Commissioning editors once held sway at the large publishing companies. They were respected for their knowledge and idiosyncratic flair in spotting potential new literary talent. The advent of digital and Amazon, and the subsequent focus on financial performance have constrained the more experimental natures of big publishers, leaving the field open to independents.

Daring, risk-taking independent small presses are filling a unique niche in today’s literary landscape. They’re discovering new talent, publishing authentic and offbeat books, taking risks, and adding incredible value to the UK’s cultural sphere. The independent sector is the home of experimental writing, poetic innovation and translation that push the boundaries and offer an alternative reading experience to more traditional genres. Trailblazing authors, poets and translators who write from the margins of culture portray areas of life that the mainstream often ignores.

In the late 1950s, no publisher in New York or London would have read beyond the first page of William Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch. But Maurice Girodias at The Olympia Press in Paris did, and he published it. (Girodias also published J.P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man, Samuel Beckett’s Watt and Nabokov’s Lolita.) In the 1990s, when I landed in publishing, the likes of Marion Boyars, Carcanet Press, André Deutsch, Dedalus Books, Peter Owen, John Calder, Quartet Books and Serpent’s Tail led the way.

The difference for this generation of small independent publishers lies in the opportunities presented by the digital revolution to reach new readers and avenues of funding. Small independents are popping up like mushrooms, generally focusing on one particular strand. Balestier Press specialises in contemporary Asian literature; Bluemoose Books showcases new writers and working-class voices; Charco Press champions Latin American literature; Comma Press releases groundbreaking short stories by new and established writers; Fitzcarraldo Editions specialises in contemporary fiction and long-form essays; HopeRoad publishes African and Caribbean literature; Galley Beggar Press is experimental and modernist; Istros Books publishes literature in translation from the Balkans; Peirene Press publishes world writing in translation; Saqi Books focuses on writing from the Middle East, to name but a few.

Without visibility, an experimental or translated book can easily stall at the starting gate. In order to provide a platform to reach new readers, they (and their authors and translators) need all the support they can get.”

Influx Press and Salt are funded successfully via artists’ membership platform Patreon. Triumphs like Dead Ink’s crowdfunded book Know Your Place, or Galley Beggar’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, are examples of when ‘uncommercial’ becomes commercial and shows how experimental writing can have a phenomenal impact on the market, affording the publisher the opportunity to take on more challenging and interesting work.

Bookshops and review editors are taking note. Prizes are being won. Waterstones may be a nationwide chain but it is clearly happy to work with small independent publishers and showcase them to a high-street audience.

Yet visibility and access to the high-street reader remain an issue for smaller independents. They do not have an unlimited amount of resources, and the larger publishing houses control the majority of the market. Publishing books well is costly. The up-front outlay is high, and there is no guarantee of sales recouping the initial investment. Small independents operate on slim margins. Without visibility, an experimental or translated book can easily stall at the starting gate. In order to provide a platform to reach new readers, and to achieve a profile and sales, they (and their authors and translators) need all the support they can get.

Hence the BookBlast® 10×10 Tour, the idea for which has grown out of the successful celebration of independent publishing kicked off in 2016 via online journal The BookBlast® Diary. The long-term aim is to join the dots and unite entrepreneurial small companies who are all operating in a difficult but exciting industry undergoing huge change. To collaborate and make a concerted splash is a critical part of the tour’s success. The spirit of strength in numbers fuels sustainable business growth for small outfits operating in a turbulent economic environment.

To orchestrate a good marketing campaign is crucial since it enables small independent publishers to promote important new work, with authors and translators appearing at events and getting their names out into the public arena beyond attracting review and feature coverage. So BookBlast® has taken the author tour to another level: who better to talk about their experiences on the frontline of publishing, and showcase their authors and books, than the publishers themselves?

The writing agency BookBlast® Ltd, which I founded in 1997, has always had a cosmopolitan ethos and gravitates towards the best independent-spirited and diverse writing from around the world, with translation a constant feature. The 10×10 tour has evolved out of what has gone before. BookBlast® has always aimed to unite people in the spirit of friendship and exchange. We would like to ensure the 10×10 tour happens annually so that we can bring small independent publishers to all corners of the country. So let’s make it success. I look forward to seeing you at one of the events!

 

Georgia de Chamberet, Founder Director of BookBlast®, is an editor and translator with thirty years’ experience in independent publishing. She is the literary executor of the historian and traveller Lesley Blanch (1904-2007), whose memoirs she edited.
bookblast.com
@bookblast

 

Tuesday 11 September to Thursday 15 November
BookblastThe BOOKBLAST 10×10 tour
Waterstones stores nationwide
6:30 pm
£3

The BookBlast® 10×10 Tour is a carnival of authors, poets, translators and publishers, travelling to major cities across England to showcase groundbreaking world literature and poetry. Launching at Waterstones Gower Street on 11 September, each themed talk is chaired by a small independent publisher.
More info

 

LONDON: Tuesday 11 September
Waterstones Gower Street with Eric Lane (Dedalus), Andrew Curney and Margaret Jull Costa

NEWCASTLE: Wednesday 12 September
Waterstones Newcastle with Kevin Duffy (Bluemoose Books), Dan Micklethwaite and Colette Snowden

LEEDS: Thursday 20 September
Waterstones Leeds with Sarah Cleave (Comma Press), C.D. Rose and Ian Duhig

NOTTINGHAM: Thursday 27 September
Waterstones Nottingham with Susan Curtis (Istros Books), Christina Pribićević-Zorić and Georgia de Chamberet

BRIGHTON: Thursday 4 October
Waterstones Brighton with Meike Ziervogel (Peirene Press), Jamie Bulloch and Nashwa Gowanlock

NORWICH: Thursday 11 October
Waterstones Castle Street with Sam Jordison (Galley Beggar Press), Alex Pheby, Paul Standbridge and Paul Ewen

BRISTOL: Thursday 18 October
Waterstones Bristol – Galleries with Rosemarie Hudson (HopeRoad), Peter Kalu and Qaisra Shahraz

BIRMINGHAM: Thursday 25 October
Waterstones Birmingham with Elizabeth Briggs (Saqi Books), Nafeesa Hamid and Aliyah Holder

LIVERPOOL: Thursday 1 November
Waterstones Liverpool with Roh-Suan Tung (Balestier), Yan Ge and Nicky Harman

MANCHESTER: Thursday 8 November
Waterstones Deansgate with Michael Schmidt (Carcanet), Jane Draycott and Jenny Lewis

LONDON: Thursday 15 November
Wrap-up event. Details to follow

Download the tour catalogue

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