A Chat With Paradise Road’s Andrew Humphreys on the Challenges of Indie Publishing
The second publishing house in this two-part series is the younger, Paradise Road, founded in 2015 by former Time Out writer and editor Andrew Humphreys, and designer Gadi Farfour. Paradise Road is based in west London and specializes in non-fiction, journalistic books about London.
This interview is part of our series on small London publishers, we previously interviewed Spitalfields Life’s founder Gentle Author.
Did the idea about becoming a publisher grow on you or was it an "aha" moment, and why did you decide to become one?
There were several books I wanted to read but no one was publishing them. At first I thought I might try writing the books myself but then I thought there were people better qualified to do it, so why not commission them and publish their work instead.
You are a world traveler, why focus on west London, and is there a benefit to being local?
I used to be a travel writer and so I’ve always written about the places I visited or lived. For the last twelve years I’ve been more or less settled in London so it makes sense that London has become my subject. I now live in west London so that narrows my focus even more. There is no shortage of great stories to be told here. As a small publishing house our biggest challenge is in marketing. Keeping it local gives us the best chance of reaching our audience – we know who they are, what sort of books they might be interested in and we can build relationships with local booksellers and community organizations.
"For the last twelve years I’ve been more or less settled in London so it makes sense that London has become my subject."
If you were to branch out and focus on a different area of London, what would the criteria be?
Actually, we have two publishing strands. One is a series of short monographs focused on west London, but we also do stand-alone titles which cover other parts of London, such as London Pubcats, which roams all over the A-Z and we have two titles coming up later this year which are rooted in Soho in central London.
How did you go about becoming a publisher, finding funding, learning the ropes etc.?
My background is in magazines. I was the editorial director of a company that published about 40 magazines, so I had plenty of experience in all aspects of editing, design and print production. I’m on more shaky ground when it comes to accounting and budgeting, and things like knowing how many to print and dealing with bookshops – all that I’m having to learn as I go along. I don’t have any backers, we set ourselves up with our own savings, which means our progress is slow and cautious.
This interview is part of our series on small London publishers, we previously interviewed Spitalfields Life’s founder Gentle Author. Read it here.
How do you promote your books with a tiny staff and is marketing the most difficult part about your job?
Marketing is easily the hardest part. Coming up with the ideas for books, commissioning and then producing them is the fun part. Then you take delivery of a few thousand copies and the hard work starts. Chains like Waterstones are cautious of small independents and it is hard to get them to take a chance on you. Independent bookshops can be more supportive but they will only ever place small orders. Similarly it is difficult for an unknown publisher to get titles reviewed in the mainstream press – there are just too many titles vying for limited column space. We rely a lot on getting publicity from friendly bloggers and from authors giving talks to societies and clubs.
"Coming up with the ideas for books, commissioning and then producing them is the fun part."
What are the books you have published so far, how did you go about marketing them? Do you have anything new coming out?
Our first title, Up in Smoke, on the wheelings and dealings that went on behind the scenes at Battersea Power Station, was written by a journalist with a good reputation as a writer on London. While we didn’t get many reviews, the author Peter Watts managed to write maybe a dozen power station-related stories for many of the leading national newspapers and various magazines. He tweets a lot (to a decently sized following) and regularly pushes the book, and has also been hard at work on the talks circuit. With our second title, London Pubcats, we set up Facebook and Instagram pages on which we posted terrific pics from the book and these were picked up and rerun on sites around the world. We managed to sell the book to a Japanese publisher.
We have four titles coming out in 2018. First to hit the shelves is a book on the squawking, bright-green, feral parakeets that have invaded London, starting in the southwest and spreading north and east. Nobody quite knows where they came from but they are taking over the city’s skies. It is a work of gonzo ornithology written by an exciting young travel writer called Nick Hunt, who has previously had two well-received books put out by mainstream publishers. Then we have The Unsquare Mile, a book on Soho in the 60s, 70s and 80s written by Lilian Pizzichini, who has previously been published by Bloomsbury and Picador, and another book by Peter Watts, on the life and times of Denmark Street, London’s Tin Pan Alley, a hang out at one time or another for everyone from Elton John to David Bowie to the Sex Pistols.
In very practical terms, what are the pros and cons of running your own business?
The big plus is getting to commission and shape books that I believe in. London Pubcats aside, which was a shameless play for the Christmas market (but still a beautiful little book with great stories and photography), we aim to publish books of value that have something to say about the city we live in. The Battersea Power Station and Denmark Street books are at heart about the development of the city in the 21st century. The Soho book is about marginal cultures. The parakeets book is an oblique take on immigrants and our attitudes towards them. The downside is that this is a gamble. In two years I have yet to pay myself any sort of salary – I edit for other publishers to pay the bills. Of course, I need more titles to provide more revenue (providing they sell) and the challenge is to balance paying work with keeping the company moving forward.
This interview is part of our series on small London publishers, we previously interviewed Spitalfields Life’s founder Gentle Author. Check it out here.