The publishing industry has undergone many changes over the last few years, many of which can be attributed to the disruptions brought about by digital technologies. Alongside the rise of self-/ indie- publishing we are also seeing new types of publisher emerge, publishers who are turning traditional models and methods on their head and finding new ways of doing things. In our ‘New Publisher’ series we interview some of them about their approaches and what they hope to achieve by doing things differently.
We speak to Matthew Crockatt about And Other Stories
1. Tell us a bit about your approach to publishing. How does it differ from more ‘traditional’ models and what do you offer writers that other publishers don’t?
And Other Stories is set up as a Community Interest Company. This means there are no shareholders to pay profits to, so any money generated can be ploughed straight back into the publishing programme. We are also part-funded by subscription. People can subscribe for 2, 4 or 6 books a year or give a subscription as a gift to a friend. Subscriptions always pay for books that have not been published yet. In other words: when they subscribe people are buying into the ethos of what we do and trusting us to keep publishing great books. This up-front support enables And Other Stories to take more risks in particular by translating books by lesser-known authors or by authors writing in English who do not yet have the profile their writing might deserve. I think it also enables us to listen to authors more and to ensure that financial concerns do not start to dictate editorial policy. An example of this would be Swimming Home by Deborah Levy. There were other publishers interested in the book but they all wanted to make substantial changes to make the book ‘more commercial’, things the author simply was not happy with. We published the book in its original form and it was a great commercial success, being shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize as well as a host of other awards.
2. Publishers have traditionally acted as a cultural mediators. Self-publishing has challenged that role. What do you think is the main purpose of publishers now? And do you think that there is still a need for cultural mediators?
I hate the idea of publishers as cultural mediators, as gatekeepers of some kind. On the other hand there are so many people writing that there has to be some sort of filter mechanism in operation, some way to identify the really good books. And Other Stories has an open submissions policy. We try to read everything we get sent and there have been occasions when we’ve come very close to publishing books that just arrived in the post one day. I think it’s great if someone can write a great book, then draw attention to it and successfully sell it to readers. But that’s a lot of work for one person to do. Publishers offer editorial support and can take on most of the sales/marketing burden. That leaves the author to concentrate on what they want to do – which is to write!
3. What do you see as the main opportunities and challenges for writers today?
In some ways the world has never been smaller. Communications technology has given us the ability to share writing more widely than ever before. This is a huge opportunity for writers, with such increasingly easy access to a large public. The greatest challenge for writers has to be how to draw attention to their work, and then how to find and keep readers. This has always been a key challenge for them, but in the past it was probably more about how to get the book published in the first place. Now anybody can publish a book, but the battle for readers is fiercer than ever.
4. What advice would you offer to writers weighing up their publishing options?
I would advise any author weighing up their options to approach agents, then publishers directly and finally, if you have no luck with those routes, to publish the book yourself. I would encourage every writer to try to find a publisher and to see that as a goal. The main thing I have learned about writing over the years is that it is a collaborative process. We like to think of the closeted genius slogging away in a garret but it’s just not like that. Books that succeed are a team effort. There is a chain that goes from the pen/keyboard of the author right down to the bookseller placing your book in the hands of a reader or the algorithm that plucks your metadata from the ether and zaps the book onto an eReader. You can do it alone but it’s so much harder.
5. What’s next for your company? Are there any exciting developments in the pipeline that you can share with us?
We’ve just started selling our books in North America and that’s tremendously exciting. We have a new series design that will be unleashed in 2014. The most exciting developments though are the books we have coming. A truly eclectic mix with new voices from across the world. You should subscribe right away so you don’t miss out!
Other posts in our ‘New Publisher Series’:
Interview with Nikola Richter, founder of the Berlin based digital publisher Mikrotext.
Interview with Tom Chivers, Director of Penned In The Margins
Interview with Scott Pack at The Friday Project