North Norfolk publisher celebrates 20th anniversary with special festival event
- Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC
When Chris Hamilton-Emery decided to set up Salt Publishing, a small independent press, he had no idea of the success it would achieve. 20 years on, it's still going strong and will celebrate its anniversary as part of a special event at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2019.
After working at one of the region's largest publishing houses, Cambridge University Press, Chris Hamilton-Emery decided to set up his own business.
Salt Publishing started off as a collaborative effort between himself and Australian writer, John Kinsella, along with support from Clive Newman. "It was a ridiculously bold move," he says. "We gave everything up to start the business - it only dawned on us later that when you take a decision like that, you do it through passion." Now, Chris says, he can't think of a better life to have.
Although the business made a steady start, with its catalogue growing from just four books a year to 20, he knew that more needed to be done to bring it to a wider market. Salt's initial publications were of poetry and literary criticism, but "poetry is a genre which cannot be invested heavily in by booksellers," Chris explains. "So if we were going to survive, we had to diversify."
In 2011, several years after the original partnership had dissolved, Chris did just that. He moved the business - which he now heads up with co-directors Linda Bennett and Jennifer Hamilton-Emery - to Cromer on the north Norfolk coast. From here, they expanded their catalogue, acquired fiction titles and short story anthologies and picked up a number of sought-after prizes along the way.
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A turning point came in 2012 when Salt published The Lighthouse, a debut novel by Alison Moore. Later that year, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. "That was quite extraordinary," says Chris. "We'd been beavering away for years, having a lot of fun and making friendships all over the world, but it was then that people started noticing us - with that nomination, people realised it was worthwhile. It gave us the lift we needed."
Other prize nominations followed, including those for The Desmond Elliott Prize, The Costa Prizes, The East Anglian Book Awards and, in 2016, a second nomination for the Man Booker Prize for Wyl Menmuir's longlisted debut, The Many. Yet despite what Chris describes as "tremendous prize success" and a print industry which is "regaining traction", business can still be challenging. "It's still very hand to mouth," he admits.
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Last year, Salt's "unusually large" social media presence helped them out of debt, with Chris using Twitter to post an appeal for readers to buy #JustOneBook. "I was literally chatting on Twitter and within a few hours, we'd raised thousands. Posting it had such an amazing impact," he says.
Salt's approach to social media has worked well because of its familiarity, and Chris refers to it as being one of the company's biggest assets. "Twitter, in particular, is explosive. It was much more maverick five to 10 years ago - now there seems to be more moral policing about what you can and cannot say. But it's really just about finding your voice. You're telling stories about telling stories."
On average it takes nine to 15 months to publish a book, says Chris - something which is only possible with the help of Salt's fantastic editorial team, who work remotely from across the UK. As a whole, the business now publishes 15 books a year - a more sustainable amount than previous years, when production figures reached 80.
But 2019 will be a big year for the publisher, as it marks its 20th anniversary. An event at the National Centre for Writing on Saturday, May 25 will celebrate its success with the launch of four hotly anticipated titles, all penned by local authors.
The UEA's director of creative writing, Andrew Cowan, will be among the authors at the event, presenting his latest book, Your Fault. "It's written in the second person with this growing, veiled sense of dread," says Chris, referring to it as a work with "unbelievable attention to detail" and a plot which hinges on almost the last page. In addition there will be the third laugh out loud installment of Simon Okotie's Absalon trilogy, a truly English ghost story from debut author SA Harris and a debut poetry collection from writer and editor Andrew McDonnell.
"The event will focus on local authors," says Chris. "It made sense to bring those people together, and to celebrate the diversity of our titles. It will be a party and festival atmosphere more than anything else."
For more information about the event, which will take place at the National Centre for Writing on Saturday May 25 from 7.30pm, visit nnfestival.org.uk.