Karen Sullivan recently left Arcadia Books and took the very big step of starting her own publishing business. Karen has written a guest post for my blog in which she explains what led her to make this decision and what she has already achieved.
That mystical energy …
Karen Sullivan – Publisher and founder of Orenda Books
Sometimes the best decisions are made on the hoof, without really contemplating the logistics or the practicalities. And sometimes things fall into place so perfectly, you know that a decision was right – something that was simply meant to happen.
Eight weeks ago, I got news that Arcadia Books, where I worked as Managing Editor, would be postponing the vast majority of the 2015 publishing programme in a restructuring programme. My job would no longer exist in its original incarnation, and I would no longer be doing what I love – acting as a midwife for wonderful authors, producing fabulous, beautiful books. Within the space of 24 hours, I made a decision to go it on my own – start a little independent publishing company, which would allow me to do what I like doing best, and help to bring some extraordinary books to the marketplace.
I’ve always had a passion for translated literature, so I instantly decided that half of my six titles per year would be in translation. I’d just spent a fabulous few days at Bloody Scotland festival, where my enthusiasm for crime and thrillers hit an all-time high, so that seemed the right genre on which to focus. But I also knew that I’d love the opportunity to publish books outside these genres – fiction that resonated with me, and deserved to be recognised.
Then came the issue of funding, but my extremely supportive ex-FD husband managed to secure enough to support the publishing programme for the first year or so. Domestic and international print and ebook sales and distribution were soon negotiated, and then it was time to get some ‘talent’ on board.
When I was at Arcadia, I’d stumbled across David F. Ross’s self-published The Last Days of Disco – a brilliantly authentic, funny and moving story set in 1980s Ayrshire. Contracts hadn’t been signed, and I was fortunate enough that David was keen to join my new venture. That book has been edited, partially rewritten, polished to perfection, typeset and proofread, and is now ‘queuing’ to go live on ebook on 15 December, with the print version following early in the New Year. The amazing jacket has had Twitter ablaze with comments, and some very special people provided glowing quotes! David is a tremendous writer, and I feel honoured to grab him at the beginning of what is bound to be a long and successful career.
Next up was Ragnar Jonasson, an Icelandic crime writer who I’d met at CrimeFest last May. I watched with surprise as dozens of avid fans lined up to buy his book after a successful panel – a book that didn’t actually exist! This scenario was repeated at Bloody Scotland, and I thought to myself: Someone is missing a trick! Crime author Quentin Bates had produced a sample translation for each of the five books in the Dark Iceland series, and having worked with Quentin before, he was an obvious choice to translate the lot. I marched down to DHH Literary Agency, where I had to persuade David Headley that this talented author would be in safe hands in a brand-new venture. Fortunately, he agreed, a deal was done for two titles – Snowblind and Nightblind – and I had my second, marvellous author on the team! The first title is currently being translated, and we’ll be launching at CrimeFest in May, with books available for Newcastle Noir. Watch this space! The crime community definitely swung into action when the news broke, and this is one series that is bound to soar!
On the same day, a second pitch was made to the lovely Broo Doherty, of the same agency. When I was at Arcadia, my colleague Gary Pulsifer had raved about Paul E. Hardisty’s Yemen-set eco-thriller The Abrupt Physics of Dying. I’d read enough of it to know that it would not only fit perfectly on my list, but give me a chance to ‘grow’ an incredibly talented debut author. The deal was sealed, and to my complete astonishment, its announcement brought interest from literary scouts, agents and film-makers both here, in the US and in Europe. Not just for this title, but my others as well. While I was completely confident about this signing, nothing prepared me for the utter brilliance of this author – who had produced an exquisitely written, fast-paced page-turner with a perfectly rendered setting and a protagonist who was crying out for a series. Was there a sequel? I asked Broo. There was indeed, and I purchased it – The Evolution of Fear – sight unseen. Already ebooked and about to go live on 15 December, with a print publication date in early March, The Abrupt Physics of Dying is receiving loads of early rave reviews, and the Canadian/Australian author will be flying over for publication day.
Next up was one of my all-time favourite Norwegian writers, Gunnar Staalesen, ‘the Norwegian Chandler’. He’s sold millions of books around the world and the time was clearly ripe to place him firmly on the crime-writing map in English. Only four of his 20-something Varg Veum titles have been published in English (at Arcadia), and rumour had it that his latest three, We Shall Inherit the Wind, Where Roses Never Die and No One Is So Safe in Danger, were the best yet. To my delight, Gunnar and his agent Henrik Francke at Gyldendal Agency in Norway were keen to be involved, and a three-book deal for World English rights was negotiated. Just as exciting was the fact that Don Bartlett, who has translated some of the finest Norwegian literature around, including Nesbo, Knausgaard and Pettersen, was keen to be involved, and he’s been signed up to translate all three! We Shall Inherit the Wind will be published officially in June 2015, but launched at CrimeFest alongside Ragnar Jonasson’s gorgeous Nightblind!
One of my favourite books at Arcadia, was Finnish debut author Kati Hiekkapelto’s The Hummingbird, translated by David Hackston. Not only is Kati herself the most extraordinary woman (a performance artist and punk singer, as well as an immensely talented writer), but the sequel, The Defenceless, was also up for grabs and I did not even think twice about purchasing the rights from Otava Agency in Finland. The same translator is available, and he’ll start working on this gritty, gorgeously written novel, which sees the return of police detective Anna Fekete and her partner Esko, on the trail of another murderer in a Northern Finnish town. Published in September, we’ll hopefully launch her at a rather wonderful Scottish crime festival!
Since then, submissions have been flying in and I can hardly keep up with the reading – a wealth of undiscovered talent certainly exists, and the most difficult thing is going to be sticking to a six-title limit!
In May, every one of my authors will be attending CrimeFest (including David F. Ross, who will be my honorary guest), where Orenda Books will be officially launched. It’s unlikely that I’ll get authors from Iceland, Finland, Norway, Scotland and Australia in one place at the same time, so it’s an obvious moment to celebrate a venture that has filled me with more excitement and enthusiasm than I can ever remember. I hope you can all join us!
Ragnar and Kati will also appear at Newcastle Noir earlier in May, and we’ve had a clutch of invites for the Edinburgh Book Festival too, with Bloody Scotland still to come.
Things have come together in such a way that it feels as though it was meant to happen. That’s not too say that it’s all been easy. The admin is threatening to drown me, and there are many, many fiddly, ongoing negotiations to be undertaken, problems to be ironed out. I’ve got some great editors helping out, some interns supporting the marketing and PR plans, some seasoned experts giving lots of advice and helping to fill the (sometimes seemingly vast) holes in my experience and knowledge. But every moment of it has been gratifying and positive. That split-second decision was undoubtedly the right one. And it has all come together in eight short weeks.
As for the name – this was an obvious choice. Not only is Canadian author Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda one of my all-time favourite novels, but the word itself – which loosely translates as ‘the mystical power that drives human accomplishment’ – is a nod to my Canadian heritage and a First Nations word whose provenance is a tribe that settled in a part of Ontario where I’ve spent every summer of my life. It often seems that there is a ‘mystical power’ afoot here, and an almost surreal energy pulling together events in such an extraordinary way. I’m humbled and thrilled by the support we’ve received, and in just over a week, you’ll see what we’re doing and why!
Our website www.orendabooks.co.uk will be launched just before Christmas, with a beautiful short story from every Orenda author. That’s our treat for you, and it comes with a big thank-you to everyone who has helped to get Orenda Books on the right path.