Barbican Press is a micro publisher of edgy books others might not consider commercial enough for publication. Most of our work is outsourced. We were built for working from home. When we dusted ourselves off from the Covid 19 lockdowns, we decided it was time to do more and went global. Maggie Hamand, founding editor of Maia Press, joined us to develop a new fiction strand and keep the London side of things warm, while I now divide the year between the U.K. and Los Angeles.

The move is crazily ambitious. Our all-time bestseller is Brian W. Lavery’s The Headscarf Revolutionaries, which should have global resonance, but being about an East Yorkshire trawler fishing disaster finds most of its sales in the city of Hull. We gravitate toward books that the mainstream houses are shy of. They’re dark gems, but they’re not genre books with obvious sales potential. Our biggest champion is the U.K.’s socialist paper the Morning Star, which praises our “impressive portfolio of beautifully crafted and utterly transgressive fiction.” Socialist and transgressive aren’t qualities American readers are obviously gasping for.

So why do we do it? The vast size of the U.S. market for English-language books is one reason. Even our British writers are international in scope and spirit and deserve that wide reach. Moreover, the library market in the U.K. is practically nonexistent. In the U.S., 22,000 librarians show up at the annual American Library Association conference, and libraries account for a third of trade sales. The rallying cry at the 2023 ALA gathering in Chicago was against the banning of books, and with our LGBTQ slant we have some of the right fodder for these brave librarians.

Beyond that, the move gives us somewhere to place our insane optimism. This past year many plucky fellow U.K. indies have fallen by the wayside. We might have done the same, but opening up new territory gives us something to hope for. We acquire in Canada, the U.S., Sweden, Norway, and the Czech Republic, as well as in the U.K., and gain confidence in shaping our list because the books don’t wholly depend on British readers.

What’s on our side? We decided Ingram Publishing Services was in fact a friendly dragon and let ourselves be swallowed by it. Using its divisions for global distribution and representation of both our print and digital books means we only need to feed data into one system. As a sales team, Publishers Group West has a passion and knowledge for the trade and is genuinely supportive. Flying in for sales conferences in Berkeley, Calif., is a happy adventure.

Downsides? Having California as your sales hub when your main market is still the U.K. makes playing between time zones awkward. Early U.S. return rates of 80% were a shock. We’ve gone all out for the super important U.S. trade reviews, and they’re slack in responding. No title has caught fire yet. We need one at least to find a regular 5,000-plus sales.

In the U.K., we’ve achieved some spectacularly good review coverage, even if that didn’t convert to sales, and will continue to seek such attention. The U.K. gives us review coverage that the U.S. can’t. Using freelance PR in the U.S., the first thing we’re told is not to expect much—that book coverage in the U.S. media is shrinking to nothing. We’re recommending authors start their own Substacks and target podcast coverage. Stay with it, we’re told. It takes three to four years to build brand recognition in the U.S.

Meanwhile we look forward to a summer and autumn of our authors’ appearances at literary festivals across the U.K. Long winters in Southern California, and summers in Europe—why not get away with it as a publishing business model if you can?

Martin Goodman is the publisher of Barbican Press.

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