Maverick House Publishers (Overview) & The Province of Irish Publishing

Maverick House Publishers is an independent publisher of non-fiction books founded by Jean Harrington in 2002 with its main headquarters in Dunboyne, Co. Meath, Ireland. Expansion of the company has seen them open a second office in Bangkok, Thailand to augment their sales and distribution representation in the Far East, as well as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK. The company is a member of CLE, the Irish Book Publishers’ Association and MD Jean Harrington  was elected president of the association in May 2010.

Maverick House has come a long way since late 2002 when they released their first two titles; a book on the paranormal in Ireland and another on pop culture mogul Louis Walsh. As launch titles for the fledgling publisher, they were shrewd titles to begin with from a business and marketing perspective, and it suggested a new publisher on the block clued-in to what might sell best and committed to sticking to tried and trusted publishing trends. Nothing could have been further from the path Maverick House was to ultimately take.

If we look at the books in the Maverick House catalogue, it tells us socially and politically driven books on true-crime, terrorism, sport, memoirs, biographies and environmental issues are the cornerstone of their output. We could be looking at the preferences for any significant imprint of Random House. HarperCollins or Macmillan. Like all successful publishers, Maverick House grew slowly, and crucially, they understood the need to learn from their experiences in the Irish market, but also to identify the importance of not allowing it to become a comfort blanket or means to an end. Too often in Ireland, its native publishers have chosen to become Irish publishers first and foremost, rather than simply publishers.
From the Maverick House website:

“Maverick House has one objective: to publish socially and politically relevant non-fiction books. What separates us from most other publishing houses is our approach and outlook: we publish not just for local markets, but for the international one.”

This was the core to Maverick House developing as a publisher. Irish publishing as a whole is terrified of the word ‘international’ and the furthest their heady highs will take them is far flung places like Belfast, Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, and yes, the far and distant London. I know of no Irish publisher, outside of Maverick, who have a working office in another publishing territory (outside of course of London), and no, some bloke with a mobile phone living in a wooden shack in Calcutta does not equate to an ‘Eastern Office’. And please exclude the endeavours of publishers like Hachette, Penguin and Transworld (Random House) who have entered the Irish landscape to inject some form of international presence in the Irish publishing industry, but those authors almost inevitably switch to the UK imprints.
Again, from the Maverick House website:

“From its humble beginnings in Ireland the company has grown, and now has operations in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and across Southeast Asia supported by a team of dedicated staff in Bangkok and Dublin.

We are inevitably drawn towards subjects that few publishers want to handle. And such books have always proven to be our strongest – Survivor: Memoirs of a Prostitute by Martina Keogh, Black Operations: The Secret War Against the Real IRA by John Mooney and Michael O’Toole, and Heroin, Julie O’Toole’s biography about her descent into heroin addiction, have all been bestsellers. But they are also important because they carry strong social agendas.”

There is no doubt in my mind the above quote ‘subjects that few publishers want to handle’ refers to Irish publishers indirectly, because while such subjects have been covered by the lists of Irish publishers—more often—it is usually the above mentioned international publishers operating offices in Ireland who are tackling such books in Ireland. For the most part, indigenous Irish publishers want to drown themselves in the controversies of Irish history and leave the modern controversies in Ireland to radio and newspaper media—happy in the knowledge that someone else is looking after the international future of Ireland’s best authors. The few authors who have published books with Irish publishers usually come from the world of journalism and write specifically on subjects like gangland crime and major personalities in Irish politics.

Yes, given the finance and means, Irish publishers do want to sell Ireland to markets abroad, but so long as it is the romantic and literary Ireland of Yeats and Joyce, steeped in folklore, mythology and from a pre 1960 era. Similarly, many of our modern novelists, like their literary forefathers, work in exile from their native soil. Sure, it’s all grand; we still have Maeve Binchy, Edna O’Brien and John Banville—trapped in a world of black caps, ballrooms and na gCopaleen’s bicycle.

What does remain healthy in Ireland is its small poetry presses and journals who do extraordinary things under sometimes impossible economic circumstances. Stand up and be counted, Gallery PressSalmon Poetry, Dedalus Press and Poetry Ireland. You are our true international publishers by forging writing communities and representation throughout the world. 

Maverick House Publishers offers two distinct lists; an Irish one and an international one. There are crossovers, like Dead drunk by Paul Garrigan, the story of an Irishman living in Thailand overcoming alcoholism with Buddist monks, but many of their titles do not sell nearly as well in Ireland as they do overseas.

“At book fairs, it is our ‘international’ list that generates the most interest. While Irish people are eternally interested in Irish subjects, the rest of the world is not that excited by them. Of course, the notable exceptions are the Irish fiction writers, who have captured audiences around the world, but I am strictly talking about non-fiction here.”

Jean Harrington, Maverick House Publishers MD on Irish Publishing News

Maverick House Publishers will consider unsolicited manuscripts and will take queries and book proposals by email from authors without an agent, provided they follow their submission guidelines. The guidelines are pretty comprehensive, so I would advise a querying author to study them before undertaking a submission.
Maverick House has published more than sixty Irish and international authors since they began in 2002. And they are certainly like no other Irish publisher I have ever come across before in Ireland. Their remit is broad and bold, and that is the way it should be for any publisher with a modicum of ambition. It is only a pity Maverick House could not transfer this to a fiction list, then we might have our own native version of an independent fiction publisher like a Granta, Canongate, Soho or Snowbooks. At the moment, the closest to this type of independent publisher on Irish shores is Stinging Fly Press. But as Harrington in her article for Irish Publishing News suggests, the Irish reader has some responsibility to take in all of this too, they can be equally parochial in their preferences for books.
I will finish this piece with an extract from the back cover of one of Maverick House Publishers forthcoming titles this year, A Shattered Youth by Savathy Kim.

A Shattered Youth
by Savathy Kim

This is the rare testament of one of the few survivors of the Pol Pot regime, under which the Khmer Rouge killed 1.7 million people.

Sathavy Kim recounts the treacherous days in 1975 following the invasion of Phnom Pen by the Khmer Rouge. She and her extended family fled together, working the black market until they had not a single possession to trade for food. They were rounded up with the other non-peasants, identifiable by their lighter skin and soft hands as upper-class, and forced to live with a family of workers until further word.

The villagers took them in reluctantly, and there was much resentment.  They had to work the rice fields where they suffered the cuts and backache of harvesting rice. Soon after that the internments began and the camp system was ready to receive its first victims. Deported at age 21, Savathy Kim spent four years of her life as prisoner of a “Korngchalat”, a forced labour camp.

In 1998 she finally went back to the place where the camp stood, and the memories returned. She remembered her life as Borgn Tha, the name she was forced to use under Pol Pot, and began to write.

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