Indie Fiction Subscription #3: Introducing AND OTHER STORIES
And Other Stories publishes some of the best in contemporary writing, including many translations.
They aim to push people’s reading limits and help us discover authors of adventurous and inspiring writing. And they want to open up publishing so that from the outside it doesn’t look like some posh freemasonry. In 2017 they moved their main office to Sheffield and found a warm welcome. ‘The future of publishing?’ Why not?! They love the books they’re publishing and they hope you will, too.
We do at Burley Fisher – which is why we've made Rachel Genn's What You Could Have Won 🍩 our third indie fiction subscription title! We asked publicist Nichola Smalley the most pressing questions about sustaining the small press community, enlarging the literary landscape, and…
How do you keep up with providing both the best in international literature AND super-swanky clothing? (And more seriously, what has been the impact of a fancy clothing company taking your name?)
HAHAHA yeah…. Apart from lots of people sending us pictures of the stores on social media (‘wow guys! Look what I saw!’), and an abortive plan to collaborate, not sure it’s had a massive impact.
And Other Stories works on a subscription model: how important are your subscribers? And how did you decide to return to this eighteenth-century model of publishing?
Our subscribers are hugely important to us: they give us a stable base (we have around 1500 subscribers, which means around 1000 copies of each subscriber book are sold before they’ve even been published). The numbers might seem small, but in the kind of literary world we’re operating in, it makes a huge difference. Our subscribers are also great at spreading the word about our books, and they give us important feedback (e.g. through our reading groups) that helps guide what and how we publish.
Since AOS started (how is it a decade now?!), things have changed in the UK publishing landscape, particularly the growth in indie translation presses bringing new voices (of writers and translators) and indie bookstores. Do you think that the UK readership has got more open to reading globally? And does indie publishing feel like a community?
It is indeed coming up for a decade! We published our first book (Juan Pablo Villalobos’s Down the Rabbit Hole) in autumn 2011. It’s been amazing and wonderful to see the growth in indie publishing, both in translated literature and in English language originals — indies are constantly doing the legwork, finding those brilliant voices that are outside the comfort zone of the big publishing houses. And it does feel like a community: publishers and bookshops talking to each other, collaborating, pooling ideas. Of course we’re competitors too, but if we collaborate, we stand more of a chance against the big houses’ marketing budgets.
What You Could Have Won by Rachel Genn is a quintessential AOS book, if such a thing could be said to exist. I’d describe those qualities it shares with your list as whip-smart, cutting-edge (and occasionally also cutting), curious, centrifugal, adventurous, hallucinatory, tasty… What would you add, or what shared qualities or themes do you see?
Ha, this is very flattering, thank you! I think adventurousness and curiosity are hugely important to us, and obviously we like to eat and to hallucinate. I think what’s special about this book is the emphasis on someone coming from below to own their talent – Astrid isn’t an underdog, but she is fighting against oppression, and in the end that fight begins to pay off. That’s something you’ll find in a lot of our books: narratives that offer hope for self-realisation or self-fulfilment in one way or another.
There’s also been a dynamic growth of indie publishing outside London, with AOS, Comma, Bluemoose, Galley Beggar, and many more, but it’s often under-recognised and under-supported. What more is needed to support a more regionally-diverse publishing landscape?
I think we’re seeing a greater shift – it seems people are moving out of London on quite a large scale, though whether this has an impact on the geographical spread of people’s access to work and to representation within the industry is unclear. The fact that various larger publishers are opening offices outside of London is promising, as long as they’re serving local interests as well as their corporate ones. We work with local business groups and support provided by the Arts Council and local government initiatives, but there’s still such an imbalance in opportunity and investment between different parts of England.
You’ve had a chance to publish some writers over a decade, like Juan Pablo Villalobos – what’s it like to watch a writer find their audience, and see the gamble pay off?
Watching writers like Juan Pablo Villalobos and Yuri Herrera gain and develop a fanbase has been incredible – watching their writing evolve, seeing people find out one of their favourite authors has a new book coming – it’s really enlivening.
“In 2009, Stefan met with fellow translators and writers to brainstorm the idea of setting up a collective to publish fresh, contemporary fiction. There was a lot of enthusiasm for his formula that Publishing = Supply + Demand + Magic.” What is the magic???
Haha, that would be telling, no?!
What’s coming up for And Other Stories if we all survive 2020 (and how have things been for the office in Sheffield? I know we’re talking while the city is under Tier 3 restrictions)? Give us reasons to be excited for 2021.
We’ve all been working from home (we’re split between Sheffield, Hull and London), doing direct sales via our website from our publisher Stefan’s attic and spending quite a lot of time on Google Meet! We’ve got some amazing stuff happening in 2021! Celebrating our 10th anniversary, publishing some brilliant debuts (including a novel set in Tottenham’s Turkish community about a woman who smuggles a shipment of heroin in cabbages from amazing poet and multidisciplinary artist Tice Cin), and we’re really excited about our collaboration with the Feminist Book Society, This is How We Come Back Stronger, an anthology of feminist writing responding to the various crises of 2020 and looking towards ways out of the mess.