1 What's your company called?
2 What do you publish?
Great fiction and strong narrative non-fiction.
3 What's the story of the company?
I [Sarah Beal] and my sister Kate acquired Muswell a couple of years ago. It was a small publishing company that was about to close down after the death of the owner, Ruth Boswell. We’d wanted to do our own thing for several years and it seemed like the perfect platform. So we acquired a website, distributor and a small backlist with some great authors including Virginia McKenna, Alan Franks and John Tagholm. Our plan was to publish the books we love to read: fiction with strong voices, appealing memoir and narrative non-fiction.
Mindful that we are not expert in every area, we put together an advisory board of friends and ex-colleagues with skills that complement ours. They feed us books and advice. We also appointed a mentor, Kathy Rooney, to give us a hard time when need be. We are very adept at doing the things we love—acquiring books, working with authors, marketing and selling—but less keen on business analysis and dealing with the P&L, so Kathy is brilliant at giving us a reality check.
4 How's business?
It’s good but challenging at times. We’ve just finished our first year of publishing with eight books, several of which made WHS Travel’s bestseller lists. We’ve signed translation rights deals in Hungary, France and Korea, plus three audio deals. We’ve had some good reviews, and our short story title, Last Train to Helsingor, was read on Radio 4. Our bestseller and first hardback, A Beer in the Loire, is now up to 3,000 copies. But of course we have had returns, and not every title sells brilliantly!
We are now being distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Bloomsbury and currently negotiating with a US distributor. We’re keeping up the momentum this Spring with titles from Toby Faber and Ken Livingstone, not to mention the wonderful Gordon Kerr, ex Waterstones marketing director.
5 What do you enjoy about being independent?
We love the freedom and flexibility the ability to move quickly and deftly to acquire books we love, and we enjoy making every decision from title to edit to cover design to marketing to getting books on the shelves. Metadata drives us nuts and we are rubbish at filing, so can never find the right jpeg. Plus we can bring our Labradors to work!
6 What do you think is the biggest single issue in publishing right now?
Brexit is a big concern. Ever the optimist, I really believe that sense will prevail and the question of tariffs will be dealt with, but the current confusion is not good for business.
7 What one piece of advice would you give to a fellow independent just starting out?
Be bold, be focused and enjoy it! Sorry, that’s three!
8 What do you get out of belonging to the IPG?
Great friends, great advice and several members of our advisory board! We completed our first audiobook deal over lunch at the IPG Autumn Conference in September and have now made several more, so we are big fans!