Serpent’s Tail has launched a new classics list to reissue its backlist and newly acquired classics, all to be priced £8.99.
Hannah Westland, publisher at Serpent’s Tail, said that the project grew out of the publisher’s “incredibly special” backlist, including translated work that its founder, Pete Ayrton, sought out.
Westland said: “When I started as publisher two and a half years ago, I started thinking about what would be the best way to keep this backlist alive because it’s hard to keep books going over the long term, especially when they were never bestsellers.”
Serpent’s Tail had sporadically reissued backlist titles with new covers, but never before as part of a distinct classics project. The creation of a dedicated list grew organically, with a prompt from Penguin Random House imprint Hamish Hamilton: one of its titles referenced Serpent’s Tail author Robert Walser as a noteworthy writer (A Place in the Country by W G Sebald, £20). Serpent’s Tail then scheduled its release of The Walk by Walser to coincide with the Sebald title’s issue, and art director Peter Dyer came up with a cover design that became the basis for its classics list.
Westland said: “When we saw it we all loved it and thought it had the making of a series, so whenever a reissue came up we slotted it into that look and after three or four we started getting really good feedback from retailers, who wanted more.”
The publisher plans to release around 10 titles with the consistent look by spring 2015. Westland said: “Essentially we hope that the more we do, the more likely booksellers will be able to give us a whole table”.
Serpent’s Tail is aiming to publish at least two a season, mainly from its own backlist, but Westland added: “I am also looking for books that we didn’t publish—forgotten classics I can acquire and bring in.”
Forthcoming on the new list is Fatale by French writer Jean-Patrick Manchette, with an introduction by David Peace (February 2015), and Jernigan by David Gates (August 2015). The latter is being published on the classics list despite being released relatively recently—in 1991—with Westland saying of the novel’s inclusion: “It’s a classic if it’s important or extraordinary in some way.” The release will coincide with Gates’ new collection of short stories and a novella, A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me (September 2015).
Westland said: “There has been a resurgence of popularity for backlists because of the extraordinary example of [John Williams’] Stoner. Everyone is looking for that next special book that does a magic trick and people really embrace.
“I feel people are tired of hearing about ‘the new Stoner’—it’s quite an unoriginal thing to say now—but if anything could do it it’s Jernigan. Our list has always been unusual and edgy . . . whether any of the [titles] will do a Stoner I don’t know, but with the right wind behind them they should reach a much wider audience.”