Interview with Sam Mills, Editorial Director of Dodo Ink

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Interview by Victoria

  • The founders of Dodo Ink are a blogger/reviewer, a novelist and a digital publishing specialist – such an intriguing combination. How did you all come together and decide to start an indie press?

I first met Thom Cuell in 2012 when I published a novel called The Quiddity of Will Self. Thom reviewed it favourably and interviewed me, so we became friends. I also met Alex through Quiddity, as he organised the digital marketing campaign for the novel. It was the best marketing campaign I’ve ever had for a book, so I was impressed by his energy and enthusiasm.

The press started up a year ago. A friend of mine, Tom Tomaszewski, had just completed a book called The Eleventh Letter, a surreal Lynchian ghost story. He was having trouble getting it published because it didn’t fit into a neat category. So we decided to publish it – and Dodo Ink was born.

  • What different qualities do each of you bring to the process of publishing?

Although officially we have different roles at Dodo – I am the editor, Thom’s the MD, Alex is in charge of marketing/digital – we all do a little bit of everything. We chat online each day about how to move forward; we all spark ideas off each other. We love working together. We have similar taste in books. Together with our louche pet Dodo, we make a good team.

  • I know you have a fairly clear publishing vision; tell us more about the kind of books you’re looking to publish.

We all have similar taste in books, in that we tend to prefer literary fiction that is inventive, innovative, daring and different. Books we love include The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall, by Daniel Kehlmann, Zone by Mathias Enard. We would definitely prefer a book that was zinging with energy, ideas and imagination than a quiet, polished creative writing piece. We would be very unlikely to buy a novel about middle class lives set in Hampstead, for example. We’re looking for books that are daring, but also damn good reads. That’s why The Raw Shark Texts is a good example that I cite a lot – it’s a book that is intelligent, it is innovative, it does things I’ve not seen in a book before, but it is also very engaging, readable and moving, too. It works on many levels. It doesn’t spoonfeed the reader, but it’s never indulgent either.

  • How has the experience of running a Kickstarter campaign been?

It was a lot more work that we had realised it was going to be. I think we were a bit naive when we started out with it. However, it has not only helped us to raise money but also connected us with a potential readership. Our Twitter followers increased by a thousand; we got chatting to readers online. Many people who pledged did so after visiting our website (, checking out the extracts from our forthcoming novels and being so enticed that they were willing to donate. I feel that we’re now on the way to creating a Dodo Ink community, a group of shared book lovers with a taste for daring and different fiction.

  • What has been your best moment so far – and what has been your worst?

We’re had so many exciting moments that it’s hard to say! Discovering Seraphina Madsen was a great moment. She’d written a story that was published in The White Review and her creative writing tutor, James Miller, sent over her work to us. I have a feeling that we discovered her just in the nick of time. Not long after signing with us, she was headhunted by an excellent agent. So we were very lucky to spot her.

Other exciting moments have included hitting our £8000 target for our kickstarter. We were uncertain as to whether we’d make it, so we were on such a high when we got there.

A disappointing moment was being sent a novel we passionately wanted to publish – and then the author deciding she wasn’t ready to publish it yet. It’s a great book and we really wanted to get it out there.

  • Publishing has been in a state of upheaval for the past six or seven years. How do you see the new book market and the new publishing world that are emerging?

I was chatting to some agents at the London Book Fair who said that they feel the market for literary fiction is changing. They predicted that the big publishers will focus increasingly on big novels or commercial fiction and more indies will spring up to nurture literary novels. I guess this has been borne out by the longlist for the Guardian First Book Award this year – 6 out of 10 titles were published by small presses.

Also, everyone was convinced that e-books would kill print books, but all the stats suggest that the e-book market has levelled out and people do still want to buy physical books. Foyles Bookshops, for example, have been enjoying soaring profits and are thriving/expanding.

  • Publicity is the great challenge of book selling – how to bring readers’ attention to your books. How are you going to approach it? Do you think having a more niche product is an advantage here?

I am sure it will be hard, because so many books are competing for space and attention. Book bloggers are becoming increasing important in spreading the word. We know and admire bloggers like Eric Anderson (lonesome reader) or Naomi Frisby (The Writes of Woman). For some of our titles, we’re also aiming to work Nicci Praca, a fantastic publicist who worked on Stieg Larsson’s Girl With a Dragon Tattoo campaign; more recently, she has worked with indie presses And Other Stories and Fitzcarraldo.

We will also try to connect with readers on a personal level, through social media, events, blogs and so on. Personal recommendations are more powerful than ever, and we want to create word-of-mouth buzz around our books. Through our kickstarter, we have already begun to build a community of readers, and we will continue to talk directly to them. We are also developing a Dodo Ink
app, which will help us to share extracts, artwork, interviews and other
news ahead of releases.

  • Can you tell us a little about the first couple of books you’ll be publishing?

Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen will be our first novel (July 2016). Her novel is a wild, psychedelic tale about two girls growing up in South America, after their mother is killed by a bee attack. The surreal imagination of her work is rendered in beautifully crafted prose. There aren’t many female novelists who cite their main influences as Hunter S Thompson, Carlos Castaneda and William Burroughs.

Wood Green (Sept 2016) by Sean Rabin centres on a young would-be novelist called Michael who takes up the job as secretary to Lucian Clarke, an internationally renowned author. Clarke had once travelled the world living a life like Hemingway but now lives as a recluse in his hometown of Wood Green, Tasmania. Both men, the young apprentice and the aging master, have hidden agendas of their own; as their relationship evolves and their true aims are revealed, the novel builds to a surprising and surreal climax.

The Eleventh Letter (Oct 2016) by Tom Tomaszewski is a literary ghost story. Think Susan Hill crossed with David Lynch. It centres on a psychotherapist who is looking back to a murder case he dealt with 20 years earlier in Italy. Tom himself is a Harley Street psychotherapist, so he is writing from experience…

  • What novels have you most admired so far this year?

I’ve read and enjoyed 10.04 by Ben Lerner, though I still much prefer Leaving the Atocha Station, which was one my favourite reads of last year.

I’ve started A Little Life. On Twitter, the reaction to this novel seems to be ridiculously divisive. I think I am in the positive camp, for I do love her prose – but I’m only 100 pages in.

I’ve also been reading the works of Monique Roffey. A decade ago, I read and loved her debut, Sun Dog. We’re very proud to have signed Roffey to Dodo Ink just in the last few weeks; we’re publishing an erotic novella by her called The Tryst. Here at Dodo we are keen to champion writing by women that is bold and daring and different. Whilst female fiction is celebrated in the literary world, if you go into any bookshop and browse their cult fiction table, you’ll find that around 90% of the display will be by men. You’ll find Burroughs, Auster, Bukoswi, but you probably won’t find Anna Kavan, or Kelly Link or Rachel Ingalls. I think female writers are still expected to play it safe and either write more commercial/middlebrow novels – or else they write highbrow books that then get more mainstream, light-hearted covers and are not promoted as they ought to be. We plan to celebrate the female avant-garde ….

  • Finally, can you tell us a bit about your own novels, Sam?

The last book I published was The Quiddity of Will Self, which came out in 2012. It is intended to be a literary equivalent of Being John Malkovich, with Will Self as the centre of fascination; Self is my favourite living author. Quiddity is about The Great Vowel Shift, sex, death, and writing. There is also a deeply autobiographical element to the novel, as my father suffers from schizophrenia, and as madness was one of my themes, that is there in book like a watermark on every page.

I am currently close to finishing a novel, a love story which explores whether we are governed by free will or fate. I began it back in 2010. I have no idea when it will be finished or indeed published but I am certainly enjoying the pleasurable struggle of writing it.

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Victoria is one of the Shiny editors.