A From the start Myrmidon Books has always aimed to publish commercial books that stand up against those published by the major players in the industry. Both in terms of the quality of the writing and in our production values. We don't aim to be a boutique or specialist press and a reader picking up any of our books in a bookshop will see nothing in the finished product that suggests "small press". We're are a small publisher but we produce big books. Tan Twan Eng has now been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize twice and we've done very well with our commercial fiction too. The Stone Gallows by C. David Ingram was picked by the Daily Record as one of its top three books of the year, and Craig Smith has been shortlisted for the CWA Best Thriller of the Year for Cold Rain.
Q Writers stress about their audience with all sorts of preconceived ideas about what readers want, what agents want and what publishers want. As a sales and marketing director you address yet another audience: retail buyers. Who are these people? What makes them tick? How can a writer gain a better understanding of the many audiences they must address before reaching “The Reader”?
A I wouldn't advise writers to worry about anything much apart from writing the best book they possibly can. An old piece of advice is to "write for yourself" as then you're guaranteed at least one reader in the world! The book trade is changing more than ever since the arrival of ebooks to support the commercial publication of a much wider range of fiction. And none of the "market-changing" bestsellers like J K Rowling, Stieg Larsson, Dan Brown and E L James were ever predicted by anyone in publishing. At Myrmidon we look to acquire great stories irrespective of genre, on the basis that if we love them, then readers will too.
Q What does your job involve, Kate? Who do you meet, where do you meet them and how do you communicate the attraction of your wares?
A Most of my job is spent sitting in front of my computer. We have a fantastic sales agency who represent us to the trade so I tend to work more in marketing, publicity and planning, and also I look after our digital side. This involves more spreadsheets than I would like. When I get out of the office it is to attend trade events such as book fairs where we have a chance to meet overseas partners and publishers. For the rest of the year we communicate by email. We have a number of audiences we have to communicate with: not just UK retailers and readers but our overseas distributors and publishers who we sell rights onto. At trade fairs I think we have done exceptionally well for a small publisher because we invest so much in our book covers that passers by are impressed enough to stop for a chat.
Q How do your authors assist you in your work? What is it you expect of them?
A It has become more important than ever for authors to help with the publicity of their own books. We don't force our authors to be involved in social media or do book signings if they don't want to but we have published a number of books where the authors willingness to get out to book shops and do events or be active online has certainly helped build their readership.
Q How has social media changed your approach - and that of other publishers - to marketing?
A I think the most important thing is the involvement of authors themselves. Without them it is actually very hard to promote a book online. Social media works when readers can feel they are connected directly with authors. They are not so interested in broadcasts from a publisher.
Q Doing a bit of research for this interview, I found this (slightly elderly) post: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/publisher/oftheweek/name/myrmidon-books. I was intrigued to learn that small publishers have the same frustrations with gate-keepers as authors seem to have, albeit further up the food chain. Has that changed for the better / worse? How early on does a marketing strategy change if the traditional distributors are not interested, and the net seems the better means of distribution?
A Our marketing strategy is completely dependent on the reaction of the major retailers to our titles. We will change the cover to please them but ultimately if they are not enthusiastic about a title it makes it much more difficult to gain visibility in the UK market and will mean for that title that we are more reliant on export sales and selling overseas rights to make that book a viable publishing proposition. There are fewer gatekeepers for ebooks however, and it will be disappointing if the trade shapes up towards making it harder for small publishers to access promotions in this area.
Q How much do initiatives such as New Writing North (http://www.newwritingnorth.com/) help in bringing new authors to light, and bringing new material to swell the lists of publishers such as Myrmidon Books? Are there other initiatives to investigate that you could recommend?
A I don't know how they work with other publishers but New Writing North don't direct submissions to us, we get them direct from writers and also from literary agents. We're a commercial, international publisher, not a regional press in terms of the material we publish but we are always delighted to be invited to events to meet aspiring authors in the North East or across the UK. In reality we are constantly deluged with material and now having a stable of existing authors, we are unlikely to publish more than one debut author per year. This year we published Harmattan by Gavin Weston, a beautiful story about a young girl growing up in Niger, which I picked up from our "slush pile" of submissions and was so moved by the story we couldn't not publish it.
Footnote: both the interviewer and interviewee are based in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Be sure to visit the site: http://www.myrmidonbooks.com/