London-based independent publisher Oneworld was founded in 1986 by wife-and-husband team Juliet Mabey and Novin Doostdar. Their initial focus was nonfiction—they wanted to get academics to write for a general audience.

“In the 1980s, that was very uncommon,” Mabey explains. “Now there are agents in both the U.K. and the U.S. who specialize in signing academics. But in the 1980s, writing in an accessible way for a general audience was not something that academics were being approached to do.”

Then in 2009, Oneworld branched out into fiction. The first novel that Mabey signed was A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, which went on to win the Booker Prize in 2015. The following year, Oneworld author Paul Beatty won with The Sellout. Then in 2023, Irish author Paul Lynch won the Booker for Prophet Song.

“It didn’t change the shape or the quality of our fiction list,” Mabey says. “We’re still looking for the same unusual, interesting novels that offer readers insight into an area of the world or an issue or a time in history that they’re not familiar with. It hasn’t changed what we’re looking for, but it probably has increased the number of submissions we have to wade through
to find them.”

Oneworld is very much capable of dealing with Booker success. “We’ve honed our in-house skills in terms of how we promote and sell bestselling books,” Mabey says. “For a much smaller publisher, winning the Booker would be a challenge to their systems. But Oneworld can scale up easily. We’ve reprinted Prophet Song about five times already since the end of November.”

Oneworld considers itself a global publisher. “Publishing internationally has always been important to us,” Mabey says. “That’s partly where the name of the company comes from. We try to bring stories in from all over the world.”

In the U.S., Oneworld’s books are distributed via Simon & Schuster. It also has a publicity team in the U.S., which Mabey calls “absolutely essential.”

It is more common for Oneworld to hold North American rights in nonfiction than fiction. Doostdar, who runs the nonfiction lists, says, “We’ve always had a lot of U.S.-based nonfiction authors. Right from the start, it has been an important part of our publishing.” Doostdar travels to the Middle East Studies Association Conference and the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting in North America every fall. He and Mabey also attended the American Library Association conference and Winter Institute last year.

Oneworld maintains strong relationships with the U.S. publishers of its titles, such as Grove Atlantic and Algonquin Books. Mabey says that with fiction, “we co-edit.” She adds, “Sometimes we separately send edits to the authors, and sometimes we collate them. With nonfiction, it’s more likely that there will be changes. It’s about making text accessible to your readership.”

Alongside its literary fiction, Oneworld is expanding into book club fiction with Magpie, a new imprint. “We decided it was time to provide a home for high-quality reading group novels from around the world,” Mabey says. Its list so far includes The Moon Represents My Heart by Thai-Chinese author Pim Wangtechawat, a time travel story about love and family, and Someday, Maybe by Nigerian-British author Onyi Nwabineli, a witty novel about grief.

“Fiction can be a very powerful, positive social force,” Mabey notes. “Novels invite readers into worlds beyond their experience. We like to publish books that are worthy and that have something to say.”

Fiction can be a very powerful, positive social force

One of her favorite moments last year was when Narges Mohammadi, an Iranian journalist who is imprisoned for her human rights activism, won the Nobel Peace Prize. Mohammadi’s anthology of interviews with imprisoned Iranian women, White Torture, is published by Oneworld. “We’ve sold 13 language rights since then,” Maybe says. “The point of having a publishing company is that you can use it for good, to make a difference. If we were just publishing genre fiction, we might as well be doing property development.”

Lucy Nathan is a writer based in London.

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