I’m extremely honoured that Emma Barnes, the MD of UK independent publisher, Snowbooks, has answered some interview questions. Snowbooks is one of the few publishers who is managing to do well despite the recession, undoubtedly thanks to its formidable list. It’s one of the most friendly publishers out there, too, with the best submissions page I have ever seen on the website of a publishing house. Emma was gracious enough to respond to my questions about success in a dire market, the future of the book, the place of the internet in publishing, and new motherhood.
1. Snowbooks seems to have soared effortlessly to the top of the indie publishers. I’d love to hear about the genesis of the company – how did you get started?
I’m so glad it looks effortless from the outside! I promise I won’t do this for all your questions, but I wrote up the story of our genesis in a blog post called, remarkably, enough, Genesis here
2. What was your publishing ethos – have you been able to stay true to it over the years, or has it developed in a different direction?
Our ethos and our editorial direction are two very different things. Our ethos is to be proud of what we do, and we’ve definitely stuck to that. I am insanely proud of what we’ve achieved. Our editorial strategy, on the other hand, has been on some grand adventures, passing through modern fiction, crafting, zombies, thrillers, steampunk, biography and more. Who knows where we’ll go next? The genre of books we publish is less important to us than the quality of the writing.
3. You’ve had some fabulous hits – Sarah Bower’s Needle in the Blood, Sarah Stowell’s Mothernight are two that spring to mind. Have there been stand out books for you that you were particularly pleased to publish?
Don’t make me choose! Although I will always have a special place in my heart for Adept. It’s the best thriller I’ve ever read, and it sold so well that it established us in business, back in 2004. Gawd bless that book.
4. What has surprised you most about the publishing industry?
That it doesn’t change. It really doesn’t. I was looking through some old blog posts the other day and the complaints I had about the industry then are still as extant as ever. I suppose that’s its charm, in a way – it is such a mature industry that it just sits there, letting everything wash over it. This also was the thing which gave Snowbooks our chance. It’s easy to do new and different things in a mature industry; much more difficult to break through when everyone else is innovating all the time.
5. I know you have a baby boy and am extremely impressed that you are still running a company in a hands-on way. What have been the biggest changes that motherhood has brought about in your life?
There have been far fewer changes than I thought I’d see. Somehow I thought I’d be a different person the other side of childbirth. But I’m not. I am besotted with my son, but I am still as passionate about Snowbooks as I’ve always been.
6. I had a baby while writing my PhD, so I know how hard it is to be creative through those early years. What are your coping strategies in those supremely tired and hectic moments?
There haven’t been any moments like that so far. Critically, I work from home most of the time, and I have got very lucky with my boy, who sleeps pretty much all night. We are together all day long, him in his sling, on his playmat or in his own seat on my desk. He has his own keyboard to bash on (since bashing on mine is a recipe for disaster). When he needs me, he comes first, and we’ll play, read and go for walks. His bedtime is about 6pm so I work from then until about eleven, and I work weekends, too. It’s amazing really, but I probably put in the same number of hours as before I had him. Maybe it’s hormones, but it’s not feeling like it’s a difficult way to live – quite the opposite.
7. Amazingly, Snowbooks is doing extremely well despite the recession. What advantages do you have that other publishers perhaps don’t?
Oh, none. It’s all down to fluke. Any publisher who says they have an edge on another is delusional. Sure, we all do different things and have different approaches, but no one can tell which books are going to take off.
8. The big question is how the digital revolution will affect publishing – what do you think about this?
I think books will eventually be read primarily on some sort of electronic device: that’s a given. What seems odd to me is the very slow rate of change in this and in other more trade-oriented uses of technology. As I say, publishers are very slow to change. The supply chain is still highly fragmented and is vastly inefficient. I hope we make some progress as an industry, and soon.
9. How do you see Snowbooks taking advantage of the resources of the internet in the immediate future?
Same as we’ve always done. We blog at snowbooks.com/weblog, as we’ve done since 2004. We use fabulous free tools like issuu.com, scribd.com, flickr, youtube, facebook and so on. The internet is the best, most efficient and cheapest way to talk to people. Plus we are quite geeky people so it’s our natural environment!
10. Book bloggers love to covet new releases! What are the highlights of Snowbook’s list in 2009?
Ooh, depends what you like, but I’m particularly looking forward to George Mann’s The Osiris Ritual (hardback in July, paperback in September), as well as Fiona Robyn’s next book, The Blue Handbag (hardback now, paperback August). The Unbelievers by Alastair Sim (June) is a very exciting book for us – he’s a wonderful new voice in Scottish crime fiction – and Katherine May’s debut Burning Out (July) is a superb twist on a ghost story.