Fiction Reboot Agent Interview: Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen

FictionReboot2Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot and the introductory post of author-contributor Keri Heath! Today we are reviving our previous series of interviews featuring agents and publishers. Join us in welcoming Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen of Tramp Press!
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Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen pooled their collective knowledge of literature and publishing to form Tramp Press, a small publishing agency in Dublin, Ireland. The press focuses on publishing excellent books, as Davis-Goff stated, “the absolute crème de la crème of Irish literary fiction.” The quality of the literature that Tramp Press publishes is obvious, especially since several of its releases have won the Irish Book Award. As Tramp Press looks towards the next step, it plans to increase the publishing experience for its authors by expanding to the UK. In an interview with the “Fiction Reboot,” Davis-Goff and Coen share their vision of Tramp Press’ place within the Irish publishing industry.

Lisa and SarahAgent Bios:

Sarah Davis-Goff received an MA in publishing from Oxford Brookes University in 2009 and has since obtained international publishing experience in New York, London, and Dublin. Lisa Coen spent several years working in the production department of Hot Press magazine, before deciding to complete an M.Phil and PhD in Anglo-Irish literature. The two met during their work at Lilliput Press and decided to found Tramp Press together.

For more information about Davis-Goff, Coen, and Tramp Press, visit www.tramppress.com.

  1. Why did you decide to start Tramp Press?

There were a few reasons, really. We were both working at The Lilliput Press here in Dublin, but our time there was almost up. We’re young(ish) women and we felt that the industry could do with more age and gender diversity. More than anything we felt we had a valuable viewpoint to offer, and we could publish brilliant works that other people were missing, and do it well. For instance Flight by Oona Frawley was rejected by publishers who thought it would be a hard sell. It sat around for a few years, but once we published it, it was nominated for an Irish Book Award and received a rave review in the Guardian, among others. We’ve had to reprint it twice already!

  1. What makes Tramp Press different from other small publishers in Ireland?

We’re different from other publishers in how we approach the process: with the decline in sales over the last years, publishers have been publishing more, throwing a load into the marketplace and hoping that one or two make a dent. We approach things from the opposite direction. We’ll only ever publish works that are skin-prickingly, heart-stoppingly brilliant, and we’ll publish them with great care, and attention to detail – and force. We maintain old-fashioned editorial values and work to develop long-lasting relationships with our authors. By devoting all our time and attention to a few brilliant books a year, we aim to publish harder and better than anyone else. We get great feedback on our books, not just the content, but for instance the cover design of Dubliners 100.

  1. What do you look for in the books you like to publish?

In a word – brilliance. We only publish fiction (so no memoirs, history, etc), but apart from that it doesn’t really matter what a book is about, and we’re not genre-snobs. We have diverse tastes and read widely and would love to see some fantastic YA or sci-fi. As long as a book is excellent, we’ll want to get it out there. We also publish ‘Recovered Voices: once a year we’ll take a lost classic and repackage it. In our first year, that was A Struggle for Fame by Charlotte Riddell, a witty, scathing book about being a public author.

  1. How closely do you work with the writers to see their visions fulfilled?

At least a part of excellent publishing is managing expectations. Not every book is going to be a market-leader, unfortunately, and the massive success stories you see in the media are very much the exception rather than the rule. So being honest and upfront with our authors and making sure that they know what we offer is very important. This starts with our submission guide on tramppress.com. We’re open to unsolicited manuscripts, but we’re upfront that the standard is high. Once we find a great manuscript, we work very closely with the author on editing or redrafting as needed.

With Dubliners 100 we really trusted Thomas Morris’s great idea and gave the contributors a broad brief: write a ‘cover version’ of a story from James Joyce’s Dubliners in its centenary year. People love a great idea, and because we trusted everyone and were kind of hands-off, we ended up with a terrific, award-winning collection of stories about contemporary Ireland.

Editorial is just one part of the process, once that’s in hand, we work really hard to promote our titles. So far we have achieved very wide review coverage for all our titles across newspapers and magazines at home and abroad, in the Irish Times, Sunday Times, the Guardian, the TLS, we’ve got a couple of mentions in the New York Times, and have had lots of radio and a couple of small TV slots – but nothing is guaranteed. We try to make sure that our vision of success for a title matches with the author’s.

  1. What do you usually read?

We both read a lot, of course, and although literary fiction is something we both reach for most often, we also enjoy a ton of other stuff. Sarah is reading Saga, a graphic novel right now and loving it, having just finished Anne Enright’s The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch, while Lisa’s been reading a lot of Neil Gaiman recently to balance out the non-fiction essay collections she read over the holidays. We both love good sci-fi, horror and YA. We initially bonded over our love for Stephen King!

  1. Do you think the publishing industry of Ireland is very different from that of other western European countries?

We’re lucky in Ireland. We’re a small country but everybody here reads, lots of people write, and it’s actually a strong market. There’s a lovely sense of camaraderie amongst small publishers and writers of contemporary literary fiction: it’s a great place to work. There’s a wonderful new movement of small presses achieving big things here and in the UK and France too, so we’re all in it together.

  1. Do you have any plans for the future of Tramp Press?

We do! Historically, being a small publishing company in Ireland has posed certain restrictions on success, both for the press in question and for its authors. Irish writers, generally speaking, get discovered her by small, ballsy publishers like The Lilliput Press (Donal Ryan, Rob Doyle), or the Stinging Fly Press (Kevin Barry, Mary Costello, Colin Barrett). Once their talent has been established and recognized, through sales and literary prizes, larger UK-based publishing companies will acquire rights to these works.

The deals involved will generally require the independent Irish publisher in question to give up rights to publication, in return for a fee to the author. In addition to this, most literary prizes that guarantee success and sales for writers (such as the Man Booker Prize, the Guardian First Book Award, the Baileys Prize, etc.) will only accept submissions from publishers that are established in the UK. Ultimately ambitious Irish writers have no choice but to sign with a UK publishing house.

This system can be bad for Irish writers, Irish publishers and Irish readers.

We want to be the first publisher to really break out of this mould, and have already made inroads to this ambitious task, by setting up UK distribution, sales and PR. In fact, we’re just about to have our first international launch in Waterstones in Piccadilly, of Sara Baume’s exceptional debut novel Spill Simmer Falter Wither. It’s the start of something big! In the meantime, we’ll continue to publish around three books a year, and to ‘rescue’ a neglected novel every year, so we can build a backlist and continue to gain readers’ trust.

A big thanks to Davis-Goff and Coen for their interview!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Keri Heath is a writer and journalist from Austin, Texas. She has written professionally for Austin Fit, Totally Dublin, Austin Woman, and ATX Man magazines. She has also seen her creative work published in NEAT and Straylight magazines, among others. When she isn’t writing, she loves to read, run, and play mandolin. You can view Keri’s work at readkh.wix.com/keri-heath or by following her @HeathKeri.

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