New Publishers In Hard Times

You would be forgiven for thinking in these hard-pressed times that anyone starting a new commercial publishing venture must be on something stronger and more refreshing than tea or coffee. The current economic challenges to the publishing industry have been covered here and in many other places, ad nauseam, so you will be glad to know for a change we won’t be going down that much-travelled road. But yes, there are new publishing ventures at the moment, in spite of the current climate which suggests if you have a business of any sort, no matter how strong your core client lists are – it is still time to batten down the hatches for a long dry summer.
Colin Robinson and John Oakes didn’t feel this way and back in April we covered their new publishing venture OR Books which is set to be launched shortly. Their basic premise is to stick to modest print runs, viral marketing, print on demand production and ebooks to help increase the capital they have available to market each title – they are talking in the ballpark of $50 – 75k, and even recession aside, for a small publisher, that is impressive. Only yesterday someone emailed me about the OR Books article and suggested I was being a little cynical and harsh on these new ventures. Perhaps I was, but it is borne out of a genuine concern for all involved — as much as I wish any new publisher or author service well – these things have a knack of going belly-up after a year or two and leave many disgruntled authors in their wake. There is nothing worse than a well-meaning publisher to take on authors, rally a decent initial salvo into the world of independent publishing, only to fall flat on their faces, looking undignified, with their new business model stretched to the point it is in tatters. Outside their windows, a mob of desperate authors gather to try and regain their books publishing rights so they can move on from the sorry mess.
I said at the start of this piece that the natural thought is to assume new publishing ventures do not happen at times like these. Well, actually, nothing could be further from the truth, that is, if you follow the logic through. There are a lot of publishing personnel at the moment kicking stones in the morning on their long walks with the dog in the park. You can only feed the ducks so much and pretty soon the kids and grandkids get sick of the sight of you calling round for a bun and a chat even when you bring the buns!
Yes, we might have cast cursory slights at those out-of-work editors and marketers when they toiled away in publishing houses beyond the burly shoulders of their gatekeepers, but the fact is many editors and founders of small press publishers started out at large commercial houses, beavering away with trays of tea until they earned their studs and were allowed to tackle the slush piles of manuscripts. They earned and got their wings before they flew. Some went on to start literary agencies, PR marketing companies, a few grew old and retired to the seaside to stoke long-haired pussy cats and dream of the day they opened a manuscript on their desk and saw the name Hemmingway, Heaney, Patterson or King. Others, when they feel the hobnail boot of the recession kick them out of their established publishing nests, pause for a moment and contemplate the shower of rain upon them, smell the aroma of the side street gutter, dust themselves off and start afresh. Rediscovered passion married with a sharp inventive mind and the love of books, just for the sake of books sometimes does that to a fellow or a gal.

Liz Calder lived over her family’s grocery in Edgware until she was eleven years of age. She began travelling around the world and became a model and journalist in Brazil before returning to England and getting into the publishing industry. She quickly demonstrated a gift for identifying outstanding writers and carved out a reputation at Jonathan Cape Publishers before she became a co-founder of Bloomsbury Publishing; ultimately spotting the talents of J. K. Rowling and launching the Harry Potter series on the world. She has also launched the careers of Rushdie, Barnes and Brookner, and she was the first UK publisher to snap up John Irving. So, why do I mention Liz Calder?

Calder has started a new publishing venture called Full Circle Editions in the UK. The venture is being founded by Calder, her husband, Louis Baum, a former editor at thebookseller, and two TV producers, John and Genevieve Christie. The first book to be published by Full Circle Editions is a book of poetry called ‘The Burning of the Books’ by poet George Szirtes and artist Ronald King. This first offering is meant to cement Full Circle Editions as a publisher of physically beautiful books inside and outside. The book itself comes in a slipcase and is printed on high quality cream paper with fold out sections. You feel Full Circle Editions are reflecting back to book publishing a hundred years ago when it seemed each published title was unique physically as well as by its content.
It is difficult to say how esoteric and indulgent an offering Full Circle Editions will prove to be, and when we discover this, it will perhaps tell us how long the venture will last. Ultimately, if it is to be successful, it must at first embrace the tastes and delicacies of its founders, carve its mark, but like all endearing and lasting imprints, it must develop its own identity as defined by its authors if it is to survive and raise its head above the mainstream publishing mulch. Liz Calder’s reputation goes before her and there is no one in the industry that deserves to be more indulgent and original in the industry with a new publishing venture, yet, Full Circle Editions faces the same challenges as all new publishers will face this year and any other year.

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