- So how did it come about that a bookshop – namely the fabulous Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath – decided to become an indie publisher as well?
The desire to publish sprang from our bookselling desire to recommend titles to our customers that were no longer available. Our first publication The Shiralee, by D’Arcy Niland, is a perfect example; we sold a lot of copies of this Australian classic when Penguin reissued it in 2009. When it went out-of-print shortly after, it left a noticeable hole in our army of recommendations, the solution was to bring it back into print ourselves. We had dabbled a little in publishing previously, by teaming up with existing publishers Canongate and Orion to create two limited edition hardbacks of Arto Paasalinna’s The Howling Miller and Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household, and the success of these books (both sold out within a year) emboldened us to strike out on our own and start Fox, Finch & Tepper.
- I understand that your names refer to favourite literary character – the fantastic Mr Fox, Scout Finch and Murray Tepper. But I’ve worked in a bookshop before… how on earth did a group of booksellers ever manage to agree on which characters you’d use?
It wasn’t easy – we have ten opinionated booksellers on our team and some very fierce and convincing arguments for lots of different literary heroes were made. Funnily enough two of our early favourites were disregarded because of their lack of names. We were all keen on Dino from Pietro Grossi’s The Break (an Italian novel which is loved by many of our team), but he doesn’t have a surname. The quick-thinking protagonist of Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household was another top candidate, but he actually remains nameless throughout the book!
- What sort of books are you looking to publish? Is there a quality that unites them, would you say?
Ooh, that’s a tough one! It’s tricky to pin down exactly what we’re looking for. Our official line is that we are looking to resurrect beautifully written books with a strong sense of place and that has certainly been the case with our first four publications. We try not to be too prescriptive about it though, if something incredible comes along that knocks our collective socks off and doesn’t fit that brief then exceptions will be made!
- How do you source out of print books that are right for you?
We get a lot of recommendations, which can be hugely helpful. We scour second-hand bookshops, research titles by our favourite authors that we can’t seem to lay our hands on and spend many hours trying to remember that elusive book that one of us once read many years ago. We also order lots of second-hand books on request for customers at Mr B’s and occasionally spot a gem that way. In fact, that’s how we can came across our latest publication, The Story of Mr Sommer by Patrick Süskind – it was a customer order that caught the eye of the shop’s owner Nic Bottomley. Nic couldn’t believe that a novel by a bestselling author like Patrick Süskind could possibly be out-of-print – but somehow Mr Sommer was. We ordered a second-hand copy for the customer and when it arrived, we were struck by its beauty – a tiny white book with a wintry cover and with whimsical colour artwork from the illustrator of Le Petit Nicolas, Sempé. Another copy was hastily ordered and we devoured it.
- What’s been the most exciting thing about publishing so far?
It’s hard to pin down one moment, but that day that our first two publications The Shiralee and the The Next Step in the Dance, arrived at Mr B’s really stands out. We unloaded a lot of the stock into a nearby storage unit before bringing back a big stack of boxes to sell at the shop. We all gathered round and opened the first box. It was so thrilling and surreal to see that these things that we had spent so much time creating had magically turned into actual books that we would soon be able to share with readers and other booksellers.
- And have you made any hideous errors you’re willing to confess to?
Hideous errors – no, but the process of publishing has certainly been a learning curve. We’re lucky because our experience in the book industry and the support that we’ve had from other publishers in learning the ropes has prevented us from doing anything disastrous. The trickiest thing is getting started, you don’t know how to approach some of the seemingly straight-forward things such as finding the right agent for a book, or the right cover designer, or timing publication, but with every book published this gets a little bit easier.
You spend each and every day with the people who will eventually be buying your books, which gives you a massive insight into your customers’ likes and dislikes. Just observing the way a customer browses a book display and what repeatedly catches different browsers’ eyes can be very useful. Or, if you’re looking to answer a specific question, customers are incredibly helpful. We often show our regulars potential cover designs, print drafts and different paper samples that we’re considering and ask them about their preferences. We’ve also had some terrific recommendations for future publications from customers: one of the books that we’re working on now was actually recommended to us by a regular customer, and we’ll definitely thank him in the acknowledgements when we go to print!
- How do you see the book market right now? There’s been so much upheaval and change over the past decade. Do you think things are settling down now? And are there specific conditions that you think you can exploit?
The last few years have been really exciting for the book market. The rise of e-books has led to the creation of some truly stunning print books which anyone would be proud to have on their bookshelf. There’s also a definite trend in retail generally towards customers favouring the niche at the moment, so many shops are stocking artisan, locally-made, hand-crafted products and it’s these that seem to be drawing customers’ interest, because they stand-out. If a customer hasn’t seen a book brandished all over the shelves of supermarkets and Amazon with a whopping discount on it, they seem to be more intrigued to pick it up and take a look,and that’s certainly a good thing for us.
- What’s next for Fox, Finch & Tepper?
We’ve got a couple of American novels that we’re working on at the moment. One you’ll certainly have heard of, in fact there was a brilliant film made of it. We’ve got a tagline for that one from a really high profile literary author who lists the novel amongst his favourite books. The other is still in the negotiation phase, it’s funny and dark, which is pretty much our favourite combination.
- And finally, what are you all currently reading?
A broad list of contemporary fiction. Here’s what we’re reading right now…
- Nic: The Great Soul of Siberia by Sooyong Park
- Kate: The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
- Ed: Total Chaos by Jean Claude Izzo
- Lucinda: Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marias
- Tom: Martin John by Anakana Schofield
- Juliette: All For Nothing by Walter Kempowski
- Emma: This Census Taker by China Mieville
- Danielle: American Housewife by Helen Ellis
- Naomi: The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
- Jess: Oblivion by David Foster Wallace
Victoria and Kate at F, F, T.07