We talked with Michael Heyward, who runs Australia's Text Publishing, about the his house's classics list, a true crime title he's excited to launch in the U.S., and the advantages of being a small publisher.
Text was named Small Publisher of the Year in 2012, 2013, and 2014 by the Australian Book Industry Awards. How did you pull off the win three years in a row?
Small publishers have some powerful advantages. Our culture is made up of passion, belief and hard work in equal measure. We are agile and entrepreneurial, and have no choice but to think for ourselves. We like doing things that are unexpected. We can take different kinds of risks. Text is a great team of people who know how to get going. We punch way beyond our weight with publicity and marketing, and a third of us are editors. Keeping the promises we make to readers and booksellers has to start with the relationships we form with our writers. Our job is to help them turn good books into great books. We’re old-fashioned that way. If we keep our editorial commitments we will have the best book possible to sell.
What do you look for in the fiction that you acquire?
There is no single characteristic. We publish a wide range of novels and novelists from around the world but we tend to go after books that remind us that reading should be an experience. It should challenge and enthrall and entertain. It should make us believe that we are going somewhere for the first time. We like books that resist easy classification, that create their own rules. Since a publisher has to create the market for a new novelist from scratch we like to let the book teach us how we should sell it. The quality of the writing matters, no matter what kind of novel it is. We love books that are a pleasure to read.
Last month, James Wood wrote a piece in the New Yorker about Elizabeth Harrower, an author long out of print who was relaunched by Text Classics in 2012. Tell us more about the Text Classics list and how you're addressing the challenges of publishing older titles.
The Text Classics list is just over two years old, and it already has more than 80 titles on it. We launched it because so many phenomenal Australian and New Zealand books—Elizabeth Harrower’s The Watch Tower, Kenneth Cook’s Wake in Fright, David Ballantyne’s Sydney Bridge Upside Down, Kenneth Mackenzie’s The Young Desire It, Amy Witting’s I for Isobel—had been out of print. The Text Classics are a great adventure in reading. We have discovered many extraordinary writers. We commission introductions for each title which has allowed us to work with some marvelous contemporary authors. Many of these lost and forgotten books have never been available outside Australia so we distribute them in North America and the U.K. The series has an iconic design by Chong Weng Ho. Readers understand that if they browse in our field of yellow jackets they are likely to find something special.
You do have one book, a true crime title, coming out in the States, that I know you're excited about. Can you tell us a bit about it?
In April 2015 we are publishing Helen Garner’s This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial, in the U.S. It’s a profoundly moving book that Helen, one of Australia’s greatest living writers, spent seven years writing. It’s been a bestseller in Australia and has had rapturous press. The book is a true story about a man accused of murdering his three small sons after the car he was driving left the road and plunged into a dam. He scrambled out, but the boys drowned. As Helen follows the court case, she puts her readers in the position of the jurors who must weigh the sometimes baffling evidence for themselves, and decide what really happened that night.