Over the past 10 years, U.K.-based graphic novel publisher Avery Hill has gone from publishing 100 copies of a 32-page anthology to 10,000 copies of a 320-page hardcover. And one of the key factors behind the success of that 2021 hardcover, Alone in Space, is its author: Tillie Walden, an Eisner Award–winning cartoonist first published by Avery Hill.
Walden’s not the only reason for the publisher’s growth, though. Founders and copublishers Ricky Miller and Dave White scout the comics world for promising new creators, and their top sellers include not only Walden’s work but also The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott by Zoe Thorogood, Victory Point by Owen Pomery, and 2120 by George Wylesol. The company publishes about six graphic novels per year by a diverse list of creators, and its books are notable for their high production values and strong focus on story as well as art.
Miller and White started Avery Hill in 2012 as a hobby. “We had no publishing experience and what we wanted to achieve was that there would be books in the world that wouldn’t have existed without our help,” Miller said. “The goal was that we would end up with a nice little shelf of some books after a few years that we could look at and say we were involved in.”
Then, in 2015, Avery Hill published two graphic novels by Tillie Walden—The End of Summer, her debut fantasy work, and I Love This Part, a story about small-town love—followed a year later by A City Inside, her poetic tale about growing older. Walden’s work garnered two Ignatz awards and an Eisner nomination, and, as Miller put it, “we had a phenomenon on our hands.”
Walden has gone on to also work with larger publishers, but her success at Avery Hill opened the door to a larger audience and better distribution for the house in the U.K. and the U.S. “It was then,” Miller said, “that we started taking things more seriously and really expanding what we were doing and attracting more and more creators, while continuing to nurture our existing ones.”
Miller and White keep an eye on the comics scene and reach out to creators whose work they like. “We plant those seeds,” Miller said, “and sometimes they’ll come straight back with a yes, while at other times it will be a case that they don’t have a project in mind at the moment, but many years down the line the time will be right.”
Avery Hill’s average print run is 2,000–3,000 copies, but for bigger titles it will go up to 10,000–12,000. “We try to calculate with the expectation that we’ll sell half the print run in the first year and the rest over the next couple of years,” Miller said.
Last year, the publisher ran its first Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund three spring 2022 titles. It is currently running another crowdfunding campaign for the spring 2023 line, which includes Pet Peeves by Nicole Goux, a horror story about a girl and her dog; Macbeth by K. Briggs, a graphic adaptation of the Shakespeare classic; and Big Ugly by Ellice Weaver, the tale of young woman attempting to help her struggling brother.
Miller said Avery Hill uses Kickstarter as a preorder system and as a way to expand the audience. “It’s good for a bit of cash flow, finding a new audience, getting some heat behind the new books and selling some backlist titles,” he added.
Currently, Avery Hill’s sales split about evenly between the U.K. and the U.S., with distribution to bookstores via Turnaround Publisher Services in the U.K. and SCB Distributors in the U.S. Most of its distribution to comic shops in the U.K. is through Turnaround, though a small number of sales come through Diamond UK. In the U.S., Diamond Comics Distributors handles its distribution to comics shops.
As a small publisher (it has three employees), Avery Hill doesn’t have a large marketing budget, but it has built an audience in the U.K. by meeting creators and retailers at shows, and through word of mouth. The company recently brought in former First Second marketing director and former RH Graphic publishing director Gina Gagliano as a freelance marketing consultant to help build its presence in the U.S., especially with retailers and librarians. “Getting even a small share of those markets would make a massive difference to us,” Miller said.
One big shift has already occurred, though: Avery Hill has a following. “For a long time we didn’t think about an Avery Hill audience,” Miller said. “It was more focused on the audience for each book in turn, due to how diverse everything we put out was. As the years have gone by, though, and people have grown used to us and the idea of what makes an Avery Hill book has started to develop, we’ve seen an audience come to us that trusts our judgment and will preorder everything we put out.”
Brigid Alverson writes about graphic novel publishing regularly for PW.