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What does an independent publisher do?

Written by Kevin Duffy

Tell us about life before Bluemoose. What did you do?

I had been involved in sales and marketing for about twenty years with four publishing companies prior to setting up Bluemoose. The publishers were commercial fiction, academic/business and non-fiction.

I won a national writing competition and was whisked down to London to be wined and dined by the publishing director of Macmillan and an agent from Curtis Brown. It didn’t go well. They didn’t like my book. A year later I saw in The Bookseller that all the big advances were going to Irish writers so I changed my name to Colm O’Driscoll and sent off the first three chapters and a synopsis to top agent Darley Anderson (Lee Child, Martina Cole). He liked my writing and when I finished the book, he offered me a contract. The book was ANTHILLS AND STARS, a humorous look at hippies moving into a northern mill town at the end of the 1960’s. It got rave reviews from all the editors from the big 6, but the commercial directors didn’t think it would sell 20,000 copies, so I didn’t get a publishing deal. So, fuelled by anger and bile, together with my wife Hetha, we re-mortgaged our house and started Bluemoose books, publishing my novel and The Bridge Between by Canadian writer Nathan Vanek.

We started Bluemoose because we weren’t seeing the books we liked to read on the shelves anymore. The world had apparently decided to read books by orange headed celebrities and we thought that readers might want to read great stories, beautifully told, which engage and inspire. We made enough money from these two books to continue publishing and we’ve published a further 20 books, none of which are mine.

Reading manuscripts, emailing literary editors, sorting out contracts, doing social media, trying to get books reviewed. Speaking to typesetters and designers, talking to buyers about our new books, sending review copies out and reading more manuscripts.

Having worked in publishing for so long I have quite a few contacts. Many of our books have won awards and been shortlisted for major literary prizes, so promoting and sending out review copies and living on social media tends to get the word out. Several of our books have been promoted nationally through the book chains, WHSmith Travel, airports and train stations, and Waterstones. We have also had Amazon Books of the month too; Daily Deals as well. All our books are available on every digital platform via Faber Factory, which looks after all our digital books. We are sold in 42 countries; our books have been translated into several languages; and Hollywood and ITV have bought the film and TV rights to two of our books.

Independent publishers are the delicatessens of the publishing world. We nurture all our writers and spend a great deal of time on the editorial side, which most of the big publishers don’t do these days. It is a far more personal relationship from the day the manuscript drops onto the floor until the book arrives on the bookshelf. The author will have input in all stages of the publishing process including the jacket design, typesetting and promotion. The most important people in publishing are the authors and we want to be with them for the whole of their writing careers. Our publishing decisions are not based on sales alone; they are based on the writing, the author and their stories. The corporates’ publishing decisions are purely based on an economic imperative. If the sales graph isn’t going in the right direction, that author will be dropped. There are very few multi-book deals these days. In the corporate publishing world if your first book doesn’t sell or win a prize, then the suits will drop you like a brick.

It is difficult, but if you are passionate about the written word and love stories, then it’s brilliant. Bluemoose Books is a team of readers and writers, and for me it’s the best job in the world.

I’m always looking out for the next great book, and knowing that some books we’ve published in the past five years are still selling incredibly well makes me smile.

Great new voices and books which challenge the editorial consensus of a homogenised group of like–minded people working in London whose reading sensibilities are narrow, similar and do not represent what readers up and down the country want to read.

If you want to do something and have the time and energy to do it, put things in place to make it happen.

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