Today’s guest on my blog is the Publisher and owner of Barbican Press, the publishing house based in my native city of Hull and the company for which I undertook a social media internship last year. I first met Martin Goodman at a Head In A Book event (run by Head In A Book, Hull, discussing the Tony Hogan book by Kerry Hudson) at Hull Central Library last year. From there we began talking and I secured an internship in which I ran the Twitter and Facebook activity for Barbican Press over the course of a month. Of course, I knew of Martin before this, but I hadn’t had a chance to meet him before then. I’m very grateful that we have a formed a good working and personal friendship and I love seeing Barbican Press go from strength to strength. Here in this interview, Martin talks publishing, teaching creative writing, and Barbican Press.
Tell me a little bit about your background and career.
I was born in Leicester and determined it was time to become a professional writer aged 12. By the end of my first week I had filled a folder and realized I was overproducing – more than the market could bear – and so determined to bide my time. I felt it would be later in life before my writing started to connect, so I kept writing but kept it to myself or sent it out and had it come back. My first novel came out in 1992 – On Bended Knees, shortlisted for that year’s Whitbread Prize. And I keep on going. I moved into academia in 2007 and am now also Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Hull.
What drove you to start up your own publishing business?
I know what sort of publishing house I need as a writer – one inclined toward quality and risk – and so choose to provide such a house for others. I was external examiner for D.D.Johnston’s The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub when it was up for its PhD. D.D. had determined to write a novel that would be unpublishable by the industry, and I knew it was too brilliant not to share – and so kickstarted the company then.
Do you focus on a particular kind of literature, or publish a wide range?
Our slogan is ‘writing from the discomfort zone’ – ours are the sort of books Picador used to bring out in the 70s. One of our writers sees our books as being ‘dark with a sense of humour’. There’s also some regional focus on great writing coming from Hull.
Mainstream publishers can’t generally risk the sorts of books we bring out because they don’t tick all the mainstream boxes; they don’t come with a sure return.
What are some of the biggest challenges you faced with starting your own publishing company?
Getting anybody to notice. After four trips to an independent bookstore they agreed to take an individual copy of two titles. Getting a book shortlisted for Scottish Fist Book of the Year resulted in three copies being bought in for Scottish stores. So bookstores need to know and support us, as do reviewers. We target and send out scores of copies for reviews, then watch them come up for sale on ebay.
Previously, huge publishing conglomerates have dominated the industry. With the publishing industry changing and evolving at a rapid rate, what do you think the independent publisher needs to do in order to stay in the race?
Don’t join in. We can’t win that race. The trick is to keep independent virtues – have faith in the offbeat and determine that other readers are out there and in fact longing for the sort of books with a difference we can bring out. Mainstream publishers can’t generally risk the sorts of books we bring out because they don’t tick all the mainstream boxes; they don’t come with a sure return.
When looking for an outstanding piece of writing, do you have a set, firm criteria that the manuscript must meet? What do you look for? Or do you generally let your gut feeling decide how you feel about a manuscript?
The writing is immediately clear, and opens up a striking and alternative world view. Beautiful prose plus a striking intelligence.
What are your short and long-term goals for Barbican Press?
We have to make a profit in 2015. We need to see our books in bookstores, picked up by overseas agents and customers, and achieve reviews and prizes. All accomplishable. Long-term the goal is to have readers seek us out as their choice brand.
What is your proudest moment for your company?
Honestly it’s each time an author trusts us with their book and we bring it into the world. And they are happy. That’s the crux of what we are about: releasing genius works that might otherwise have languished.
What is your biggest personal achievement?
In Barbican Press terms, where I am very much a hands-on editor, it’s probably supporting Hana Sklenkva on her translation of Martin Vopenka’s THE FIFTH DIMENSION, a book destined to become known as a modern classic which would have stayed obscure otherwise.
Are there any general or universal misconceptions about writing and publishing that creative writing students tend to bring with them into the classroom?
Students generally aim to write better, which is the proper focus. As a long-time published writer, starting a publishing house showed me all the misconceptions I had had. I had never appreciated all the steps and costs and work that go into bringing out a book. I had never given full credit to the extent of a publisher’s commitment. Writers always deliver books that are special to them, but don’t necessarily give thought to what will make those books stand out in a preposterously crowded market.
How do you find managing your workload as a writer, publisher, and lecturer?
Full-on. I keep the writing side going by starting at 5am. 5-8 became my creative slot. Then I let the day hit me with whatever it wants until it’s time for bed.
Who do you see as a big influencer in the industry? Anyone you feel people should be keeping their eye on as the next big success?
I honestly believe any of our writers could break through in a big way. Such blazing optimism comes in handy. Creative writing departments are going to have an increased say. Most writing of note coming out of the US has some creative writing school allegiance, and that will happen increasingly here. And deservedly so, since so many writers are sacrificing so much and working so hard on their writing with expert tuition over many years. The best ones are using the opportunity, freed from commercial pressures, to break bounds and come up with books that are vibrant and unique.
Follow @MartinGoodman2 and @BarbicanPress1 on Twitter
Find out more about Barbican Press here.