BookBlast™ catches up with Jen Hamilton-Emery, fiction editor and director of independent Salt publishing, based in Cromer, Norfolk.
Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Yes, both my parents were (and still are) readers. Every week my mum would take me to the library and a treat was a trip to a bookshop. I’ve always had books in my life.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
I’ve always loved books and reading, but working in publishing never entered my head when I was looking at career options. I left school in the early 1980s in Glasgow and knew no-one who had any involvement whatsoever in publishing. There was less of it about in those days!
Has your vision from when you started Salt 18 years ago changed?
No, not really. Our vision was always to publish interesting and brilliant books that were that bit different to the mainstream. We may have shifted genres from poetry to fiction, but our aims haven’t changed.
How do you balance originality and profitability?
The bottom line is if we don’t make a profit we can’t publish anything. We only publish books that we ourselves love and hope that other people will trust us enough to buy them. It’s one big scary gamble.
Your views on writing? What books have had a lasting impact on you?
Many books I read as a child have stayed with me into adulthood, and reading them to my own children reminded me how marvelous they are. Tom’s Midnight Garden is a masterpiece and one of my all-time favourites.
What makes you decide to publish one writer, and not another?
We go on the merit of the book — it’s all down to the power of the story and the writing.
Technology and the rise of Kindle and iPads etc have revolutionised the publishing industry. How well have publishers adapted to industry changes?
We make our books available in both print and electronic formats — technically, it’s easy enough to do, but at the end of the day, it’s up to readers to decide which they want.
Do you enjoy reading ebooks? Will the physical book die away eventually?
Ebooks have their place, especially when travelling. I use them for reading classics when the font in the printed book is particularly small. There is a huge catalogue of wonderful classic books available out there for free. I can’t see ebooks ever taking the place of proper paper books though. There’s nothing like turning a page.
Your views on marketing and distribution? And on social media?
Without marketing and distribution no-one will find out about a publisher’s books, and if they do, they wouldn’t be able to get hold of them. Social media is crucial for everything these days — it’s how people keep up to date with news, events, and new books.
Nearly 80% of the UK’s publishing industry wanted to remain in the EU. In the wake of Brexit, what are the implications for book publishing and translation in your view?
It’s difficult to say — such early days. Any trade tariffs would be a bad thing, obviously, but hopefully readers across Europe will still have an appetite for UK-published authors, regardless of whether we’re in the EU or not.
How important is funding for independent publishers?
We had funding early on which helped us tremendously, especially as we were publishing poetry which has such a small market. We now rely entirely on revenue from book sales and have done for several years.
How do you relax?
I enjoy running, but tend to overdo it and get injured a lot, so I spend a lot of time relaxing on the sofa in front of the telly wishing I was running.
Your favourite qualities in a person?
Honesty, compassion, humour.
For what faults do have you most tolerance?
All faults — no one is perfect; the key is to recognize faults and try to overcome them. I’d rather people were themselves, faults and all, than try to put a show of being perfect.
Your chief characteristic?
Seeing the best in people
Your chief fault?
Not so hot at paperwork.
Your bedside reading?
I’m currently reading Paul Auster’s new book, 4321. On the Kindle, as it happens. I bought the book, but it was too huge and heavy to hold in bed, so I bought the Kindle file too.
Your favourite prose author?
Very difficult question — so many, and that’s without all of the Salt authors! I have read so many stunning books across different genres (including children’s and YA, which I love); it’s difficult to pick a favourite, but I guess it has to be Paul Auster, alongside Anthony Trollope.
Your favourite heroes in fiction?
Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island is wonderful.
Your favourite heroines in fiction?
Jake from Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing.
Your heroes in real life?
Your favourite heroines in real life?
Malala Yousafzai, Stacey Dooley, Jessica Ennis Hill — fantastic role models for young women.
Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?
Graham Norton, David Attenborough, Betty Boothroyd, Mohamed Ali, Victoria Wood. What a brilliant party it would be!
Interview © BookBlast™ Ltd, London 2017.