Q & A with Rupert Heath
Will you tell me a little about the genesis of Dean Street Press? What prompted you to start the business?
I’ve spent the past fifteen years as a literary agent, still my day job. Dean Street Press was inspired partly by the example of several other literary agencies who’d already discovered, since the advent of digital, that it was possible for them to start a small publishing program for unpublished or out-of-print books. I also liked the aesthetic idea of having a crafted list, where things could be presented a certain way. And it allowed me to pursue some particular literary interests, which was hard to do purely as an agent.
You have an intriguing variety of books under your roof – vintage crime, cult fiction, a range of non-fiction. What’s the unifying quality of your titles?
I hope they’re all good books, but the only other connection is probably that they are all things I like. So while there’s a lot of vintage crime, there have been memoirs and biographies of film stars, and music books; we’ve also just republished Dorothy Scannell’s brilliant East End memoirs. I’ll publish something if I like it and can see a way to do it – and can acquire the rights! So that gives me some freedom.
What’s the process involved in republishing out-of-print books? How do you find lost authors like Ianthe Jerrold and E. R. Punshon?
I owe a great deal here to Curtis Evans, a historian of classic crime fiction and an incredible authority on the subject. He put me on to both of the authors you name, and several others in the classic crime genre. He’s also written wonderful introductions for most of the crime titles we have published to date. Outside of crime, it has been mostly titles I was already aware of, or discovered through my interest in the various subjects. There’s been quite a lot of detective work in tracing estates and so on. I was delighted to make contact with George Sanders’ niece, who granted us permission to republish Memoirs of a Professional Cad [which we reviewed here] and his two crime novels.
Describe to me a typical day – if such a thing exists! – in the DSP office.
A lot of plate spinning and multi-tasking. One of the most time-consuming jobs is converting older titles into a digital format suitable for ebooks and republication (I long for more shortcuts to this process, if anyone out there has tips). Covers are also something we love and take very seriously, so we work hard on those. We try to have close links with reviewers, especially bloggers in our area, and send books to broadsheets and niche magazines every month. We’re active on twitter, and I am also an obsessive daily sales figures checker.
I understand that you have another life as a literary agent! Does it combine well with running Dean Street Press?
There are overlapping skills, but fewer than one might imagine – DSP has been a tremendous learning curve in areas of publishing I’d always been shielded from (sales and the supply chain, in particular – and did I mention creating Metadata?). I actually try to keep agenting and DSP as separate as possible; I’ve only republished a couple of my agency’s clients via DSP and have no plans to do more.
It’s by no means your only genre, but the editors at Shiny are all fans of vintage crime fiction. Why do you think these novels are so perennially popular?
It’s hard to know for certain. I think there’s a certain reliability to the pleasures of classic crime fiction, as well as the charm of nostalgia. At the same time the field is richly diverse, even if one is looking only at the English ‘golden age’ novels. I think there is a growing interest today in seeing how the novels treat female characters, especially since some of the most successful and enduring authors in the genre were female.
The fate of ebooks has been quite the saga so far – heralded as the saviour of publishing and now reported to be slowing in volume of sales. Media headlines are so rarely accurate – what has your actual experience of the ebook market been so far?
Slowing doesn’t of course mean declining. Our own ebook sales are growing but then we are fairly new, and we are publishing more titles every month, so maybe it’s too soon to tell. We currently sell many more ebooks than paperbacks (about 85% of DSP’s total revenues come from ebooks). Our experience so far suggests, as many other digital publishers have said, that ebook buyers are very price sensitive for most titles. It will be fascinating to see how the respective markets fare over the next few years, and what part external disruptors will have to play in that.
What lies ahead for Dean Street Press in 2016?
Lots of crime fiction – new publications by Ianthe Jerrold, Robin Forsythe, Annie Haynes, Patricia Wentworth and E.R. Punshon, to name but a few. There will be Stuart Walton’s history of drink and drugs Intoxicology, and the memoir of an American family in pre-cultural revolution Iran called Bright Blue Beads. In the second half of the year we will be putting out biographies of David Niven, Noel Coward and others. The summer of 2016 is due to bring us a major new film documentary on Oasis, which will hopefully put our bestselling Oasis biography Getting High, by Paolo Hewitt, back in the spotlight.
What makes a book a great book for you?
Wow, that’s a hard one. The holy grail (and not something I expect to find in even most good fiction) is probably a genuine emotional impact. In the crime genre, the Maigret series by Georges Simenon is an example for me – Simenon can endow even minor characters with tremendous emotional resonance. Japrisot is another who affects me the same way. In non-fiction, the most important thing is the author getting under the skin of the subject. Again I’d cite Getting High as a perfect example of that – the Gallagher brothers might regret how successful Paolo was there!
And finally, what are you currently reading?
Re-reading. Edmund Crispin’s Love Lies Bleeding, and Rizzoli’s epic coffee-table history of Def Jam records. Eclectic to the last, I guess.
Victoria is one of the editors of Shiny New Books.