The Northern Fiction Alliance Column: introducing Comma Press

(c) Comma Press

In 2018 the Northern Fiction Alliance, founded by Comma Press (that’s us), sent out an Open Letter to the London-centric Publishing Industry.

Dear Publishers, 

The book world is changing. And despite being notoriously slow-moving, the last few years have seen the industry take a long, hard look at itself, and question how it can better reflect its readers and society. Various pledges have been made and initiatives set up. Yet, again, and again, industry reports have shown us how white, middle-class and London-centric our industry still is, both in terms of workforce and the range of writers being supported and published. The lessons from these findings are clear: if you don’t have a diverse workforce or product, sooner or later you will disappear. 

So, what is to be done? If our industry is, as it claims, committed to tackling inclusivity then we need to start diversifying our workforces and, perhaps more importantly, dispersing across the UK in order to better engage with, and embolden a new generation of writers, readers and aspiring publishers. 

The provocation, the invitation, then, is this: set up outside of London.

By moving away from traditional publishing centres, together we can reshape and redefine the current literary landscape. Publishing – and the arts more widely – should be in the business of bringing in perspectives from the peripheries; yet it is one of the most centralised and metropolitan of all cultural industries. If we want our industry to survive, or even flourish, we need to challenge this ‘old monoculture’ and embed ourselves more thoroughly in different spaces and communities across the UK…

In this letter we outlined an Eight Point Plan for the industry to act upon, which included commitments such as paying interns the relevant living wage, publishing more regional writers as part of their editorial programme, and participating in cross-company activities such as a mentorship scheme connecting Northern publishing professionals with industry experts from within and outside the region. The document also proposed a Regional Diversity Roundtable that has since been held in Manchester, January 2019.

Since then, we’ve seen movement.

The aforementioned Roundtable was attended by over twenty-five publishing professionals, both from highly-regarded London houses, and from independent presses and literary organisations across the North of England. The Northern Fiction Alliance mentorship scheme took off, pairing Comma Press with 4th Estate, Dead Ink Books with Granta, and And Other Stories with Manchester University Press, and the NFA has continued to facilitate training workshops in the North run by London-based experts on areas such as Marketing and Publicity.

(c) Comma Press

We also held the inaugural ‘Get a Job in Publishing’ conference in Manchester, in partnership with The bks Agency and The Publishers Association, which allowed aspiring publishers based in and around the North to gain invaluable insight into how the industry works from both London-based and regional professionals, helping to improve chances of employability in publishing for regional applicants.

Perhaps the biggest move so far, however, is the announcement of our Arts Council-funded expansion from the Northern Fiction Alliance to the Northern Publishers Network, which will see more fiction publishers, as well as poetry presses, join our collaborative force for change.

We will be using this monthly column, then, to keep you up-to-date with the work of Comma Press and our NFA, and soon our NPN, comrades; work that is rooted firmly in the same values as those embedded in our Open Letter. We’ll be talking to our editors and authors about forthcoming books, showcasing rising stars in the region and highlighting further movements towards a less London-centric industry.

So, who exactly are we? Comma is a not-for-profit independent publisher specialising in the short story and fiction in translation. Our award-winning publications include collections by new and established authors, interdisciplinary collaborations, and translation commissions devised to identify cutting-edge, often marginalised voices from around the world.

(c) Comma Press

Just this year we have already published two new collections as part of our ‘Reading the City’ series, The Book of Tehran and The Book of Cairo, showcasing ten new voices translated to English from each city to encapsulate modern life in the capitals of Iran and Egypt. We have published the debut translated collection Thirteen Months of Sunrise by Sudanese author and female activist, Rania Mamoun, and the third collection in our Refugee Tales series, in which acclaimed authors retell the real stories of the lives of people who have been indefinitely detained in the UK, and refugees give their first-hand accounts.

The Northern Fiction Alliance is Comma Press, And Other Stories, Bluemoose Books, Dead Ink Books, Mayfly Press LLP, Peepal Tree, Route, Saraband Books, Tilted Axis, Valley Press and Wrecking Ball Press.

Keep an eye on future columns for more insight into the making of our forthcoming titles and events, including the first ever collection of Sci-Fi from Palestine, our second anthology of British protest history, new Northern England ‘Reading the City’ collections and our National Creative Writing Industry Day, as well as featuring pieces from the alliance on their own ambitious endeavours.