Winner of the Bern Literature Prize 2010, Zbinden’s Progress is the newly translated fifth novel from Christoph Simon. Described by Barbara Trapido as “a little Odyssey, a little Ulysses”, Zbinden’s Progress is both heart-rending and hilarious.
The publisher , And Other Stories, has already earned a glowing reputation for publishing interesting, exciting novels and producing them beautifully. We love them.
I asked them if they would write a piece about their journey so far for the blog – Matthew Crockatt, erstwhile bookseller at Daunts and Waterstones and co-founder of cracking indie Crockatt & Powell, is one of their very small team, here’s his take on an exhilarating, success-filled and no doubt exhausting year:
And Other Stories is a very young publisher. Its first books were only published in September 2011. As the most recent person to join And Other Stories, I’ve been pretty curious to know how it started. In case you’re interested, here’s the story so far.
It all started in 2009 when Stefan Tobler wrote an article titled Supply + Demand + Magic for the British translation journal In Other Words.
Would you agree that a lot of the best contemporary fiction gets passed over in favour of reasonably good books that present publishers with less of a risk?
A commercial publisher has to balance its books, whether it is one of the ‘big boys’ with shareholders or an independent. Sales figures are naturally the driving concern (survival concern), and the sales and marketing people have a larger say than ever in determining publishers’ book choices.
This was especially true for translated fiction, he argued. The extra costs involved made it even less likely that challenging books from other languages would be published in the UK. When the article appeared Stefan was contacted by a number of people in the translation community and realised he was not alone. Stefan began to explore ways of drawing on this core group of people and using their support to raise advance funds that could then be used to publish books. This led to his founding And Other Stories Publishing as a Community Interest Company and the development of the And Other Stories subscription model.
Although the idea of paying for something before you know what it is completely opposes the normal laws of consumer markets – put the products out there and let people choose what to buy – it attracted enough subscribers to make starting And Other Stories possible. What’s more, these subscribers were not passive but very active members of the reading community.
Discussions were held and people were invited to suggest books that deserved to be published. Many but not all of these were in other languages. Some, such as Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home, were simply excellent books. Sophie Lewis, a translator of French literature for publishers including Pushkin Press, Saqi Books and Hesperus Press, andwho established the European office of independent publisher Dalkey Archive Press, was by now fully involved in an editorial role. By consulting a pool of like-minded people who all felt passionately about books and were prepared to back the process of getting them into the world by subscribing, offering helpful services or advice, or giving their time and expertise, the quality of And Other Stories’ titles became, and remains, extraordinarily high.
In fact, I first discovered the publisher through reading Swimming Home – a book that was such a real relief after reading some dire books – here’s my review on my blog. I then went on to read and review Carlos Gamerro’s crazy mash-up The Islands for the Huffington Post – and was just as amazed. (When the chance came to join the publisher, of course I jumped at it!)
The first book released was Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos. This book was brought to And Other Stories’ attention by Rosalind Harvey, who then went on to translate it. It was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, ensuring immediate publicity for the fledgling enterprise.
The First Book Award’s impact is ongoing. Our handsome trade paperback edition of Villalobos’ book has gone to three printings so far. As a result of all the publicity, it was picked up by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the US and by other publishers around the world. And it continues to attract attention: Down the Rabbit Hole was one of five books chosen for the 2011 Summer Reads promotion run by Writers’ Centre Norwich in Norfolk’s libraries. The 100 copies purchased for library use were all borrowed within a single week.
Recently Swimming Home has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, perhaps the most prestigious literary prize in the world. Seeing people’s reactions now, we have our fingers firmly crossed for the shortlist! And in the meantime of course we continue to hunt out new and surprising books and writers that are worth taking a risk on – for us as a publisher, and for you as readers.
Please visit our website for more details: www.andotherstories.org
Remember, without our subscribers none of this would have been possible…
We would love for you to come along on the 28th, enjoy a glass of wine and celebrate with us the heartening story of And Other Stories. Tickets cost just £2 and are available from our Customer Service Desk or by phoning 01865 333623