Kevin Duffy was a publishing rep for more than 20 years when he decided to throw it all in, re-mortgage the house with his wife Hetha and start his own publishing empire. In September of 2006 Bluemoose Books was born.
Fastforward to 2012 and - with foreign sales, award wins, and growing critical acclaim - the risky venture might just be considered to be paying off.
Pulp Pusher talked to Kevin Duffy about giving the book market a much-needed injection of new blood and the Big Six a run for their money.
TONY BLACK: Tell us about Bluemouse Books?
KEVIN DUFFY: I had won a national writing competition and a major publisher was going to publish the book I had written but after the editors had agreed to publish, the commercial directors decided they couldn’t sell ‘enough,’ so it didn’t happen. I am fuelled by bile and anger. Well, then I was, so Hetha, my wife, told me to stop moaning and do something about it, so we remortgaged the house and started Bluemoose Books.
My novel ANTHILLS AND STARS was the first book we published and we made enough money off that to publish 10 books since, none of mine by the way. I thought publishing had become risk free. In my opinion, it was the same old same old generic stuff that was being piled high in the bookshops, I wanted to read something new and different, so that’s how we started.
You started the venture as a 'as a riposte to all the Celebriture and to the London-centric nature of publishing' - is BM a chance to get your DMs out and jump all over that?
There has always been celebrity publishing but now Massive Advances are handed out and they are not earned back through sales or foreign rights’ sales. This means new writers and other writers who have a track record of sales are not getting contracts because the cupboard is empty. It’s not only the advances that are huge, the publishers have to spend huge amounts on marketing to ‘buy ‘ space in bookshops and to ‘Amazon’ to get their books seen.. It is distorting the market. In 2006 at the run up to Christmas, 32 Sleb books were published at a cost of Millions (in advances) and marketing spend. Only 6 earned their advances back and two made a profit. 32 new writers could have had contracts and I’m sure they would still be writing today and earning their publishers money.
Traditional paper publishing is not doing so well right now, to put it mildly, what are they doing wrong?
I don’t think paper publishing is doing it wrong, I just think they are becoming very risk averse and only publishing that which has worked, following generic lines and are afraid to publish books that they love with a passion but the suits don’t think will sell enough to satisfy the shareholders.
Everything changed when the Net Book Agreement ( It became illegal to restrict the price of a book in 1997) went and retailers could sell books at whatever price they wanted. Massive discounts mean that publishers have to sell more of a title to break even. The bigger the publisher, the bigger the print run to keep the shareholders and the CEO’s happy.
You've said you blame agents for a lot of the problems in publishing to day - at least, partly - care to elaborate?
Of course it’s not all the agents fault, but agents are becoming extremely powerful in the publishing world today. Editors and publishers only take ‘agented’ work. Agents invariably come from the same upper to middle class background, as the majority of those from ‘the big 6 publishers, and have similar ‘sensibilities’ when it comes to reading and books in general. This in my opinion ‘narrows’ the books that agents will represent, plus they will very rarely represent a book they don’t think will sell bucket loads because they won’t make any money from it. They take a minimum of 10% from the writers, so the bigger the deal, the bigger their fee. There are, of course exceptions. Increasingly the agents are merging together with TV and Film agencies. Pyramids of Celebriture that will be exploited for the benefit of……fill in gaps.
A need to turn a mega-profit on every book has stifled creativity and killed innovation, discuss ...
There will always be innovation but not from the big six and don’t forget they have about 75% of the market place.
The Art of Being Dead by Stephen Clayton was a big success for BM, of course completely overlooked by the powers-that-be ...
We now have 3 books which have been sold to foreign publishers.
FALLING THROUGH CLOUDS by Anna Chilvers to CENTERPOLYGRAPH of MOSCOW GABRIEL’S ANGEL by Mark Radcliffe to AZBOOKA-ATTICUS of ST Petersburg KING CROW by Michael Stewart to AZBOOKA-ATTICUS of St Petersburg KING CROW has won The Guardian’s NOT THE BOOKER AWARD 2011. All three will be published in Russian this year. THE ART OF BEING DEAD by Stephen Clayton is now on the MA Contemporary Literature course at Leeds Metropolitan University. It has been called a ‘Modern Gothic novel.’
All these titles would not have been published by mainstream houses. That is a sad indictment of publishing because here, we have 4 great writers who written excellent novels.
And BM is washing its face with this business model?
No we’re not ‘washing our faces’ with our business model. It is tough but we’re making enough money to keep publishing great stories.
So, how do you see the future? Is paper likely to be the preserve of celebrity novelists? I'm sure there's a Jamie Oliver cooking-thriller sub-genre on the way ...
I’m very excited about the future because hopefully there will be other small Indy publishers publishing great books on paper and digitally. People forget that without writers publishing is finished and we must nurture NEW WRITERS and new writing.
For more information, visit: http://bluemoosebooks.com/