UKA PRESS: BRINGING THE BIG BOYS TO BOOKEdit
A dynamic new publisher is blowing the cobwebs off Britain’s dusty bookshelves to bring fresh talent to jaded readers and fresh hope to despairing writers.
And after just eighteen months and fewer than three dozen titles released so far, UKA Press’s bright new approach has already opened an exciting new chapter in the world of literature with major book chains, prestigious reviewers and major literary fairs enthusiastically making room for their titles alongside those of the giants.
Even The Guardian, whose reviews section seldom takes notice of small publishers, praised a recent UKA Press title and recognised UKA Press's courage in publishing a book that would not fit into a convenient 'mainstream' slot.
Jon Courtenay Grimwood's review of Ian Hocking's 'Deja Vu' said: "What makes Déjà Vu interesting is the understated, almost 1950s feeling Hocking brings to what is essentially a post-cyberpunk novel about murder and identity. His layering of the narrative is thoughtful and the way he makes events from different decades mirror each other shows quiet skill. This is a small-press publication; as such, it probably won't get the exposure it deserves. Larger publishers may want to take note."
Alas, larger publishers are seldom in the market for unusual literary gems by unknown authors. And that’s where UKA Press comes in.
The secret of UKA Press’s success is a unique partnership between two established players in the field – one exclusively dedicated to the selection of material, editorial excellence and design, and the other dealing with the nuts and bolts of printing, distribution, marketing and the general business administration side of the new house.
UKA Press Publisher, Andrea Lowne, said: “It’s a brand new approach that simply means the literary quality of material is put before any consideration of likely profits. Whereas the current publishing establishment is retail driven and relies on its high-powered marketing departments to decide what they can make the reader buy, we are editorially driven and trust the reader to judge quality for himself.”
That’s good news for the reader, who’s treated to unique new novels in a huge range of genres and styles, short-story collections, non-fiction and poetry. And it’s good news for the author, who at UKA Press is judged by his book and not by the selling potential of the name on its cover.
Unlike major houses that toss aside unsolicited work and manuscripts not sent through an established literary agency, UKA Press reads and considers every offering that reasonably follows its submissions guidelines. Rather than allow a slush pile of unread material to build up, it will temporarily close to submissions until every word in house has been thoroughly assessed. But it’s still no easy ride for the scribe. When the company opens to submissions again, it expects still to have to reject the huge majority of dozens of manuscripts that arrive weekly at the desks of its experienced editorial team. And even on acceptance, editorial standards are so high that it can take up to a year for a title to be perfectly polished for release.
Happily for successful authors, though, although UKA Press – in line with most other small independents and a growing number of large houses – doesn’t offer an advance, it pays high royalties of fifteen percent compared to the more usual eight or ten percent.
The company is able to do this by reducing the financial risk of speculating on mass print runs that might, as bigger publishers find, leave up to sixty percent of copies unsold and destroyed. Instead, it carefully chooses whether to make a limited short run to test the waters or to use the revolutionary new print on demand technology that means books are printed in small batches or even singly as firm orders come in.
Some UKA Press authors hone their skills on Andrea’s long-established writers’ community website (http://www.ukauthors.com), though it’s manuscript quality that counts, and UKA Community members are shown no favouritism when it comes to selection for UKA Press release. But it was whilst compiling UKA’s annual ‘Voices from the Web’ paperback anthologies of prose and poetry contributed to the website, that she had the idea of opening the door to even more first-time authors.
She said: “We were already giving fifty or sixty new writers a year a little break into print through the anthology, but my colleague, Richard Harris, and I chatted over the idea of expanding on this and regularly publishing in paperback, not only to give deserving new writers a break, but to help expand the choice for readers who’re fed up of seeing the same old formula offerings by the same old names.
There were no pipedreams of fortunes to be made from this brave new company, but Andrea and her partners realised from the start that the cost of publishing a book is not counted in pennies and that the reader is the very top of the publishing food chain and must be courted. So – although it’s not a contractual condition – UKA Press authors are coached to help promote their work … something even the Kings and Grishams of the writing world can’t escape.
One of the few other small independent publishers working along the lines of UKA Press is European-based BeWrite Books (www.bewrite.net) . From her base in Germany, publisher Cait Myers said: “A publishing house like Andrea’s and the admirable people she has around her aren’t in this job for the money – it’s all work and no pay. Readers and writers should thank their lucky stars that there’s a new company like UKA Press filling in those risky, non-commercial gaps left by the major houses in their lust for a safe bet and a fast buck.”
And, as well as introducing new talent, UKA Press is dedicated to treating readers to other buried treasure, such as acclaimed film historian Kevin Brownlow’s book, HOW IT HAPPENED HERE, the story of how the 60s chilling film cult classic, It Happened Here, was made. Out of print for 35 years, the book has lost none of its freshness, relevance and power, and none of its stoic self-deprecating humour.
UKA Press’s titles can be bought from all major online stores like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, from the UKAPress.com site, and are available on order through brick-and-mortar book shops everywhere. And, already, the impressive new kid on the block has cracked the tough nut of placing titles on high street bookshelves in stores like Borders, Waterstones and Ottakers. Some titles are even stocked in traditional bookshops in Spain, Canada and the USA.
(Special thanks go to Neil Marr, Bewrite Books, for all his help and guidance, past and present)
© Andrea Lowne June 2005