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Among The Many Astonishments

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First published on Salt Publishing's blog

Yesterday was a hot day in the office, the second hot day we've had in this dismal English summer, and the tide, no, the tsunami of book admin had reached its peak. Jen and I had been working flat out on production since 4 a.m. We had made progress and were about to start work reading entries for our annual literary prizes and working on the second proofs of The Best British Poetry 2012. We had a plan. We were almost, almost in control of the publishing programme.

It was mid-afternoon, the kids were getting desperate, the beach beckoned at Cromer, and in the middle of all the frenetic designing and typesetting and web designing and packing up orders and fetching ice creams and yoghurt cartons, the phone rang. Jen answered and looked suddenly stunned, flushed, delighted, discomposed. She finished the conversation, hung up and said in a daze, "We've been long listed for the Man Booker Prize!"

As a small independent publisher you imagine phone calls like this quite often -- you imagine them happening routinely to other people, important people in ebony draped offices with windows gaping onto the hazy, electric London skyline -- and you reflect how most phone calls you might receive would be of the kind involving energy suppliers or carton manufacturers or, you know, strategic process-driven XML supply chain partners, whatever they are.

However, this phone call had been to us and in the nanosecond of registering this, the phone rang again. It was an enquiry into rights. Then another. And another. Perhaps sixteen in ten minutes. Then Amazon rang. Now, not knocking Amazon, but anyone working in indie publishing might recognise the sheer jaw-dropping absurdity of this: Amazon calling us.

Within half an hour the office was in complete chaos. We are now in new territory when it comes to being overloaded -- there are more things to worry about than ever before: from cash to PR to marketing to distribution, to global distribution, to rights deals, licensing, translation rights and we suddenly discover, after twelve years, a new profession in the sector, the planet-dwarfing mania and insistence of the literary scout.

Over the past 24 hours we have sorted new ONIX feeds updated faults in the website, created a tranche of eBooks and spent thousands of pounds on print, talked to the Man Booker team and brought the pub date forward to August 15th. People talk of whirlwind experiences, but no one, no one in the sometimes desperate tundra of indie publishing can truly relate what it is like to be consumed by interest.

It's the strangest experience. You feel your own business being wrenched in several directions at once and you ride it, you ride it with a sense of abandonment and foreboding and pleasure. It is ecstatic. You get the idea -- there were no fish fingers and ketchup on last night's menu. The menu was chiefly liquid and has left Thursday with some extra challenges that only more indulgence will cure -- but that's for tonight's still moment, if we ever get there and the phone stops ringing.

For now, we only have huge admiration for Alison Moore, our wonderful author, and her wonderful, evocative and unforgettable work, The Lighthouse. And we have sheer pride in our fiction editor, Nicholas Royle, whose brand new, brave and audacious list at Salt has already made its mark, before a copy has hit the stores. Publishing, eh? A wonderful life of cash-deprived, late-night grafting and worry separated by those tiny, unforgettable, glistening, infrequent moments that make you wonder how anyone could do anything else.

Read more at Salt Publishing's blog.