Timeline – Our Potted History
And Other Stories started off as the pipe dream of a publishing industry outsider. Even before the late 2000s recession made the output of the big commercial publishing houses risk-averse (i.e. boring), there weren’t many publishers choosing books solely for literary merit. Stefan Tobler, a translator and now And Other Stories’ publisher, had been suggesting brilliant writers like Brazil’s Raduan Nassar to publishers, who loved the writing but still said no on commercial grounds.
In 2009, Stefan met with fellow translators and writers to brainstorm the idea of setting up a collective to publish fresh, contemporary fiction. There was a lot of enthusiasm for his formula that Publishing = Supply + Demand + Magic, but it couldn’t just be a labour of love: the books needed to get out to readers.
And Other Stories was born out of this – although it never became a fully-fledged collective, it’s been a collaboration from the start: a special kind of crowdfunding that updates an 18th century idea for the 21st century: readers support risky, adventurous writing by subscribing to the books in advance of publication. And people loved it, with the first subscribers signing up in 2010. Professionals volunteered to edit, typeset and design our first books for free; subscribers spread the word. Sophie Lewis, ex-Dalkey Archive Press, moves to Rio de Janeiro and edits most of our books from there for a number of years.
The first four books came out in 2011. Of those four, Juan Pablo Villalobos’s Down the Rabbit Hole became the first translation shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, going on to be one of our most-read books, loved for its black humour and precocious and foul-mouthed child narrator.
Deborah Levy’s brilliant novel Swimming Home made it to the 2012 Man Booker Prize shortlist and delighted readers send us presents, including a set of coloured spoons.
We set up an office in the US, run by Sarah Russo, and started publicising and publishing many of our titles in North America. Meanwhile in the UK, our American writer Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods was shortlisted for the 2013 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, almost winning Helen a pig.
Tara Murphy, a veteran of Canadian indie publishing, moved to the UK after she and Stefan got engaged on Brooklyn Bridge at the end of Book Expo America. (As you do.) As Tara Tobler in 2015 she became a big part of And Other Stories.
Sale growth has been organic and steady. We’re finally in a position to move the ‘office’ out of a third-floor small-town flat and into an office. (Still in small town High Wycombe – for now.) We also take on our first full-time employee: the brilliant publicist (and translator from Swedish) Nicky Smalley.
Yuri Herrera wins the Best Translated Book Award for his Mexican migration novel Signs Preceding the End of the World! That 2015-published novel and his apocalyptical The Transmigration of Bodies (published summer 2016) were hits on both sides of the Atlantic, proving that the reading public does have great, adventurous taste.
And Other Stories moved to Sheffield, partly out of a wish to make publishing less London-focused but mainly because it’s a great, rebellious, friendly city. We launch the Northern Book Prize with partners New Writing North and rent our first Sheffield office in the Central Library. (Nicky Smalley meanwhile gets a London desk – it’s still where the books media is.)
Our Year of Publishing Women – an effort to counteract the inequalities in the publishing industry, not least a frustrating lack of women published in English translation. We kicked things off with unpublished and long-lost writing by the great Ann Quin.
A good year for prize attention. Our inaugural 2018 Northern Book Prize-winning novel Slip of a Fish by Amy Arnold goes on to land on the 2019 Goldsmiths Prize shortlist, while The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán (and translated by Sophie Hughes) is shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. Gini Alhadeff’s translation of Fleur Jaeggy’s I Am the Brother of XX wins the Society of Authors’ John Florio Prize and Frank Perry’s translation of Lina Wolff’s Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs wins the same Society’s Bernard Shaw Prize, while Charlotte Whittle’s translation of People in the Room by Norah Lange and Stefan Tobler’s translation of The Old King in His Exile by Arno Geiger both pick up a couple of shortlistings. The team is strengthened with Eleanor Kent, Javerya Iqbal and Eleanor Holmshaw arriving.
Emma Warhurst joins the team in a production role. Let’s see what else happens.
11 Commandments of Book Selection at And Other Stories
We publish writing that is mind-blowing, often ‘challenging’ (Maureen Freely) and ‘shamelessly literary’ (Stuart Evers) – opening a space for exploration and discovery. It’s up for debate. Look at the authors we’ve read and published to get a feel for And Other Stories’ tastes.
Our focus is on fiction for now, but we are open to non-fiction too, particularly narrative non-fiction. Our first work of literary non-fiction was Now and at the Hour of our Death by Susana Moreira Marques. A very funny and wonderful poem by Deborah Levy (An Amorous Discourse in the Suburbs of Hell) has come out too.
We publish mainly contemporary writing, which for us means written in the last 40 years or so. There are a lot of good writers to catch up with from other literatures. Books can have slow fuses.
We focus on new publications, but don’t rule out great books published only in another English-language country.
We publish world-class writing, not ‘world writing’. So far we have concentrated on translations because there are so many amazing writers currently not available to readers in English. We’re reading a lot of English-language fiction too, and publish what we love, such as Deborah Levy’s Man Booker-shortlisted novel Swimming Home and are happy to consider submissions from authors and agents. Hence . . .
Suggestions and tips are encouraged – send your suggestions to Stefan Tobler via the Contact page. (For a submission, visit our Submissions page.)
We will read as much as we can. But this is fitted in outside of (normal) working hours, so bear with us. Responses to submissions cannot always be quick.
Reading groups keep our lifeblood pumping (ie books!) – if you would like to initiate one and choose its titles with the core team, get in touch (via the Contact page). They are open to everyone on the mailing list and allow readers to have a say in our editorial decisions.
We spread the love. Names of authors or books generating excitement in reading groups (not necessarily unanimous) should be suggested to the core team for inclusion in their next acquisitions meeting.
Final decisions are made by the core team – ultimate responsibility and blame rests with the publisher, Stefan Tobler. And Other Stories is a balancing act: a publishing house that must act as the core team deems best, and yet whose direction and choice of titles is guided by its active supporters’ intelligent, normally civilised, and always passionate debate.
These aren’t really commandments. Not rules but rules of thumb. Expect And Other Stories to publish a poet or a book of non-fiction or a book many readers dislike or books you wouldn’t think we would publish. There’s always an exception to the rule.
And Other Stories has been set up as a Community Interest Company (CIC, pronounced ‘kick’). This means we are a not-for-private-profit company. Any profits are re-invested. But what really gives us a ‘CIC’? (Couldn’t resist!) We make our decisions based on what we think is good writing and a good way of working. This sets us apart from shareholder-driven publishing companies where all decisions are ultimately about increasing profits. Of course, in order to be able to continue our work in the long-term, we certainly can’t lose money. It goes like this:
- Our supporters and subscribers can take part in our reading groups to discuss books we should publish.
- We are ecologically minded. We use Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) paper from local printers for our books and recycled paper for our catalogues. We minimise our carbon footprint wherever we can, including by reducing travel, e.g. the team doesn’t fly within Europe but uses digital conferencing and train travel. We use paper-only packaging to send books. The team all walk or cycle to work. We make books to last (using more expensive but acid-free, long-lasting paper), not disposable products.
- We also bank with an ethical bank, the Co-operative Bank, that does not invest in sectors such as oil exploration or the arms trade.
- We pay translators properly. Currently this is GBP £95 / 1,000 words of prose. (We value translators highly, for their knowledge, skill and dedication to the books over many months of translation, as well as their promotional work for the books after translation.)
- The company cannot be swallowed (bought) by a larger fish, if that fish’s objectives are commercial. So there’s no danger our aims will suddenly change. (Not that hedge funds tend to buy literary presses, admittedly . . .)
- We do what we can to promote a diverse literary culture, e.g. by supporting fellow independent publishers and bookshops. We organised a forum for independent UK fiction presses to help each other.
- We are a charter member of Equality in Publishing (EQUIP), which increases access to opportunities within the publishing industry.
- We make a point of looking for and mentoring the best new talent. Of giving people a foot in the door. (From 2018-2022 we have committed to recruiting one publishing assistant each year from a background less represented in publishing.) We have given a number of authors, translators and editors their first books, have run competitions to find translators, and founded the Northern Book Prize in order to celebrate ambitious Northern writing.
Publisher Stefan Tobler founded And Other Stories out of frustration at the great books not being published in English. With English and Swiss parents, he was born in the Amazon. In his mid-twenties, he lived in Dresden for some years. His translations include the 2015 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize shortlisted Água Viva by Clarice Lispector and the 2016 Man Booker International Prize longlisted and Premio Jabuti-winning (Best Foreign Publication category) A Cup of Rage by Raduan Nassar. Other translations include the poetry collection Silence River by Antônio Moura, Rodrigo de Souza Leão’s All Dogs are Blue and Arno Geiger’s The Old King in His Exile. He loves to read in French and Spanish too and subsidises literary publishing with his fashion shops & Other Stories and his Toblerone chocolate factory. He’s also on Twitter @stefantobler.
Nicky handles our publicity, marketing and sales in the UK. She’s also a translator and lover of Swedish and Norwegian literature, and an escaped academic – in 2014 she finished her PhD in Scandinavian Studies at UCL with a thesis rather nattily titled ‘Contemporary Urban Vernaculars in Rap, Literature and in Translation, in Sweden and the UK’. Her translations include Jogo Bonito by Henrik Brandão Jönsson, a Swedish book about Brazilian football (Yellow Jersey Press), and How to Fall in Love with a Man Who Lives in a Bush by Emmy Abrahamson (Borough Press). She’s lived in Berlin, Stockholm and Rio, but London is her home. You can find her (very occasionally) on Twitter @tallnicky.
Tara Tobler is the principal editor at And Other Stories. Originally from Canada, she worked for many years as Marketing & Publicity Director for the Canadian independent publisher Biblioasis. Books she has edited include two of the titles shortlisted for the 2017 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize, of which Frank Perry’s translation of Lina Wolff’s Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs went on to win. She is also a writer, freelance reviewer, and mother of two young children. She lives in Sheffield.
Eleanor Kent is the production manager at And Other Stories. A former academic, her PhD looked at the way in which responses to the Holocaust have influenced representative form in literature and film, and the way that these works have informed writing and film on sites of later violence, particularly Israel/Palestine, in contemporary culture. Her literary preferences tend toward the spare and atmospheric, though she is partial to the occasional page-turner. Originally from the North East, Eleanor settled in Sheffield after a wild spell living off-grid in Cornwall.
Javerya Iqbal is the Publishing Assistant at And Other Stories. She works with the whole team to make sure our books are in all the right places, for all the right people, at the right prices. After graduating with a BA (Joint Hons) in English Literature and Language, she interned at Granta Books, where she learnt ‘all’ there is to know about publishing. If she isn’t in a cafe reading, she can be found pondering about art, wandering through nature or talking about her cats. She is fluent in Urdu and picked up some German whilst living in Vienna for a short spell. She now lives in Sheffield. She can occasionally be found tweeting @javeryai
Associate Editor Briallen Hopper is proud to represent And Other Stories in the United States. Briallen holds a PhD in English from Princeton, taught writing at Yale and in summer 2018 moved to Queens to be assistant professor of creative nonfiction at Queens College, CUNY. Her writing on books, movies, religion, and politics has appeared in publications including Los Angeles Review of Books, Killing the Buddha, The New Inquiry, and The New Republic, and her smart book of essays on love and friendship, Hard to Love, was published by Bloomsbury in February 2019. She is on twitter @briallenhopper.
As a business, we already have good foundations regarding sustainability, but we want to do more. And Other Stories is committed to having a positive social and environmental impact, and recognises that company, government and individuals have an important role to play in responding to the urgent challenge of climate change. However, we also recognise that it’s no good a small company like And Other Stories making a unilateral decision to reduce flights for business or author tours without the support of our business partners and authors or wider change in the industry. For that reason, our goal is to increase discussion of the issues in the arts and publishing sectors, and to use our agility and ability to take risks as a small company to be somewhat of a guinea pig for the industry with pilot programmes that can be adopted more widely.
We have some current successes and an area we want to focus on for improvement:
- We use Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper for our books and recycled paper for our catalogues, and print with UK rather than Far Eastern printers, which lowers the carbon footprint for freight.
- We minimise our carbon footprint wherever we can, including by reducing staff travel, e.g. the team doesn’t fly within Europe but uses digital conferencing and train travel. We also monitor our business travel carbon emissions each year.
- We and our US mailout service use paper-only packaging to send books (no plastics) when we send out books ourselves (eg to subscribers, press and booksellers).
- Our printers use bio-degradable ‘air-pillow’ padding (‘Greenlight Bio’ in the boxes they deliver our books in.
- We are starting to discuss with authors and partners and to develop pilot projects related to a) changing travel habits in favour of lower carbon alternatives; and b) improving international mobility, accessibility and connections via attractive digital events that are a viable, equitable and attractive alternative to the current default options.
- No one in the team drives a car to work.
- We make books to last (using substantially more expensive but acid-free, long-lasting paper), because we don’t want books to be seen as disposable products.
- We also bank with an ethical bank, the Co-operative Bank, that does not invest in or loan money to businesses in sectors such as fossil fuel industries or other environmentally negative industries.
- We aim to encourage our whole team to ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to sustainability behaviour in their personal travel, and have signed up to the Climate Perks scheme in order to make it more attrative for employees not to travel by plane for personal trips and holidays. Research indicates that converting one or more return flights to train, coach or boat is likely to be one of the most powerful actions regular travellers can take to reduce lifestyle carbon emissions, in turn helping to inspire further behaviour change amongst peers.
- We surveyed our book subscribers and authors and translators in late 2019, to see what they wanted to do and what they wanted us to do regarding sustainability and meeting carbon-reduction targets.
- We have a monthly ‘Eco Post’ to widen discussion of sustainability in publishing and the arts, as well as talk about the practicalities of what we are doing, as well as other interesting topics like the results of our survey. You can find the posts on our News page, which is also our blog: https://www.andotherstories.org/category/eco-sustainability/
Our Focus Right Now: Reducing Flights & Increasing Mobility and Accessibility, in Collaboration with our Partners and the Wider Arts Sector
Despite only 5% of the world’s population ever having stepped inside a plane, flying is the fastest growing contributor to climate change globally. On current trends, aviation alone will account for 25% of UK carbon emissions by 2050. We recognise the need for behaviour change to play a role in reducing aviation emissions and in turn the role of society, including the workplace, to help make change happen.
We also recognise that the challenge of decarbonising the global economy must have equity considerations at its core. Citizens in global north countries must be empowered to reduce their lifestyle greenhouse gas emissions, in order to assist developing countries in providing their citizens with a higher standard of living within finite global carbon budgets.
In order to take the next steps with our industry, we are starting to explore the following areas:
- The role of the digital, especially a) to cut the carbon footprint and b) to make artists’ work, talks and performances widely accessible (including outside major urban centres)
- Thinking about slow travel / slow movement as a philosophical consideration, and a way of thinking about the positives of not flying
- Equitable exchange (global north and global south – urban/rural) – what are the opportunities for those at the edges and how does it intersect with carbon reduction? Eg do we need different defaults for travel for authors from the global south?
- We want to discuss more about mobility and the possibility of no-fly or nearly-no-fly being a default in future in the arts and the publishing industry, and to discuss in our team and with our authors and audiences, how much we wish to take the first step or focus our work on a wider industry acceptance.
We at And Other Stories are delighted that a joint project around sustainable mobility, which we are undertaking with Newcastle’s arts organisation D6 Culture and their Gateshead neighbours BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, will be one of ten projects chosen for 2020-2021 to receive expert mentoring from the arts and environment organisation Julie’s Bicycle, as well as other industry leaders, and to undertake a residential training programme adapted from Julie’s Bicycle’s Creative Climate Leadership course. Julie’s Bicycle receive Arts Council England funding to enable them to run the project.
Other Areas We’re Working On in the Industry
As an active part of the Publishers Association’s Sustainability Taskforce, we are discussing the issues and looking to make sure our books are sourced in increasingly environmental, low-carbon ways, to ensure the production is also respectful of human and animal rights, and to work towards science-based targets for our carbon emissions.
Equal Opportunities Policy
Inequality and discrimination exist against people due to age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership status, ethnicity (race), religion or belief, gender (sex), and sexual orientation. These are the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010. We also recognise inequality and discrimination exists based on a person’s socio-economic background. And Other Stories commits to make sure it is open and accessible; that there is equality of employment; to prevent harassment, and make sure everyone is treated equally and with respect; and to ensure any complaints we receive about discrimination or harassment are taken seriously.
We are also a charter member of Equality in Publishing (EQUIP) and have an Equality Action Plan which we discuss and revise regularly. Its actions include our current commitment to a diverse workforce, to diverse artistic work and to gender equality.
The main ongoing actions are to run publishing career days in the North of England and our commitment to recruit one new person from a background less well-represented in publishing for a one-year publishing assistant role as their first publishing job.
We work hard to make sure that books by authors from all backgrounds are considered for publication, and indeed are published, by our press.
Year of Publishing Women 2018 & Gender Parity Pledge
Kamila Shamsie gave a talk that lit a fuse by talking about the fact that books by and about women are still significantly less likely to win literary prizes or to receive as much recognition as their male counterparts. She therefore challenged publishers to have a Year of Publishing Women in 2018. We were the only publisher who took up the challenge.
So far as literary fiction is concerned, we have no doubt that she is right and that the industry is biased towards male writers. We don’t have all the answers, but we were happy to raise awareness, widen the debate, and make an impact in the area of translations (where the statistics are far more skewed towards men, due in part to greater gender inequalities in many other areas of the world).
Going forward beyond 2018, we commit to gender parity on our list, and will continue to look at our submissions and acquisitions processes and consider whether there’s any inherent gender bias in the way we choose books. For our own Northern Book Prize, we will never have more men on the judging panel than women. Because we are one of the major publishers of literary fiction in translation, by focusing on gender parity, we will be encouraging a real change in the industry in Britain and beyond.
We see the actions we commit to as a continuation of our ongoing project to open up publishing, which started with our brainstorming events before we launched (about what kind of a publisher people wanted), our subscriber supporter base and our reading groups for discussing foreign language books we could publish.