Publishing and Consultancy
Publishing is never easy. When Karen and I set up Red Button Publishing in the summer of 2012 we had already been working in the book business for many years. We knew the struggles well. It can be a frustrating business. There are no sure-fire routes to success, no magic formula for a bestseller. Publishing is at its heart an act of faith: faith that a book is good and faith that the readership is out there somewhere. For Karen and I, setting up Red Button was an act of faith both in ourselves and the writers we publish. We believe wholeheartedly in every book we publish under our banner, but the hard work comes in trying to get our small voice heard over the cacophony of the modern book market.
That’s why we have taken such inspiration from the unfolding success of Eimear McBride’s novel A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. Turned down by numerous agents and publishers, this avant-garde work finally found its way into the hands of fledgling independent publisher Galley Beggar Press, who published it in 2013. Galley Beggar had little to no marketing budget, and yet the book has taken the literary world by storm. It’s now the winner of three literary awards, including the Irish Book of the Year, the Goldsmiths Prize and also most recently the Bailey’s Prize For Fiction. Its success owes much to the vision, passion and hard work of Galley Beggar, as well as the brilliance of the writing. Galley Beggar were willing to take the risk that others weren’t and it has paid off in spades.
Back in late 2012, Karen and I read The Human Script by Johnny Rich for the first time. Johnny’s own journey to publication had started off promisingly enough. His manuscript was praised by authors like Ian McEwan and Malcolm Bradbury and he was snapped up by a leading literary agent, but a book deal proved elusive. Like A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing, The Human Script would make it past the commissioning editor’s desk only to be shot down by a marketing team. The Human Script was finally published as the first Red Button title in April 2013, over a decade after it was written. It’s still available in digital format only for the time being, but it is out in the world and reaching readers now.
Large corporations have the benefit of big budgets and strong distribution networks. But having a large organisation to run can also lead to a risk-averse publishing strategy. Smaller publishers have the ability to make decisions quickly, to take more risks and, crucially, to offer authors a more involved and personal experience of publishing. This is what Galley Beggar Press have achieved with Eimear McBride and her first novel, which could have lain undiscovered for many more years without their intervention. They’ve shown that small can be powerful, and that there is an audience for literature that breaks the mould and dares to be different. Their success demonstrates what an exciting time this is for literature and publishing. For Red Button and our authors, and for many other publishers and writers, it shows that everything is possible.