Interview with Snowbooks

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.

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21 thoughts on “Interview with Snowbooks

  1. thanks for this! i’ve bookmarked snowbooks…and sought adept at my local public library (no joy)…so have ordered it from amazon. lovely to hear of independent book publishers who are alive and thriving!

  2. I just added more books to my ‘List of books to buy when I am in England’, which will be later this month. Another indie publisher to keep an eye on, it seems. And how heartening that it’s not all doom and gloom, although I have to agree, publishing as industry is incredibly resistant to change.

  3. Happy to hear Snowbooks is doing well. I loved Sarah Bowers’ The Needle in the Blood, and now I’ll be checking out that thriller and crime novel that was mentioned. Hope your success continues!

  4. It’s great to hear of an independent publisher going so well. I’m interested to read that Emma thinks some kind of electronic device will eventually replace books as we’ve known them… and she calls this move a given, no less! I’ve never felt remotely convinced of this. Book readers tend to be book lovers – as in, the tangible item itself has an intrinsic worth and appeal that isn’t readily transferable. I’m not sure this will ever change – though the availability of books printed in this fashion may well diminish over time.

  5. Openpalm – I found out I had Adept on my shelves – so I’ll be keeping you company! Isn’t it good to hear something positive?

    Bluestocking and Lilian – it’s really encouraging to think that a publisher CAN do well in this climate!

    Musings – for a supposedly creative industry, it is funny how unadaptive publishing is. But I blame that on the money men who have kept it so constrained for years. How nice to think you have a trip to England coming up! I will think of some of the best UK books around at the moment to suggest.

    Danielle – I’m looking forward to reading the Bowers myself!

    Becca – doesn’t it make a nice change to hear some good news!

    David – I’m glad you said that – I love that about them.

    Doctordi – to be honest, I’m on your side in this one. The day I give up books will be the day they are prised out of my cold, dead hands.

  6. Wonderful interview! It was fun getting a peep inside an indie publisher and so nice to hear they are doing well. It seems the indie publishers in the U.S. are doing better than the big conglomerates. As Emma says, it all comes down to publishing good books.

  7. Stefanie – isn’t that the truth! And I do wonder whether it isn’t the case at the moment that a small publisher with a good eye is in a better position than a big publisher with a committee of accountants to satisfy. Is it so encouraging to think that a publisher can do better than the current climate suggests.

  8. I, too, am happy to hear that an independent is doing well. I’m in the corner with you and Doctordi that I hope Ms. Barnes is wrong about books going digital completely. Can you imagine saying on a snowing night, “I’m going home to cuddle up in front of the fire with a cup of hot chocolate and a good “electronic reading device.” Kinda’ goes THUD, doesn’t it?

  9. This is absolutely fascinating. Publishers rarely give interviews. And certainly not interviews such as these. Interesting questions (though the first half held my attention longer), enlightening answers.

  10. Gives a whole new meaning to things that go bump in the night, eh Grad?! Yeah, I’m not a fan. I love my books, and, like Litlove, will grip them to the bitter end. But I am enchanted by the cheerful honesty of that website… it’s impossible not to consider throwing my own MS their way (although I won’t do that too soon, tempting as it is to just press SEND).

  11. Well, I like my Kindle. I like my books too. I just have so many, and so little room, that it’s a great luxury to be able to buy a book without feeling like I’m adding more clutter.

    As for publishing–I hear such horrible things, I don’t listen anymore. I’m reading a novel by a friend that takes place in Vietnam–where he served–and it’s incredibly detailed and interesting. One publisher wanted him to make it Iraq.I can understand a publisher not wanting to take a book, but to say something like that…it just drives writers insane.

  12. Wonderful interview and so exciting to hear from an indie publisher. I hate to say that I hadn’t heard about Snowbooks before but I’m going to be spending some quality time browsing their catalog I can assure you :)
    Already I added Burning Out to my list as I love a good ghost story!

  13. I love Snowbooks and so far I’ve bought 4 books from them. I do think they’ve got lots of the big book bloggers behind them (for example Eve’s Alexandria and yourself) which can’t hurt. I’m still undecided on whether Fiona Robyn will be my kind of thing – can anyone advise what her books are like?

  14. Grad – lol! Thud indeed. I have a particular, foolish affection for marking my place with some ceremony (even if my bookmark may be a leftover receipt). I would be sorry not to be able to do that on an electronic device.

    Biblibio – I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I was very thrilled indeed that Emma agreed to an interview, and I’ll certainly be checking out the new releases from Snowbooks this summer.

    Doctordi – isn’t it welcoming? If I ever get to a point of approaching a publisher, I would certainly give them a try.

    Margaret – live and let live, I say, in the Kindle debate! :) As for the publisher’s suggestion, yes, that is ill-conceived and rather offensive, and you are right that it happens all the time. I have yet to speak to an author whose book has emerged unscathed from the editorial process. You do have to wonder what they are thinking sometimes.

    Honeypiehorse – lol!!!

    iliana – you know I do like to extend the tbr piles of my blogging friends! ;)

    Jodie – yay! a Snowbooks fan. How nice. As for Fiona Robyn, I have yet to read her. Here are the good reviews from the official website: http://www.fionarobyn.com/thelettersfeedback.htm
    I couldn’t find anything else yet online, but I’d like to read it myself one of these days, and will certainly post on it if I do.

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