It was a Friday evening sometime in May, 2016. We were sitting in a curry house in the Horsforth area of Leeds. There was me, 'Stickleback' author Mark Connors, Armley Press co-director and author John Lake, his girlfriend Jo and Wayne Leeming. The following morning we were all due at Leeds Central Library for the Big Bookend literary festival. We were doing a panel reading and Q&A session, and the event was doubling as the launch for Wayne's novel 'Justice Is Served'. Four Armley Press writers, all talking about books, films and music (a significant part of which involved me and Wayne telling Mark and John that jazz was a load of wank, them arguing otherwise), drinking beer and eating curry.
At some point in the evening, the conversation divided up and Wayne and myself, meeting for the first time, got talking about our individual stories about how we came to be published by a 'punk publisher' from Leeds. Among the usual hard-luck stories of rejection, Wayne mentioned that he had always wanted to start his own publishing press, much in the style of what John and Mick McCann had done with Armley Press. I told him I'd always imagined starting an indie record label, then also a publishing press. Then again, I've imagined doing a lot of things over the years, but always lacked either the skill, the drive or the self-belief to attempt any of them.
The conversation shifted and we moved quickly on, probably distracted by the duvet-sized garlic naan hanging from a hook at the end of our table. But the seeds of an idea had been sown, particularly in Wayne's mind, and during facebook interactions and phone calls over the coming months, we would occasionally joke about that press we were going to start up. I usually laughed it off, until sometime early this year, Wayne said, in all seriousness, 'why not?' And, other than the negative reasons I mentioned above, I couldn't think of a good reason not to.
So, over the next couple of months, we had a few phone calls where we planned out our strategy. We named ourselves after the Mission Of Burma album 'The Obliterati', and decided the only sensible option was to mimic the print-on-demand model used by Armley Press and some other small presses. One thing we decided to do differently to most publishers was, rather than setting up and looking for submissions, leading to a potential delude of books the two of us could never hope to read our way through, was to approach unpublished but talented writers we knew, and find at least our first couple of releases that way. While Wayne set to work on making our website, I took on the role of poacher. Two people sprang to mind instantly. Richard Rippon was an old mate of my sister, which is how I came to read his earlier novel 'The Kebab King' which had won The New Writing North Award and earned him an agent. After his agent had been unable to place it with the right publisher, Richard had self-published. As with many of us who've tried self-publishing, Richard had struggled to find a wide audience for 'The Kebab King', which is a shame as it's a clever and funny crime novel, and well worth checking out, so I knew he could write, and I recalled a year or two earlier him telling me about a second novel he had completed. I sent a speculative email to Richard explaining what Wayne and I were up to, fully expecting him to tell me to fuck off and shove my indie press up my arse. Fortunately, having received a fair amount of interest in his novel from a few publishers, who had wanted him to make changes he wasn't comfortable with, Richard was well up for the idea of working with a pair of clueless first-timers who didn't know what the fuck they were doing. He emailed me his manuscript, and me and Wayne read it. Within the first few pages, it was clear we'd struck very, very lucky. 'Lord Of The Dead' needed some work, but it was a superbly written, thrilling and potentially very commercial piece of crime fiction. There was not a hint of doubt that we wanted to publish it. While Richard set about redrafting the novel, with a few notes from Obliterati Press, I approached the other writer who had sprung to mind.
Authonomy was a website set up by Harper Collins to act like an electronic slush pile, and also as an online version of a writers group. People uploaded their works in progress, and received feedback, while reciprocating, with an incentive called the Editors Desk, whereby the five novels to make it onto there at the end of each month would have the first ten thousand words read by Harper Collins. Several writers on there found publication. A few chapters of my debut novel 'The World Is (Not) A Cold Dead Place' were on there and improved in part due to feedback I received. Eventually, people figured out how to play the system, Harper Collins realised they couldn't quite find a way to monetise the site, and closed it down.
One novel I'd loved on there was 'The Baggage Carousel' by David Olner. Luckily, when Authonomy closed down, we had stayed in touch via twitter. I approached him as I had done with Richard, and was very pleased that he too was enthusiastic about what Obliterati Press were trying to achieve. 'The Baggage Carousel' was at an advanced stage of rewriting so required little more than some formatting changes from Wayne. With the two novels at final draft stage, Obliterati Press were ready to launch. Any self-doubt over whether there was the room or the need for another indie publisher was quickly extinguished by the sheer quality of our first two titles. The fact that neither of these books had yet come particularly close to publication shows there can probably never be enough publishers for all the great undiscovered writers out there, just needing someone to give them a voice. Over the coming months and years, that is exactly what Obliterati Press intend to do. We'll continue our unorthodox search for writers already known to us, as well as opening for short but frequent submission windows.
Watch this space...