A blog from Tonto Books, featuring musings from the publishing world and some occasional special guest appearances.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Local books for local people?

One of the problems we've encountered in running a publishing company from Newcastle upon Tyne is that our books are often perceived as being of only 'local interest'. This means that some North East bookshops stock our titles in the Local Interest section rather than alongside their regular stock, even when they are supplied nationally via their head office. It means some national buyers overlook our titles in favour of 'national' books published in London. And it means that we regularly get submissions along the lines of, 'I know you only publish local stuff, but I once had an uncle who lived in Whitley Bay and so I thought you might like this...'

In fact, of the ten titles published to date by Tonto Press, only two are specific to the North East of England (Wor Al and The Burglar's Dog - our two bestsellers, both of which sold well nationally).

Jonny Kennedy lived in North Tyneside and then Northumberland, so he was a 'local' lad, but the book can hardly be considered to have only 'local interest'. The documentary about Jonny, The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off, was screened - and won awards - around the world. The Emmy Award judges did not dismiss it for being 'regionally specific to the North East of England'. [It won the Emmy.]

And when The Rocketbelt Caper - a true crime / popular science book that is set in TEXAS - is filed under Local Interest in a Newcastle bookshop you know you have a problem. [It should be added that Local Interest sections are usually a mish-mash of local history and guide books tucked away at the back of the store.] Bookshop staff explain that this is because the author is from the North East. True, but the Harry Potter books are not filed under Local Interest in Edinburgh. [Is Peter Kay filed in Local Interest in Bolton?]

It's a fact that we work with more writers from the North East than elsewhere because we receive more submissions from writers from this area (although we also currently work with writers from as far afield as Los Angeles, Geneva, Ottawa...). We're quite happy for that to continue, after all there is a pressing need for a good publisher in this area to support the very many talented writers up here. But their work deserves to be read outside of the North East.

So what is the answer? Set up a 'virtual office' in London? Affect Home Counties accents on the phone? (This might prevent callers from hearing our Northern twang and behaving like they have accidentally dialled Outer Mongolia: 'Oh, I'm sorry, I'm calling from London...' 'Yeah, we've heard of it - it's where the Queen lives, right?') I suppose the answer is to continue to plug away with our books and hope that eventually their quality will be seen to be more important than the address on the copyright page.


1 comment:

June said...

I do live in the south east and recently encountered the opposite (or same) problem depending on how you look at it. The Birmingham branch of a certain chain store, got very funny, and refused to order my book, on the basis that it was listed as local interest. This meant, according to them, that they would have to place it with books about the Bullring (what a load of bull) where it wouldn't sell .... The reason it was listed as local though was because my local branch had ordered stock for a book signing. One phone call to the Head Office sorted the problem out. Perhaps you too need to make such a call. I wish you luck though, as getting through to said Buying department presented a altogether different set of challenges ....