1 What's your company called?
2 What do you publish?
We are a trade publisher. Most of our output is still an eclectic range of 'literary' and 'commercial' fiction, although we are still trying to work out the difference. But our non-fiction list is expanding steadily: popular history, biography and media tie-ins, the most successful of which has been our Breaking Bad companion, Wanna Cook?
3 What's the story of the company?
Charted from our first publication, we are almost exactly ten years old. Our first title, Ian Brotherhood's dystopian, Glasgow-set novel Bulletproof Suzy, came out in August 2006. I'd pulled publication forward in the hope of capitalising on the Edinburgh Book Festival, which just shows how naive we were at the time!
Our third title, The Gift of Rain, was the first of Tan Twan Eng's Man Booker Prize contenders, which put us on the map in 2007. His second, The Garden of Evening Mists, was pipped at the post by Hilary Mantel in 2012, but he won a rematch for the Walter Scott Prize as well as picking up the Man Asian Literary Prize the following year. We are one of the few independents in recent years to have managed a major CWA Dagger shortlisting, and were longlisted for this year's Bailey's Prize for Clio Gray's The Anatomist's Dream. We have secured a reputation for punching above our weight.
4 How's business?
Tough. I don't think it's ever been harder to promote new titles and authors through booksellers. Look front of store in a typical quality bookshop and you'll see The Grapes of Wrath, Catch 22, To Kill a Mocking Bird and all the old chestnuts; nobody seems wants to take a punt on anything new anymore. Retailers love our backlist and can't get enough of Tan Twan Eng or Toby Frost, but it's fortunate that their first books were released when things were very different.
5 What do you enjoy about being independent?
Everything. It appeals to my philosophy (I should have lived in the 18th century) and my psyche (I'm still the brat who would never do as he was told).
6 What do you think is the biggest single issue in publishing right now?
In trade publishing it's low margins. When we started in 2006, a B format paperback typically sold for £7.99. Ten years on, it sells for... £7.99. The need to stack 'em high and sell 'em cheap is impoverishing our industry to the detriment not only of smaller presses but of readers, mid-list authors, agents, printers and illustrators, and it contributes to all of our other problems like returns, chronic waste and excessive inventories.
I don't blame Amazon or any of the usual suspects for this; it's the fault of publishing juggernauts too obsessed with market share and insufficiently attuned to profit. Publishers acting together have the power to put it right. The first necessary step is to abandon the perverse practice of publishers pricing books; retail prices should be set by retailers. What we have amounts to a self-inflicted price cap from which retailers can only vary the price downwards. It's a debate that I think must be had, but nobody seems to have the courage to host it.
7 What one piece of advice would you give to a fellow independent just starting out?
'Goodish' is never enough. If you aren't in love with it, don't publish it.
8 What do you get out of belonging to the IPG?
A chance to keep up to speed with the realities of what is happening in the trade and an unrivalled network of useful and approachable contacts. There's also the regular opportunity to bore for England on book pricing or another subject of your choice over a glass of red or a bottle of Peroni.