launched Inkandescent in 2016, and Evans explains: “We’ve been around for a few years and we wanted to make a bit of a splash and get our name out there. It is quite hard as a young indie to get that breakthrough.”
Working with crowdfunding publisher Unbound was strategic, too: “Unbound has started experimenting, working directly with small indies, and I think we’re a bit of a dummy run. But it takes us out to another audience that we might never reach.”
Evans and David are both multi-hyphenate artists: Evans is a poet, writer and filmmaker who has also performed and directed extensively in the theatre; David is a photographer and author whose début The Pharmacist was published by Salt. The two were awarded Arts Council England funding in 2016 to produce a book of poetry by Evans, for which David provided photographs. The outcome was the duo’s Threads, and Inkandescent.
Evans says: “We had to go through the entire publishing process for Threads. So after we published, we thought that if we’ve set up this business—which was a very steep learning curve—we could put it to good use.”
Since then, the focus on marginalised voices includes Autofellatio, a memoir from singer/songwriter (and childhood friend of Morrissey) James Maker; Bartholomew Bennett’s The Pale Ones, a début novel that is “Hangover Square meets Naked Lunch through the lens of an M R James ghost story”; and Polly Wiseman’s Femme Fatale, which posits an imagined meeting between Andy Warhol muse Nico and that artist’s would-be assassin Valerie Solanos.
The challenges are the trials most start-ups of Inkandescent’s size face: “It is difficult for indies starting out without a huge amount of capital. You can’t just approach Waterstones, for example, to get stocked—you have to be with one of the big distributors. But in order to be with a big distributor, you have to produce a certain number of books and have to have a certain back catalogue...it’s quite a hurdle.”
Lowering that hurdle is Inkandscent’s recent deal to be taken on by Inpress, the small-press sales force-cum-distributor. This coincides with a ramping up of the titles the list will produce and a recent acquisition of arguably Inkandescent’s biggest scalp to date: Address Book, a collection of interconnected short stories by former Costa shortlistee Neil Bartlett. Helping with this expansion is Inkandescent’s well-connected advisory board which includes de Waal, Gay’s the Word manager Uli Lenart and Janklow & Nesbit agent Rebecca Carter.
Circling back to Mainstream, Evans says he and David have been energised by the new writers they have brought into the anthology. He adds: “They have been very proactive about promoting the book on social media, because a lot of them are so excited about not just being published, but also that they are in a book with well-known writers who they said are their heroes.”