Unity Makes Strength: The Northern Fiction Alliance Take on The Publishing Industry
In 2016, an innovative collective was founded by publishers based in northern England: the Northern Fiction Alliance. Around the globe, rising costs in various world capitals are forcing out many in creative industries where salaries aren’t commensurate with the cost of living. London, the UK’s traditional capital of publishing, has become an exorbitantly expensive city, and for many in the publishing industry, in particular independent publishers, it is a challenge to survive. As a result some publishers even decide to found their companies elsewhere. Luckily, from adversity comes creativity, and publishing collectives like Northern Fiction Alliance are proof of this.
What is the Northern Fiction Alliance?
Galvanized by the Manchester-based Comma Press, founding members include Peepal Tree Press, based in Leeds, Dead Ink, based in Liverpool, and Sheffield’s And Other Stories. Their mission is to “showcase diversity, creativity and spirit of risk-taking that sets Northern publishers apart.”
Funded by the Arts Council England the Alliance is intent on traveling to international book fairs to showcase their authors on a global platform, at the same time selling rights for their authors to international publishers. At the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair the Alliance had a collective stand and were intent on raising awareness about their distinct identity: high quality literary fiction that is diverse and international, often in translation.
On their home turf, getting attention from mainstream media is a problem for publishers outside of London, where most of the media and other publishers are based. By banding together, Northern Fiction Alliance members can make more noise, and hopefully be heard even by the London-based news outlets.
Who founded the Northern Fiction Alliance?
- Comma Press: Founded by Ra Page, the non-profit Comma Press, has focused on developing the short story format, “to transcend cultural and disciplinary boundaries,” and has published much fiction in translation. Comma has been very successful with its Iraqi author, Hassan Blasim, for example, who won the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for his book The Iraqi Christ, and has been translated into 22 languages. Comma has also been at the forefront of a movement to publish science fiction by Arab authors.Sarah Cleave, Comma Press' Publishing manager, and Becky Harrison, the Engagement manager, both recently made the London Book Fair Trailblazer's shortlist for an award that celebrates young talent in publishing.
- And Other Stories: This publishing house was founded by translator Stefan Tobler, who wanted to find a different model from the one used by traditional publishers who, he felt, were searching for guaranteed commercial success, rather than extraordinary writing. And Other Stories publishes fiction and literature in translation and has a subscriber-based approach for two, four or six titles a year. They also hold Reading Groups in which translators and readers choose a book and discuss works that could potentially be published. And Other Stories has been successful with a number of publications including the Man Booker-shortlisted Swimming Home, by Deborah Levy.
- Peepal Tree Press: This publisher’s mission is to bring readers “the best of international writing from the Caribbean, its diasporas, and the UK.” Founded in 1985, Peepal has gone through various incarnations, always on a shoestring, (Peepal’s words), but it has, nevertheless, created a joint imprint in the US with Akashic Books in New York, called Peekash Press. It is particularly interesting to read about their history, business plan, challenges, and innovations on their website.
- Dead Ink Books: This publishing house is the last of the core members of the Alliance. It focuses on publishing and developing the careers of new and emerging authors. Choosing experimental writing from the underground and presenting it in the form of a beautiful book has worked for Dead Ink, winning several of their books awards. Dead Ink recently acquired the backlist and archive of the nearly 100 year-old Eden Book Society, which published horror novellas for private subscribers. Dead Ink will be able to publish one book a year, of previously unavailable horror fiction.
Authors Ben Myers and Nancy Booth, Northern Fiction Alliance roadshow
What’s next for the Alliance?
Since its creation, membership in the Northern Fiction Alliance has grown to include ten publishers, among which the Salford-based Saraband, Bluemoose Books, in Hebden Bridge, Tilted Axis, founded by translator Deborah Smith, Mayfly Press in Newcastle, Route, (with a “Pan-European outlook), Valley Press, based in Northern Yorkshire, and Wrecking Ball Press in Hull, which encourages new writing talent. In the Northern Fiction Alliance’s words:
“Together we are reshaping and redefining the UK's literary landscape, commissioning bold new works, and providing alternative platforms for underrepresented authors.”
The Northern Fiction Alliance’s challenge, and the reason it was created, lies in being able to help each other gain media attention and organize events to promote their literature. The Alliance runs successful roadshows across the North of England with eight or nine authors or editors who talk about their work to the public. Being far from London can also contribute to creativity, as Ra Page said in a recent interview in Publishing Perspectives: “If we were in London, we’d be spending a lot of time trying to work out what the next trend is and looking over our shoulders all the time at what others were doing. We would be paying more attention to what the rules are, and trying to avoid what would be considered suicidal ideas. Up here, we don’t know what suicidal ideas are.”
As Brexit looms large in the UK, the international outlook of the Alliance is a plus. Deborah Smith, of Tilted Axis, which joined the Alliance in October 2016 told The Bookseller: “It’s particularly exciting that Tilted Axis will be joining And Other Stories and Comma Press whose translation-centric lists inspired us to take a similar path. Publishing translations means forging connections between the local and the global, enabling writing and readers alike to take part in international conversations. That’s always been important; post-Brexit, it feels imperative. I can definitely see the north becoming a powerhouse for innovative, outward-looking indies.”
If you want to learn more about Comma Press, make sure to check out our in depth interview on Bookwitty.