3 independent publishers in Kent

PUBLISHED: 12:34 05 June 2017 | UPDATED: 12:34 05 June 2017

Martin de la Bedoyere, Search Press

Martin de la Bedoyere, Search Press

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

With sales of physical books now outperforming digital titles, Kent Life salutes Independent Bookshop Week (24 June-1 July)

Search Press, Tunbridge Wells

The oldest of the three publishing houses, Search Press was set up by Charlotte de la Bedoyère in 1970 and is now run by her son Martin. Needing to maintain the family after the untimely death of her husband, at the start it wasn’t an easy path to have chosen. “In the first 15 years, cash was always the issue,” says Martin, adding that for a woman in publishing, a distinctly male-dominated sector, there were added difficulties.

Despite this, 35 years ago Charlotte made the bold decision to move from an attic room in London’s Gloucester Road to Tunbridge Wells and gradually create a publishing house focusing on arts and crafts.

Martin works with his team to identify trends in this evolving sector, attending shows and avidly reading craft magazines. He says: “Years ago, painting on glass was a trend, but now sewing is a very good subject area, after the best-selling series with Debbie Shaw. The Sewing Bee stimulated interest.”

In the last few years, knitting and crochet have been popular due to their therapeutic benefits. The Search Press catalogue also includes books on such enduring interests as how to draw and paint, and sugarcraft.

Martin and his team have a good relationship with their authors, whose craft skills are the vital element. Search Press has some 2,000 active titles in its catalogue, of which around 800 have the Search Press imprint, and it publishes 150 titles annually.

On the debate of how the internet has impacted on book, he is unhesitating: “People still love books. The death of the book has been greatly exaggerated. With the web, there is no shop window. People like to look and feel.”

Conrad Press, Canterbury

James Essinger at Conrad PressJames Essinger at Conrad Press

James Essinger at Conrad Press in Canterbury is also sceptical about the death of the book. He points out “George Orwell thought that movies would take over from books, yet many films are drawn from books.

“The thing about a book is that it is a convenient, fundamental medium. You can open it, it’s a nice, physical thing to have.

“The internet is basically another amazing distribution channel. You can read a part of a book and see if you like it, communicate about books you enjoy. It lets you get in touch with authors and can be very personal.”

James came to live in Canterbury in 1977, between school and university. “It’s beautiful, not far from London, a charming and congenial city. And I have always been an admirer of Joseph Conrad, who is buried nearby.”

For James, it could be an advantage to be outside of London, especially if your favourite activity is writing, as London has too much of a buzz and too much noise.

James, who is also a writer, set up Conrad Press in December 2015 for two reasons. Having been published by a dozen publishers, he says: “I came to the conclusion that I could do better in some cases. Once a book has had its day it is dropped by mainstream publishers. This is illogical, because if a book is worth publishing, it also has a longish life.”

He quotes Ezra Pound, “literature is news that stays news” and believes that is true of the novel. And on a practical front he adds: “Publishers are under cost pressure and so need to be confident to sell 20,000 copies. They also tend to have a dismissive attitude to anyone but a star writer.”

James, working from his literary agency, had sent off novels which were not taken on and found this a thankless task. “I wanted to create a community of good writers and now I am migrating them all to Clay’s a big printer with its own distribution service, which is useful for a publisher like myself.”

A small print run may make a loss and distribution may be a problem. Amazon, for instance, imposes a discount of 60 per cent.

Franca Curti Simpson of Calisi PressFranca Curti Simpson of Calisi Press

Conrad Press specialises in novels and narrative non-fiction. James currently has about 20 books on his lists with “a few pending publication.” This year there should be six or seven books in different genres. He says, however, that there is a shortage of good material, although “if you write a good book, a publisher will find it.”

He also adds: “All mainstream publishers refuse to consider unsolicited submissions because many books are a waste of time. Writers are optimistic. However a good writer will persevere.”

James wanted his books to get into print and some are also published as e-books. He believes he is a good judge of literature, thanks to a great education in language and literature (he has an MA from Oxford). He also works as a literary agent.

Calisi Press, Folkestone

The third publisher I spoke to is Franca Curti Simpson who established and incorporated Calisi Press in November 2014, based in Folkestone.

However, she says: “My plan was never to become a publisher. I wanted to be a literary translator, but this entails hard work networking and scouting, so I decided I’d rather do the whole process myself.

“I had no previous experience of publishing, every step of the way had to be researched. It was a steep learning curve. For instance, a major problem was finding out what was involved in setting up an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), registering the titles with the Nielsen database and deciding the size of the book.

Franca’s specialist publisher focuses on work by Italian women writers. Her decision to work in this sphere came after a seminar at the British Library on International Translation Day. “It wasn’t difficult to find the first book, because I had one already, but choosing the second book was more difficult.”

Franca has was always been interested in women writers, not for any political motive, but because she enjoyed the subject matter. Indeed My Mother is a River is the story of a fraught relationship between an adult woman and her mother who has Alzheimer’s, a pertinent and contemporary problem. Being niche was not going to be a problem for such a small press as Calisi.

It’s a catchy name and Franca explains she wanted a name that sounds like a strong woman and had been watching Game of Thrones, where the Mother of Dragons is Khaleesi. She borrowed the name and Italianised it!

Franca has no hesitation when I ask if the book is dead. “Even though I read on Kindle, it doesn’t take away from reading books.” She also adds that the internet has made it possible to reach readers and has played an been important in creating and building her market.

Franca admits to being quite lucky with her books, because of what she calls the Ferrante effect, the media hype that surrounds the Italian author Elena Ferrante.

Franca had no problems with the author of the books she has translated, as she had been in contact with her publishing company over two to three years and they were open to translation. Working through other publishers was more difficult as Franca herself was an unknown.

Franca chose to set up Calisi in Folkestone because she has lived here for 22 years. She says: “I decided I’d like to be a medium fish in publishing, rather than a minute fish in London.” She managed to get a slot in the Folkestone Book Festival in 2016, a town that is close to London and with its own strong cultural scene.

Franca’s message to Kent Life readers is that she would like them to be adventurous in their reading. “In Italy, in a bookshop, half the books are in translation. My view of the world was much wider than just Italy and people reading in English forget that. “Reading in translation, in the current political climate, makes you realise that there are things that are universal.”

How exciting to have such positive visions of the publishing industry and also to have them right here on our doorstep in Kent.

Get in touch

The Search Press, Wellwood, North Farm Road, Tunbridge Wells TN2 3DR, www.searchpress.com, 01892 578920

To see the list at Conrad Press, visit www.theconradpress.com. You could also contact James via www.canterburyliteraryagency.com

Email Franca Curti Simpson, info@calisipress.com, or visit www.calisipress.com

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