sam mills dodo ink bookblast

Interview | Sam Mills, Dodo Ink | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m unusual in that I’m from a working class family – not many of us working in publishing, or getting published, for that matter. My parents weren’t great readers. My mum did notice and nurture my love of reading, however, by returning from jumble sales with bags of dog-eared books – Enid Blyton, Anne Fine, Roald Dahl. She was a wonderful mum.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
I think ‘work’ is the wrong word. None of us are earning any money from Dodo. I’m a writer (I somehow earn my living from writing) who moonlights as a publisher. I guess it’s an unusual reversal: writing is my day ‘job’, though I love it so much I don’t regard it as a job. We’re running Dodo out of passion for the books which publish.

Has your vision from when you started Dodo Ink 4 years ago changed?
There were 3 of us who founded the company – me, Alex Spears, Thom Cuell. We wanted to publish books that were daring and different, the sort that bigger publishers might not want to take a risk on and therefore might fall by the wayside and remain unpublished.

How do you balance originality and profitability?
Originality is always far more important. Profitability is low on the list of priorities, which is probably why we’re publishing books we love, but haven’t been able to pay ourselves a penny of wages yet.

What was the book that made you fall in love with reading?
When I was a child, I loved Roald Dahl, especially Danny the Champion of the World. As a teenager, I fell for Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos. As an adult, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje became a favourite; I’ve read it around twenty times now.

What makes you decide to publish one writer, and not another?
Often it just a case of timing. At the start of our press, we were devouring our slush pile and reading everything that came our way; recently we’ve not had time to look at it for months because everything has been so frantic and for all we know, we’ve missed the next Will Self etc.
Also, each indie press has its own flavour. We tend to like books that are literary, adventurous, eccentric, surreal, a touch fantastical.

Technology and the rise of Kindle and iPads etc have revolutionised the publishing industry. How well have publishers adapted to industry changes in your view?
Quite slowly, so it’s just as well the ebook revolution hasn’t quite taken off.

Do you enjoy reading ebooks? Will the physical book die away eventually?
My brother bought me a kindle for Xmas and I wanted to murder him. But then, inevitably, I became fond of it. I often get samples of books from amazon and then buy them in the shops. I still prefer a physical book. It looked as though they were going to become extinct but buying stats suggest this is no longer the case. It seems that crime/romance sell better on kindle, but for literary fiction, people prefer a beautiful book in their hands.

Your views on marketing and distribution? And on social media?
Our first title, Dodge and Burn, achieved a kind of cult following without a single review in the mainstream press. We were so grateful to all the bloggers, such as Lonesome Reader and Writes of Women (to name a few), who championed the book. Social media is very important to us because we can connect with readers, who we view as part of the Dodo family. This is another great thing about indie presses – publishing is more personal in this respect.

Nearly 80% of the UK’s publishing industry wanted to remain in the EU. In the wake of Brexit, what are the implications for book publishing and translation in your view?
We’re all fucked, as a country and as publishers.

How important is funding for independent publishers?
Very – and there isn’t enough of it about.

How do you relax?
I practice Transcendental Meditation (the one David Lynch is always raving about). It’s very helpful. It doesn’t involve any concentration or labeling of thoughts; it gives me a very deep rest and helps me to shake off the clouds of stress and tiredness.

Your favourite qualities in a person?
I tend to like people who are unbounded and carefree.

For what faults do have you most tolerance?
Drug addiction . . . ?

Your chief characteristic?
What a tricky question . . . I’m obsessive, I guess. When I decide to write a book, or publish a book, I think about it all the time.

Your chief fault?
I’m no good at doing anything I dislike. In the past, I have walked out of jobs, or been fired, because I was writing my books instead of doing the work I was supposed to.

Your bedside reading?
Currently Eley Williams Attrib: And Other Stories (Influx). I think she is a genius. It’s the best short story collection I’ve read since discovering Self’s The Quantity Theory of Insanity twenty years ago. I’m jealous of Influx for discovering and publishing such an important writer.

Your favourite prose authors?
Will Self, DBC Pierre, Ali Smith, Jeanette Winterson, Neil Griffiths and Michael Ondaatje.

Your favourite heroes in fiction?
Macbeth.

Your favourite heroines in fiction?
I think Seraphina Madsen’s heroine in Dodge and Burn (yes, I am biased – I published her!) is extraordinary.

Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?
Will Self (of course); David Lynch; Tom Tomaszewski; George Eliot; Ana Lily Amirpour.

Your motto?
yoga-sthah kuru karmani

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georgia DC

Bilingual editor, rewriter, French-to-English translator. Has written for 3am magazine, words without borders, The Independent, The Lady, Banipal, Prospect Magazine, Times Literary Supplement. Currently writes for The BookBlast Diary. Founder (1997) of London-based writing agency BookBlast.

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