Jack Fogg, the founder of HarperCollins’ new imprint Mudlark, discusses how it came into being, and the type of writing he is hoping to unearth.
Can you tell us about the imprint Mudlark?
The goal is to publish distinct voices who have a compelling and original take on the subject in their area of expertise, be it a subject matter they specialise in, or indeed their own lives. We’re looking for projects that marry great writing with ideas that have both commercial and literary appeal. Sometimes the books will be serious, other times they will be lighter, but the common thread will be the quality of the execution.
And why the name “Mudlark”?
We’ve been talking about the imprint for a while and finding the name was pretty much the hardest part. I wanted something—like The Borough Press list in the fiction division—that spoke to the geography and history of the local area, and to the eclecticism of the list.
One lunchtime I saw some metal detectorists on the Thames’ banks, which dislodged some memory about mudlarks (no doubt helped by a pub at London Bridge), those people back in the 18th and 19th centuries who would scour the banks of the Thames at low tide looking for things they could sell. I thought that given where HarperCollins’ office is [by the river], the analogy to the acquisition process was pretty apt. A colleague also pointed out that the mudlark is a bird, so that led the way for the logo.
Why do you think “quality” non-fiction is having a moment? In times like these, where so much is up in the air, socially and politically speaking, people are drawn towards wanting to better understand what the hell is going on. The medium doesn’t really matter—some people are going to get the information through podcasts, documentaries or newspapers—and others, in increasing numbers, are turning to non-fiction and to books which can elucidate and, in the best sense, give hope and succour.
Many editors used to say British non-fiction simply didn’t sell abroad. Is that changing?
It depends on the project. I’m often surprised (and grateful) how open foreign publishers are to books which don’t seem obvious fits for their markets. And yes, I do think it’s getting easier to sell rights to books by British authors. I don’t know whether that’s a question of there being more quality projects, or greater and more shared experiences, country to country. For example, we’ve already sold Rich Humphreys’ book about living on a submarine, Under Pressure, to the US and to Poland. The plan was that it would be more of a tale of his general experiences, rather than the specific “British” experience, but still, it’s great to see that it could play in different markets.
New “boutique” imprints seem to be all the rage. Why is that?
The hope of any new imprint is that it will be longstanding and successful and, over time, create a general awareness of the kind of books they would publish. Few consumers would trust a book from a certain imprint over another, but from our point of view the imprint is more directed towards agents, authors and booksellers. I know that it’s certainly more helpful for agents to have obvious places to send projects, and I like to think that there would be writers down the line who would love to be on the same list as the people we are currently publishing.
I would be thrilled if booksellers come to trust the output of the imprint and know that it stands for quality. That’s the ideal.