I caught up with Declan Meade, founder and publisher of The Stinging Fly and one of the participants in The Independent Bookshop in a basement retail unit on Dublin’s South William Street. The Independent Bookshop is a (possibly) temporary pop-up bookshop run on a voluntary basis by personnel several of Dublin’s independent publishers, including Salvage Press, Swan River Press, Liberties Press and Meade’s The Stinging Fly. The shop, which opened for the four weeks, provided a space for independent publishers to get all their catalogue directly in front of customers in the Christmas rush, which by some estimates accounts for as much as 40% of annual book sales.
Sam Tranum, an American who stopped off in Ireland for three months last year and 18 months on remains in Dublin as an editor with Liberties Press, admits to having sowed the seed for the shop (although he humbly concedes that he didn’t exactly do much of the grunt work). Before we get to Declan Meade, here’s Sam explaining the thinking behind The Independent Bookshop:
We [Liberties] have a little bookshop co-located with our offices in Terenure. It means we can sell books without having to give percentages to anyone else. So each sale we make here is worth more than twice as much to us as each sale we make through a bookshop. Our bookshop here is great, but I kept thinking it would be even better if we had a location in the city centre. More foot traffic, more sales at the same great margin. So I basically proposed the idea and other people did all the hard work of making it happen.
One of my colleagues here found the spot, and then I proposed to our informal group of Dublin indie publishers (Dublin Independent Publishers or DIP) that we all pitch in on rent and everything and run the place together. Then I went on holiday and when I came back it was open! I didn’t plan it like that, and I did feel a little guilty, but that’s how it worked out.
Now, over to Declan.
Blog: Is there any chance that the shop will be a longer term project? (Or is there any appetite for that among the publishers?)
Declan Meade: I think there’s a need for a shop that that sells quality Irish-published books and we have shown that we can work together so yes there’s a chance. I don’t underestimate the effort and commitment it would take though. It’s quite an easy thing to do around Christmastime when people are out in force buying books.
Is there any sense that you feel the booksellers of Dublin are not serving the needs of independent publishers?
Booksellers are under a lot of pressure to keep their doors open. I believe the canny ones do a good job of ensuring they have the books their customers want, and are also good at looking after local authors and local publishers. That said, there is a limit to what they can do – a limit to how much space and prominence they can give to books from us smaller independents. That’s why a space dedicated to Irish-published books is one that appeals to me – and I think it’s something readers and book buyers would be at least curious about and some would want to support. Dublin as capital city, as a destination for literature lovers, as a UNESCO City of Literature should have that space.
How has the move into bookselling been for you personally? Has it been a natural progression?
I spent a year in my twenties working in a large independent bookstore in Atlanta, I’ve also done some volunteering with Oxfambooks. I think it is now more of a natural progression for publishers to engage directly with our customers. We sell books directly to readers on our websites and communicate with them directly via social media. With small publishers, people like to feel like they are involved and I think that’s going to become more and more of a thing really.
What’s been the best thing about the last few weeks?
Getting to know and work with the people from the various publishers, many of whom I only knew by name or via email.
And the worst?
A paper cup full of wine getting knocked over at our launch and the contents spilling on our books!
The Stinging Fly has achieved lots of acclaim from the early publication of the likes of Kevin Barry, Mary Costello and Colin Barrett. Do you ever feel you’re just doing the groundwork for the major publishers?
That’s exactly what we are doing and I’ve no problem with that. We mainly publish debut collections of short stories. Most of the major publishers are not interested in doing this until the writer has a novel completed or is able to promise one. We say the book of stories will do very nicely, thanks very much.
What does something like the Guardian First Book Award win do for The Stinging Fly?
Sales of Colin’s book increased and we had to order a second reprint. That’s great to see. More generally, it increases the awareness of the work we are doing, and hopefully people will recognise the value in that work. We operate on a very tight budget and we rely on support from funders like The Arts Council and Dublin City Council – it helps them perhaps to keep money coming our way in what are still very difficult times.
There are lots of small presses gaining a lot of traction. (I’m thinking Salt, And Other Stories, Galley Beggar and Tramp Press and yourselves here in Ireland.) It seems like a great time to be an independent publisher. Is that so? And if so, why do you think that is?
I would say that small presses get to do interesting books and we are also interested in making beautiful books. That is what readers are responding to, I think. Also there seems to be a whole new wave of good writers coming through just now and maybe the independents have been better placed to react to that. I think these newer small presses you mention – and I’d include Doire Press in Galway and The Penny Dreadful in Cork – all understand that they have to work very hard for their books and for their authors to get them out to as many readers as possible. I think we all enjoy that challenge.
The Independent Bookshop is located at 27 South William Street, Dublin, until December 23rd.
Main image of Declan Meade via Dublin Writers’ Festival