It seems to be, increasingly, the way things are going in the post-internet, post-digital world: small, independent publisher unearths a hidden gem from a previously unheralded author, prizes are claimed and then one of the big hitters comes on board as a joint-publisher of the paperback.
Everyone wins, right?
It certainly seems to be the case, and the news that Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing, published by small UK publishing house Galley Beggar Press last year, has been taken on jointly by Faber & Faber for the paperback and ebook editions is not the first occasion in recent memory that such a scenario has transpired for an Irish writer.
Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December have each been published jointly by Lilliput Press (independent) and Doubleday Ireland (an imprint of the world-famous Random House stable), and while the sequence is slightly different in the case of Ryan – editors at both Doubleday and Lilliput were almost simultaneously attracted to the Tipperary man’s prose – the end result is much the same: an irresistible combination arising from the combination of the freedom and local knowledge of the independent and the global nous of the major publishing house.
It must also be pointed out that the bigger players are still taking a punt on debut talent in Ireland, with Penguin Ireland publishing (at least) four Irish debut novelists in Niamh Boyce, Justin Quinn, Liz Nugent and Darragh McKeon over the past 12 months, while Quercus – which has made a fine leap from independent start-up publisher to major international player in the space of just a decade – shifted copious copies of Paul Lynch’s Red Sky in Morning last year, and this month delivered Lynch’s follow-up, The Black Snow.
It is probably no disparaging comment to suggest that McBride’s debut is a lot less commercially appealing to many of those mentioned above, so it is laudable that Faber has stepped forward to bring A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing to the masses, notwithstanding the fact that with a Whitbread Prize win and Bailey’s Prize nomination already in the bag, McBride’s book is suddenly much less of a risky proposition.
In another of the now familiar post-success anecdotes, McBride – born in Liverpool, raised in Sligo and Mayo and now back in the UK – spent 18 times longer in trying to find a publisher willing to take her on than: it took her six months to write the book, and another nine years before it made it to print.
So the old joke about being an overnight success after ten years rings truer than ever. What is undeniable is that that success – overnight or otherwise – could not have happened without the intervention of an independent publisher. The best of them, in Ireland and everywhere, need and deserve our support.