Pushkin Press’ ONE imprint continues to go from strength to strength under Elena Lappin’s leadership after its fourth book, The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, was shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize.
Lappin (pictured), who has worked in publishing as a scout, editor and author, had been nurturing the idea of a list like ONE for a while.
She said: “I had the idea for a tiny imprint called ONE with a tiny number of books edited and selected by me but under the umbrella of another publisher.” When Adam Freudenheim acquired Pushkin in 2012, Lappin mentioned the idea to him. “ I wasn’t pitching it but he immediately said it was a great idea, let’s do it. Because of the kind of publisher and person he is, we made it happen very quickly.”The imprint was launched and Lappin was looking for titles within two months.
ONE publishes just two titles a year, and they must be débuts. Although it is open to publishing an author’s subsequent books, it must begin with their first. Lappin said: “It means that although we are a tiny imprint, each book receives the full editorial, publicity, marketing and design attention that only a lead title gets with a big publisher.”
Lappin runs all acquisitions past Freudenheim, and “with each title, whether we buy the book or not, we are learning more and more about each other’s taste”.
The first title Lappin acquired was Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason (October 2013, £12.99), which she describes as “a literary thriller, very tongue in cheek, full of twists and wild imagination”. Lappin found it through her role as a scout, as it had been published in the US under Simon & Schuster imprint Gallery. Second was Gideon Lewis-Kraus’ A Sense of Direction (February 2014, £8.99), another title Lappin found via its US publisher, Riverhead.
ONE’s third title, A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman (September 2014, £12.99), was the first that Lappin was able to contribute to editorially as she discovered it earlier in its publishing process, although it did already have a US publisher (Harper). Of its fourth title, Obioma’s The Fishermen (February 2015, £14.99), Lappin said: “I remember reading the first couple of pages and gasping at the power of the language. I also felt I’d found the book where I could be the primary publisher.” Asked about what the shortlist nod meant, Lappin said: “It means we are on the map. We’ve arrived. It has helped in terms of letting people know who we are and what we do in a much more obvious way.”
The Fishermen was followed by ONE’s first British début, Whispers Through a Megaphone by Rachel Elliott (August 2015, £12.99), and forthcoming is The Minor Outsider by Ted McDermott (April 2016, £10), which Lappin discovered through LinkedIn after McDermott noticed her viewing his profile. Last week Pushkin announced the acquisition of Sympathy by 26-year-old British author Olivia Sudjic, which will be published in autumn 2017. It is a story about online obsession.
Lappin always works with designer Jon Gray on ONE’s covers, employing a slightly unusual but effective way of briefing him: “He obviously reads [the book] but then I choose one song, a song I decide is the soundtrack for this book. He listens and goes away, and so far he’s come back with exactly what I had in mind, translated into a cover. These covers are so brilliant and so sexy.”The success of the method has resulted in foreign publishers buying the cover designs alongside the books.
Lappin said: “When you do something in small quantities but in a very focused way you achieve extraordinary results. I never thought it would fail but I never imagined it would succeed so quickly.” When asked to sum up what ONE stands for, she said: “I look for books that are fearless, fierce and artistically committed. I look for the kind of brilliance that a lot of people can tap into to. I love to publish books where the world is not the same after these books have joined the conversation.”