We spoke with Lisa Highton, publisher of the three-year-old U.K. imprint Two Roads, about the lure of debut authors, the difficulties of overseeing a young imprint, and what she's learned from attending literary festivals and talking to reading groups.
You founded Two Roads in 2011. Tell us about the spirit of the imprint, and your favorite moment since its inception.
I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to start a list which reflected my taste – my shorthand for it is stories, voices, places lives. I’m looking for brilliantly written stories, fiction or non-fiction – often stories with heart – narrative that keeps you pinned to the chair until you leap up and tell people you must read this! There are lots of favourite moments from seeing books I’ve acquired being published and doing well. This year it really all came together, from what I’d always hoped for being out of my head and onto the shelves IRL. I love the Two Roads family of writers – it’s my ambition to get them all together from their various continents in one room one day, it’d be quite a party.
Can you speak to some of your most recent acquisitions, and what drew you to them?
post-Frankfurt. [The first is] a memoir of addiction and recovery, Blackout, by Sarah Hepola. It’s a very smart, beautifully written account of a young woman’s battle with drink. Helen Atsma at Grand Central is publishing it in the U.S., so it’s a great bonus to be able to work together on a book. Also announced this week is a debut novel, The Words In My Hand, from a U.K. writer, Guinevere Glasfurd, about a Dutch maid who had a relationship with Rene Descartes. Little is known about her, but [the novel is] a richly imagined recreation of a woman’s life; it's absolutely wonderful. [They are] two different books, but both [are by] very talented writers who understand how to tell a story.
You publish a number of debut authors. What are some of the challenges and rewards of working with first-timers?
The biggest reward is getting a debut author some recognition and an audience. The challenge is making sure you don’t fail to do either of those! I’m aware I’m holding an author’s first book baby in my hands, and [I'm] trying not to drop it. One advantage to publishing 10-12 books a year is that we can publish a book a month, and continue to devote attention all year round; we’ve a great team at Two Roads. As always, the major challenge is making sure people know the book exists and getting it into the right hands; it's 95% hard work, and 5% serendipity.
More than many other publishers, you spend a great deal of time on the road, going to meet book groups. Have these interactions changed your strategies for publishing and acquiring new titles?
Oh yes, the traveling editor. In the first year [of Two Roads] I went round the U.K.--over 7,500 miles, talking to around 700 people--visiting book groups and bookshops. I still go to a lot of literary festivals and readings. It was genuinely encouraging to find so many enthusiastic and discerning readers, many with amazing stories to tell. They were discriminating about what they read; it’s a cardinal sin to waste their time with something third-rate, or that they felt they’d read before. It’s what I judge by when I read personally, and acquire professionally. Life’s too short to drink bad wine or read bad books, as the saying goes.