Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The best publisher you've never heard of

There would, I imagine, be few people filling their shopping baskets exclusively with the latest offerings from, say, Harper Collins or Hodder and Stoughton. Brand loyalty amongst book lovers tends to be more about authors (many of whom are described as 'brands' these days). The honourable exception to this is the smaller, niche publishers - Salt and Bluechrome spring to mind - who are not only passionate about what they do, but also have a consistent feel to every book they publish, presumably because they reflect the tastes of just a handful of people, as opposed to committees and focus groups.

A few months ago I ordered a book called 'Believe in the Sign' by Mark Hodkinson, on the grounds that it had been grouped together with my latest book on Amazon, in the 'Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought This' section. Despite not really wanting to like something that had such a similar theme to my book, I found myself absolutely loving it. I had never heard of the publishers, Pomona, so decided to check out their website.

The first thing that struck me was that this was not a normal publisher. Hodkinson himself seems to run it and, with author royalty rates of 50%, it doesn't appear to follow any conventional publishing business model. But even more notable was the line-up of authors. It was some of the people who made me fall in love with reading in the first place - Hunter Davies, who wrote 'Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush', Barry Hines, whose 'A Kestrel For A Knave' became the film Kes, and Trevor Hoyle, writer of cult classic, Rule of Night.

This was incredibly exciting. So why had I never heard of Pomona? The answer, according to Hodkinson when I emailed him, was something faced by most publishers in their position. Distribution. They simply don't have the money to compete with the majors, who can (rumour has it) effectively GIVE books to stores and pay for them to be front-of-house.

I am now on my fourth Pomona book in a row and it's fantastic. A Barry Hines book, called Looks and Smiles, which is a love story about a mechanic and shoe shop assistant, set during the turbulent early 1980s. It's the kind of thing Penguin used to do - real, passionate and unflinchingly honest. Before that, I read Mark Hodkinson's latest novel, 'The Last Mad Surge of Youth', which would be on the bestseller list if there was any justice in the world.

Perhaps inevitably, Pomona seem to be experiencing financial difficulties. I don't know of any small independent that isn't. But they deserve to at least be checked out at

And no, I'm nothing to do with Pomona. I'm just a huge fan. And how many publishers can you say that about?