A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Roast Books burst on the scene in 2008 with a very different approach to publishing. Their A-Z of Possible Worlds (reviewed here by Lisa) consisted of a box in which individual stories were wrapped like tiny pampthlets – each to be read separately. A series of novellas – called Great Little Reads – are beautiful hold-in-the-hand items, especially designed with the commuter in mind. Their latest publication is a tiny square book of 22 short short stories – or flash fiction stories – from Nik Perring (reviewed here by Anne). RosyB decided to find out more and talks to Managing Director Faye Dayan about this very unusual publisher.
First of all, could you perhaps introduce us to Roast Books – I read that you said you started Roast Books at the age of twenty-five with a “streak of madness and a love of books”. I’m really impressed! What made you join a notoriously difficult industry and have you always known that you wanted to run your own publisher?
Well I suppose it’s mad isn’t it, to enter an industry that is so internally confused right now. But yes, I always wanted to be a part of producing special books, which really deserve to be read, even though they might not be commercially popular. Starting my own project was a good way to have control over this. Roast Books started as an outlet to see more books published as beautiful objects, and provide a new, young channel for undiscovered British authors.
In this era of virtual reality and the internet: digital content and ebooks, Roast Books seems to have deliberately gone the other way in terms of firmly establishing its love of the book as an aesthetic and even a tactile object. Can you tell me more about this in general terms – how this came about and why?
Well, it is such an amazing time in terms of digital books, reading and writing online, publishing online and soon I’m sure the books will be In our heads, or under our skin, or god knows what. But there’s the challenge! It was a decision to reach out to those who like to hold a book, and value it for its form as well as content. It is actually quite motivating to try and inspire people who are digital converts and remind them of the great thing about tangibility and physicality.
The author originally presented her stories as individual objects, packaged up in a box, and it suited the stories perfectly, and we felt enhanced the whole experience of reading, rather than distracting from it. The work plays on the idea of journeys, in fact the whole book is a journey around the mind. The booklets can be read in any order, and they are perfect to take out one at a time and fit in your bag or pocket. It was practical therefore as well as conceptual. The reaction was a positive one! It’s a real ‘book-lovers’ object and one that I hope buyers will go back to again and again.
The short story and the short story collection are traditionally thought to be a hard sell these days. Yet I’ve noticed quite a few of your works are short story collections or novellas – was this a deliberate decision to go for a form that other publishers tend to steer away from? What draws you to the short format and are you approaching them differently to the more mainstream presses.
It is certainly an area that many presses stay away from, which means that there are some top quality writers who need independents to take a risk and think laterally about how to sell and present their work – That is what Roast is trying to do.
Where do you think the short story is in publishing terms right now and what does the future hold for the form with the emergence of flash fiction and stories on the internet etc?
I think the short story is really coming into its own right now. The internet is the perfect medium for these short works, which is great, since it raises awareness of the genre. But at the other end of the spectrum, authors such as Nik Perring, and David Gaffney who have their flash work in print are really opening up the genre to non-internet readers.
Roast Books is making a splash with its unusual formats – for example an A-Z is a beautiful box of individually printed stories and Nik Perring’s perfectly square Not so Perfect. How do you go about deciding on the right format for a work? What is the process and what is the effect you are hoping to have on the reader?
It’s intuitive. But there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and throwing out of ideas so the process can be painful. And we make sure that the author is also involved closely with creative decisions. The risk is forcing a concept on a work which acts against it, or turns it into a gimmick, so it can be tricky. The ideal effect is that a reader is intrigued and tantalised by the presentation at first and then once they start reading, the packaging only enhances what they are experiencing.
Nik Perring’s short story collection Not so Perfect is perfectly square. I was reminded of the way Beatrix Potter’s tiny books worked for me as a child – creating a playful and childlike experience. I really liked this as it seemed to make the story as a form less ponderous and heavy, less intimidating. Can you take a bit more about this collection and what you were seeking to do with the square format.
Well I think you have expressed it beautifully – a playful and childlike experience. I think flash pieces have to be treated like treasure, to be discovered and savoured, and kept safe in a box; in a square box.
Does Roast Books have specific strategies for dealing with the challenges of being a small independent publisher – particularly in the current publishing climate. How do you market and publicise your books?
Yes, the High Street book-buying climate is definitely tough for indies like Roast! We rely a lot on the fantastic network of bloggers and online forums where people actively engage with each other about new books and debut authors.
With marketing, I try to cater for each book individually, rather than have a policy that applies to all the titles. It also depends on the author, and how active they are prepared to be in this area.
With ‘An A-Z of Possible Worlds’, we really pushed the book as a product, and tried to promote it as much as possible within the literary fiction genre, whereas with our latest collection of short stories, Nik Perring, the author has worked incredibly hard to help us publicize the book through interviews, events and targeting audiences in his area. The most important thing is not to see each publication as ‘just another title’ but to treat each one separately and market from scratch.
How did you come up with the name Roast Books?
Originally I liked the cooking metaphor, since roasting is such an art (one which I can’t do very well in the kitchen). And then there’s the double meaning of to challenge or question. And the word sounds nice.
Great question. Originality, literary quality and the potential to wow; Works which have yet find a home because of their quirkiness; Pieces which are floating aimlessly having been rejected by less adventurous publishers; Debut writing from bright sparks yet to be disillusioned by the ruthless criterion of major publishing houses… Our submissions policy is to please email synopsis, C.V. and first three chapters to firstname.lastname@example.org
People often ask what exactly we are looking for, style wise, at Roast. It sounds simple but good writing is top of the list. Subjective? Perhaps, but there it is. We look mainly for contemporary short fiction, but not exclusively. We also spy for books that might demand a more inventive presentation and offer something extra to the reader.
What’s next for the company and what projects do we have to look forward to from Roast Books in the coming year?
Neo chick-lit with a vodka twist!
Later this summer we are releasing ‘My Soviet Kitchen’ by Amy Spurling, which comes complete with its own companion guide to life in the ex-USSR featuring advice and recipes, which the novel’s protagonist picks up on her travels.
Lastly , in good old Vulpes’ tradition: give us your five favourite books.
RosyB admits to being a bit of an arty-farty who loves a bit of quirky imagination. She also writes the odd comedy novel – you can find out more about her here.