1 What's your company called?
Ayebia Clarke Publishing.
2 What do you publish?
We are an award-winning specialist publisher of quality African and Caribbean fiction and non-fiction. Our books are aimed primarily at the educational market because of my [Nana Ayebia Clarke] background and training in educational publishing. Our titles are used in tertiary institutions that feature African and African Diaspora Studies departments in the UK, Africa, Europe, the US, the Caribbean and worldwide.
Although our books target the educational market, we have a growing following of readers who are interested in books that promote other experiences. We aim to give voice to new and diverse creative talent and bring fresh insights into African and Caribbean life, culture and literature. Our mission is to publish books that will enlighten, entertain and educate people internationally about Africa and its Diaspora’s cultural and literary contributions to world knowledge.
3 What's the story of the company?
In 1991 I started work at Heinemann Educational Publishers as a publishing assistant in the international division that published the world-renowned African Writers Series. I was there for 11 years, working my way up to the job of submissions editor. In 2002, after Harcourt acquired Heinemann, the decision was made to discontinue the series, and my job effectively became redundant. I was re-employed on a one-year contract as an African literature consultant, travelling to various destinations to inform and pacify authors about the sudden decision to discontinue the series.
I set up Ayebia with my British husband David in 2003, as a way of looking to new directions in African and Caribbean publishing. Our objective was to fill the gap left by Heinemann. We have gone on to publish a plethora of new and established voices, including some iconic African writers who moved with me to Ayebia. We have published award-winning titles and reissued modern African classics with new introductions for younger audiences and new readers. Publishing translations from French into English is another aspect of our list that is growing. We have also published a series of essays based on the life and works of the Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, a tribute volume on the late Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, and our groundbreaking and award-winning title African Love Stories Anthology, which has won two prestigious prizes including the Caine Prize for African Writing.
4 How's business?
We have developed sales distribution channels in Africa, South Africa and the US as well as the UK and Europe. Our literary list continues to grow with additions in poetry, biographies and memoirs of prominent African and Caribbean writers. Ayebia was initially supported by funding from Arts Council England, and we have subsequently become self-supporting. We have also become more creative and innovative in publishing books that generate not only interest but income. For example, Ayebia published a Series of Legon Readers for the University of Ghana in 2013, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York in the US. In 2011, Nana Ayebia Clarke was awarded an Honorary MBE in the Queen’s Honours List for ‘contributions to the UK publishing industry.’
5 What do you enjoy about being independent?
The freedom and flexibility to choose which books to publish, and taking risks on books that would otherwise not see the light of day in mainstream publishing. Selecting books that push forward the boundaries in contemporary African and Caribbean writing. Choosing which partners to work with and forming strong links with our authors, marketing and distribution partners.
6 What do you think is the biggest single issue in publishing right now?
Diversity. In 2016 the Bookseller found that fewer than 100 titles were published by non-white British authors. Everyone deserves to have access to books that reflect their experiences and backgrounds, and that can only happen in the long term if more people of colour are actively engaged in the publishing industry. Better inclusivity would enrich the publishing industry’s output, but more importantly the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) population is a growth market, and publishers should tap into it by publishing more books by people of colour.
7 What one piece of advice would you give to a fellow independent just starting out?
Be bold. Find your niche, own it and develop it. Dare to stand out in a crowded market. Be passionate about what you believe in and focus on publishing books that entice people out of their comfort zones to create a meaningful dialogue by challenging conventional assumptions. Above all, whatever you publish must offer fresh perspectives and a new understanding of our world, especially in these challenging times.
8 What do you get out of belonging to the IPG?
First-class support, both practical and theoretical, important information sharing, bridging the gap to bring people together to create a sense of belonging in a community of independent, like-minded people in the UK’s publishing industry.