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FEATURE IMPRINTS MAKING AN IMPRESSION


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some might say anonymity, of their large, parent groups—is mentioned frequently, although those involved tend to reject the anonymity charge. “I certainly don’t think of conglomerates as anonymous—Penguin ‘anonymous’!” says Maria Rejt, publisher at Mantle, another Pan Mac list. “But perhaps some tend to be culturally homogenous, and maybe boutique imprints are a way to enhance the publishing high street.” However, one editor who declined to be named believes the arrival of these new imprints is an indictment of the lack of imagination at many publishing companies. “They’ve obsessed about market share and becoming bigger and bigger to stand up to Amazon, and they haven’t thought about what they do, how they present themselves, how anonymous they are.” Yet in fact, that is arguably just what


the large groups have started to do. Jon Riley, editor-in-chief at “upmarket” riverrun (yes, no capitalisation), part of Hachette, believes the trend is being driven by booksellers. “These new imprints are primarily directed at booksellers, rather than at authors or agents. It’s all about making a narrow retail market aware of the range and differences of the lists of major companies. And I think it’s happened partly as a reaction to the success of small publishers such as Salt and Oneworld, who have both had titles on recent Man Booker shortlists. That wouldn’t have happened 15 years ago. I think there is a recognition that a Salt or a Oneworld can stand out more.” At Tinder Press, also part of Hachette, publisher Mary-Anne Harrington puts it succinctly: “Imprints are a useful way of dividing up and giving focus to the list. ‘The lead title from Imprint X’ is always going to sound more impressive than ‘one of our key titles for next year’.” Editorial directors say imprints


definitely help agents, though cynics point out that an agent will always be in favour of a new entity to pitch to. But leaders of the new imprints do report instances of agents tailoring their submissions to their tighter, more focused lists. Tonkinson says: “Two authors came to us this year with mental health memoirs after reading


THE RELAUNCH PAD


team had done at Scribner US. So relaunching Scribner UK seemed like the obvious path: having a connection with that history and prestige, but forging our own path. It’s a different market, the mix of authors are different, but it is a nice sister relationship.


TT And will Scribner UK remain “boutique”? RC The idea is to keep it focused. We were initially thinking six to 12 titles a year and we did around nine this year. I don’t think I’d be the only editor on a literary list to say it is tough out there. We feel that in order to make literary publishing


Scribner UK editorial director Rowan Cope spearheaded the relaunch of the list, and has since scored with bestsellers and prize listings


Tom Tivnan How would you say the first year of the Scribner UK relaunch has gone? Rowan Cope It is always difficult launching or relaunching a list, but I think getting Graham Swift’s England and Other Stories in the Sunday Times and The Bookseller charts was an amazing start. And then we had Ian McGuire’s The North Water and Virginia Reeves’ Work Like Any Other on the Man Booker longlist. In just a year it is gratifying to have reached some of the dream benchmarks we envisaged when we were setting up the list. I was particularly happy for The North Water. It was one of the first books I bought when I moved to S&S and I was kind of nervous bringing this hyper-violent, masculine text to the acquisition meeting. But everyone was on board right away, they loved it.


TT Can you take us back and go through the reasons for the relaunch? RC Around 15 years ago S&S UK set up few imprints that already existed in the US business. But then there was a period of consolidation across the industry, a lot of lists were merged or brought under one umbrella. But Scribner UK had done some really great publishing. When I joined in 2014, we were talking about setting up a boutique literary list and how in awe we were of what Nan Graham, Susan Moldow and the


work you have to give so much attention, passion, drive and publicity to each book that you don’t want to be competing against yourself in an already challenging environment.


TT What do you think is behind the resurgence of all these imprints? RC Part of it might just be the cyclical nature of publishing after a vogue of consolidation. But it is also about communicating—to agents, retailers, customers. A smaller imprint can have a sensibility that you really can’t define in a more general list. I think you can communicate that to customers—it is difficult, but not impossible, particularly for the literary readers we are going for. We have a small dedicated marketing and publicity team that are working on the public face of Scribner UK and we’re doing as much as we can to communicate directly with readers.


TT Are there any areas you are looking to expand into? RC I would love us to do more non-fiction. I love H is for Hawk for that slightly uncategorisable thing Helen Macdonald did; the mash-up of genres was really special. I guess it’s that uniqueness I’m looking for, books that aren’t exactly like anything else. It’s hard to find! Another one of my aims is that Scribner should


be diverse and international. Partly because I studied languages at university, I’ve always been fascinated by working with translations. I think we’ve had a brilliant first year [in this regard] and I’m looking forward to expanding it. And generally, I think that UK readers are more engaged with thinking globally. I’m not just thinking about translation but authors with an international outlook. This year we published Guillermo Erades’ Back to Moscow. He’s a Spaniard writing in English about Russia: that’s truly international. 





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