This Saturday we visited the Northern Publishers Fair at Central Library in Manchester. This annual fair showcases the work of independent publishers across the North Of England. A publisher is independent if it exists outside of the ‘big five’ – Macmillan, Penguin House, Simon&Schuster, Harper Collins and Hachette. Believe it or not, most of the books you see on the shelves of a bookshop are published by imprints owned by this group.
Independent publishers generally look for the work the big five won’t touch. This means independent publishers tend towards the eccentric, literary and niche - great writing that is less obviously commercial. Plenty of this exciting and challenging writing was on display.
Didsbury based Publisher Confingo publish the writings of former Hacienda DJ Dave Haslam, works in translation, fiction concerned with music and anthologies of short stories by some stellar literary writers (Nicholas Royle, Toby Litt). Their books are beautifully made with single-line art and pastel matt covers across the range. Confingo are looking for help, and I noticed some students who had joined the mailing list registered their interest in interning.
Sheffield based And Other Stories, is one of the country’s most successful independent publishers when it comes to winning literary prizes and bookshop distribution. They have a focus on international novels – which means works in translation, but also strong literary novels from British writers, with an international theme.
Nicholas Royle, don of the short story, and former editor of Best British Short Stories (one of the strongest annual anthologies in Britain), was there to promote Nightjar Press – a wonderfully eccentric collection of chapbooks (pictured), each dedicated to a single short story. Nicholas collects them from fellow writers but is always on the lookout for new short story writers too. I went home with Nicholas Royle's own collection Manchester Uncanny. It's a very funny and formally inventive read.
An interesting newcomer is Northodox Press, one of the few independent publishers in the UK to focus on genre fiction. Their list covers anything in YA, History, Crime and Fantasy, as long as it is written by writers from the north of Britain. As so many young writers looking for a break will be writing genre fiction, it was good to see an independent publisher making space for them.
UCLAN publishing, the press of the University of Lancaster, looked as if it had received substantial investment to produce beautiful picture books and children’s fiction. I really noticed how all of the publishers were managing to meet high production standards – something that would have been more difficult to achieve of budgets a decade ago when the tech and publication process was more expensive. Going with an independent no longer means sacrificing production quality.
Older stalwarts of the publishing scene - Saraband, Comma Press and even the non-independent Harper North, were in force too. Any of the publishers at Central Library on Saturday could be a good place for a writer starting out, a writer whose work eschews the mainstream, and writers given an advantage for living in the north. Salford students - that means you.