Spotlight | The seemingly unstoppable boom in indie publishing & The Republic of Consciousness Prize

Indie Publishing vs. Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

With commissioning editors at mainstream publishers increasingly under the corporate cosh, any literary submissions calculated to sell less than 5000 copies are turned down regardless, which leaves the field open for independent publishers to come in and have a go at the roulette table imagining winners that might come their way.

An experienced commissioning editor may be able to spot high-quality writing and know their target readership, but s/he is no less a gambler than anyone else playing the publishing game. Their gut instinct counts for little in the corporate boardroom nowadays, even though the way in which advances are calculated is an inexact science, and tales of legendary rejections make for juicy water-cooler chat. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected 12 times before being picked up; Gone with the Wind got the thumbs down 32 times; Under the Frog 22 times; Dune 20 times; and The Tale of Peter Rabbit was rejected so many times it was self-published.

Smaller publishers generally avoid formulaic writing for the genre market, provide greater personalised support, and as opposed to a vanity press do not ask the author for money. Added to which crowdfunding has become a more than viable option, not only to raise funds, but to develop a community of readers ahead of publication (Peirene Now! No. 3, Shatila Stories was recently successfully funded with 327 backers pledging £13,350 via Kickstarter). Best not confuse authors self-publishing their own books only generally via a digital platform such as Amazon or Kobo with indie publishers; the term indie authors would be more accurate.

According to a recent report in The Guardian, “Independent publishers have unleashed a boom in sales,” and “turnover across the Arts Council England-funded portfolio surged above its budget by almost £100,000 this year, reaching £277,930.”

Continue reading Spotlight | The seemingly unstoppable boom in indie publishing & The Republic of Consciousness Prize

Guest Review | C. J. Schüler | Go, Went, Gone, Jenny Erpenbeck

On 9 November, the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel published a list of 33,293 people who died trying to emigrate to Europe between 1993 and May of this year. The vast majority drowned in the Mediterranean. As a death toll, the figure is numbing. As a proportion of the EU’s population of 510 million, it is less than 0.007 percent – smaller than the population of, say, Skelmersdale or Haywards Heath – an influx that could easily be accommodated within our large, wealthy continent.

Jenny Erpenbeck, the brilliant German novelist whose four previous books have probed her country’s troubled 20th century history, has now turned to the greatest challenge it has faced in the 21st: the refugee crisis. Her latest book, Go, Went, Gone, eschews the magical realist elements of its predecessors in favour of a crisp documentary approach. It also draws on that classically German genre, the Bildungsroman, a novel charting the moral education of its protagonist. Continue reading Guest Review | C. J. Schüler | Go, Went, Gone, Jenny Erpenbeck

Interview | Cécile Menon, founder, Les Fugitives | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
My mother was a reader. Of modern classics mainly. She used to go with her father to the local library in our small home town. There weren’t hundreds of books in the house as I grew up, but enough to spur my interest.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
Yes, I wanted to work in publishing, and in England, after obtaining my degree at Sorbonne Nouvelle. I had no connections whatsoever, I was a complete outsider. My MA tutor told me right away it’d take me 10 years to get anywhere in that milieu. I didn’t believe him but he was right. After 10 years, even after I had somehow managed to get hired by the venerable John Calder, Judy Daish and Clive James, I was nowhere near a proper start in publishing. Having said that I was never really good at holding down a job! Working for Clive James was obviously a unique experience with a long-lasting influence on me. Continue reading Interview | Cécile Menon, founder, Les Fugitives | Indie Publisher of the Week

BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | November 2017

Our eclectic November top ten reads rejoice in strong women and have a radical, cosmopolitan flavour. We continue our celebration of 15 years of the Childrens’ Bookshow, highlighting two more books featured in this year’s tour. Happy reading! Georgia @bookblast

Strong Women

teffi pushkin press bookblast diary reviewRasputin and Other Ironies by Teffi (Pushkin Press) buy here
Translated by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, Rose France, Anne Marie Jackson

A semi-literate peasant and a counsellor to the Tsar, a hardened sinner and a man of prayer, a shape-shifter with the name of God on his lips. They called him cunning. Was there really nothing to him but cunning?  I shall tell you about my two brief encounters with him . . .” Teffi’s portrait of Rasputin, and her description of his unwanted advances, is a disturbing reminder of how sex-pests using positions of power to get their dirty way are not a new phenomenon.  All of the women saying #MeToo on Twitter are standing on the shoulders of the women who came before them.

Grigori Rasputin holding court in 1911
Grigori Rasputin holding court in 1911 Photo Topical Press AgencyGetty Images

Nadezhda Aleksandrovna Lokhvitskaya – who wrote under the pseudonym Teffi – was born in 1872 into a family prominent in Saint Petersburg society. An essayist, poet and playwright, she became so popular that there were Teffi sweets and a Teffi perfume. She supported socialism and the 1905 revolution, and worked for the first Bolshevik paper, New Life, which was later shut down by the Leninist authorities. She left Russia in 1919 and settled in France, where she died in 1952. Her engaging, witty and empathic writing belies a bleak undertow of loss and nostalgia for lost worlds as she writes about life before the revolution, fellow writers, emigration, and life in Paris.

Oriana Fallaci by Cristina de Stefano (Other Press) buy here
Translated from the Italian by Marina Harss

I’ve always been political in my writing, actions and life. I grew up in a political family. I was educated in politics . . . The risk of Fascism is my fixation,” wrote Oriana Fallaci. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | November 2017

Review | Revolution! Writing from Russia 1917, Pete Ayrton (ed.) | Book of the Week

The city is destroyed, plundered. A very interesting city. Polish culture. An ancient, rich Jewish colony. These frightening bazaars, dwarfs in hooded coats, hoods and side-locks, the aged, a school street, ninety-six synagogues, all half-destroyed, and stories – American soldiers were here, oranges, cloth, thoroughfare, wire, deforestation and wasteland, endless barren land. Nothing to eat, no hope, war, everyone is equally bad, equally foreign, hostile, inhuman, before life was traditionally peaceful” – from Isaac Babel’s 1920 Diary in which he describes his experiences with the Cossack cavalry during the Polish-Soviet war.

To actually feel what it was like to be caught up in the most momentous event of the 20th century, and to walk in the shoes of those who either stayed and wrote under the increasingly tricky conditions of censorship, or fled to become émigrés pining for a lost world, or visited from abroad wanting to see revolution in action . . . read Pete Ayrton’s anthology Revolution! Writing from Russia 1917. Of all the books marking this year’s centenary of the Russian Revolution, this is the one to go for. Continue reading Review | Revolution! Writing from Russia 1917, Pete Ayrton (ed.) | Book of the Week

Interview | Pete Ayrton | Author-Editor of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
Born in London and grew up in New York until I was sent to a public school in the UK at the age of 13; an unsettling experience.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
Lots of foreign writers. My mother was Russian and keen for me to read the Russian classics – which I did.

You founded Serpent’s Tail in 1986 and worked as a successful publisher showcasing writers from around the world for many years. How easy was it to transition to being a freelance writer-editor?
I was still working at Serpent’s Tail when I completed No Man’s Land, my first anthology which was on First World War writing. The transition was seamless; the anthologies contain many writers who should be republished including writers never before translated into English. I hope they function to encourage readers and publishers to search out the original texts that the extracts are taken from. Continue reading Interview | Pete Ayrton | Author-Editor of the Week

Review | The Madeleine Project: Uncovering a Parisian Life, Clara Beaudoux | Book of the Week

I’d been drifting from one studio apartment to another for several years already. I didn’t feel at home anywhere. In July 2013 I ended up in this little place. And I never suspected that the secrets it concealed might one day lead to a book,” writes Clara Beaudoux in the preface to this unusual read.

The mixing up of genres and categories that is characteristic of the way we read online has gradually fed into new forms of writing ‘in print’. Daniel Glattauer’s Love Virtually (Gut gegen Nordwind, translated from the German by Katharina Bielenberg and Jamie Bulloch) tells the story of an internet love affair through the emails of Leo and Emmi. Other Ways of Seeing (Un Autre Regard) is based on blogger Emma’s comic strip. Her take on news stories and accepted “truths” challenges the status quo and questions what liberté, égalité, fraternité really means in France today. Shaun Usher’s blog ‘Letters of Note, an online museum of notable letters’, was published in book form in 2013 to international acclaim. The internet is a numbers game: if you hit the jackpot, it’s life-changing. Continue reading Review | The Madeleine Project: Uncovering a Parisian Life, Clara Beaudoux | Book of the Week

Interview | Clara Beaudoux | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up? 
I was born and raised in Paris.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
There were many books in my family home, and my parents were used to take me to the library when I was a kid. I remember Roald Dahl, a magazine for kids called Astrapi and some comics like Marion Duval.

Why do you write?
Writing helps me to think. Continue reading Interview | Clara Beaudoux | Author of the Week

BookBlasts® | Autumn Reads for Independent Minds

Good writing and good ideas of all kinds make the world go round! Since we first began our celebration of independent publishing in February 2015, seasonal newsletters rounding up our exclusive interviews and curated eclectic reads have been emailed to friends in the publishing and media industries in the UK, US and France. All the wonderful feedback  received over the years has been sustaining and heartening. For readers who have missed out on our latest activity, here’s a taste of what’s been happening . . .

To define is to limit” ― Oscar Wilde 

Dandy at Dusk published by Head of Zeus on 5 October, is hailed as a “future classic” by Nicky Haslam, the interior designer and founder of the London-based interior design firm, NH Studio Ltd. Meet the author, Philip Mann, to whom we asked, “Why do you write?” . . . Because I inexplicably missed out on being a film star.” He writes about Soho Bohemia, in his exclusive guest feature: “For thirty years I hid my fame in taverns“. Our other guest writer this month, freelance writer, journalist and cultural historian C.J. Schüler, writes about all things dandy.
Continue reading BookBlasts® | Autumn Reads for Independent Minds

BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | September 2017

Our monthly round up of deliciously eclectic, mind-altering reads to see us into the Autumn now that summer is over.

Uncovering a Parisian Life

The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux, translated by Alison Anderson (New Vessel Press) buy here

A young woman moves into a Paris apartment and discovers a storage room filled with the belongings of the previous owner, a certain Madeleine who died in her late nineties, and whose treasured possessions nobody seems to want. In an audacious act of journalism driven by personal curiosity and humane tenderness, Clara Beaudoux embarks on The Madeleine Project, documenting what she finds on Twitter with text and photographs, introducing the world to an unsung 20th century figure. Along the way, she uncovers a Parisian life indelibly marked by European history. This is a graphic novel for the Twitter age, a true story that encapsulates one woman’s attempt to live a life of love and meaning together with a contemporary quest to prevent that existence from slipping into oblivion. Through it all, The Madeleine Project movingly chronicles, and allows us to reconstruct, intimate memories of a bygone era.

The BookBlast® Diary will be running a review and an exclusive interview with the Author at the end of the month.

Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | September 2017