We recently spoke to Candida Lacey, Publisher & Managing Director of Myriad Editions, about their eclectic roster of publications, how entering a competition can get a publisher’s attention even if you don’t win, and why she thinks a programme like the Creative Future Literary Awards is so important.
Myriad Editions publishes a really wide range of books, from high quality literary fiction to thought-provoking graphic novels to award-winning infographic atlases. What’s the story behind such an eclectic collection of titles?
Myriad’s publishing programme has grown organically over the years, influenced very much by our own interests. The company was founded in 1993 by the late Anne Benewick who devised the groundbreaking State of the World Atlas when she was an editor at Pluto Press. She established Myriad in order to build on the brand and illustrate a range of political and environmental issues. We have produced, for example, atlases on women, food, climate change, water and we are currently working on a new edition of The State of the Middle East by Dan Smith. We design and print the atlases, ‘packaging’ them for our publishing partners, such as Penguin, Princeton University Press and Unicef, who distribute them worldwide.
I had a background in literary publishing before joining Myriad so I was looking for an opportunity to combine my first love of fiction with this new passion for factual infographics. We came up with the idea of The Brighton Book, a Granta-like anthology of fiction, poetry, photography and graphic art commissioned to celebrate the city and also to showcase new writers and artists alongside established names. So we included, for example, a new story by Jeanette Winterson and a fish and chip recipe from Nigella Lawson, as well as fiction from Martine McDonagh and Lesley Thomson, whose debut novels we went on to publish. We also included a graphic short story from Woodrow Phoenix; three years later we published his first book, Rumble Strip, and this heralded the beginning of our graphics list. We were fortunate to be able to hit the ground running in this respect because Corinne Pearlman, who was already working as Creative Director of the atlases, had been a champion, fan and, indeed, author of graphic novels and comics since the 1980s.
That was ten years ago. Today it is thrilling to see these three distinct areas of Myriad’s publishing programme – political atlases, literary fiction and graphic novels – all sitting together, rather like a three-legged stool, each complimenting the others and supporting the whole.
Myriad is known for spotting new talent, from your First Graphic Novel Competition to publishing award-winning debuts from authors like Jonathan Kemp, Elizabeth Haynes, and Natasha Soobramanien. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing emerging writers today?
The first challenge for any writer is to get yourself noticed, and this is why it is so important to enter competitions. It is not just about winning: if you can say you have been shortlisted for a competition, your manuscript will stand out to agents and publishers. To this end, Myriad organises two competitions: our annual First Drafts Competition for fiction and, every two years, the First Graphic Novel Competition. Both have a track record of identifying home-grown talent at an early stage and this is the kind of support for new writers and artists that is central to our publishing mission.
Most of the larger publishers will not accept unsolicited submissions and this can be frustrating for new writers because they need to find an agent before they have any chance of being signed by a publisher. This is why independent publishers are so crucial to the cultural landscape: many, like Myriad, nurture the seedbeds of new talent, not only by accepting manuscripts directly from writers but also by offering critical feedback on every submission.
The internet makes it possible to reach a potentially global audience within seconds. There is a much stronger direct connection now between writers and readers and the potential to build up communities of readers and fans without the intervention of a publisher has never been stronger. Self-publishing has been the answer for many authors, and the route to a conventional publishing deal for others.
This will be the second time you’ve been part of the Creative Future Literary Awards. Why do you think awards like this are important?
I am so impressed by the work of Creative Future, and the way the organisation reaches out to people who feel marginalised and lack opportunities that others may take for granted. The awards are particularly valuable because they offer mentoring as well as cash prizes, and this is a real commitment to encouraging and supporting new writers to develop their talent. Awards like this can change people’s lives.
Whether it’s selecting new authors to work with or sitting on a judging panel for something like the Creative Future Literary Awards, what are you looking for when seeking out new talent?
This is a question we are often asked and it is a question I have heard large and small publishers answer in the same way: we are all looking for new work that is arresting, original and richly imagined; we are looking for excellent storytelling and exquisite writing; we want to hear a voice we cannot forget. Fortunately publishing is ultimately about personal taste: what we love, another publisher may not, and vice versa. Authors are best served by finding the right publisher for their work – someone who will champion their book, first to their colleagues, then to the people responsible for selling the book, and ultimately to foreign publishers who might buy translation rights.
Finally, can you make a literary recommendation? What should we all be reading, or who should we be keeping an eye out for? Where do you go to discover new things to read?
Of course, I’m going to recommend Myriad’s authors! This year, we are celebrating ten years of publishing with ten breathtakingly original new books, each of which is bold, eclectic and full of character. We are launching five exciting fiction debuts: THE LONGEST FIGHT by Emily Bullock, HUSH by Sara Marshall-Ball, THE LAST PILOT by Benjamin Johncock, HOW YOU SEE ME by S.E.Craythorne and BELONGING by Umi Sinha. For our graphics list, we have a searing memoir, BECOMING UNBECOMING by Una, and Will Volley’s debut story of ambition and delusion, THE OPPORTUNITY. We have just published award-winning author Jonathan Kemp’s eagerly awaited second novel, GHOSTING, and this month, on Shakespeare’s birthday, we release the paperback of Sally O’Reilly’s highly-acclaimed historical novel, DARK AEMILIA. And we are thrilled to be publishing Isabel Ashdown’s fourth novel, FLIGHT, in May. Ashdown made her name with GLASSHOPPER, published by Myriad in 2009, and has been a book group favourite ever since.