We don’t know if we’re bombastic enough to claim that we’re redefining the Scottish book bubble, but we do know that we want to bring a bit of fun to the industry while tackling some big and difficult subjects.
Indie publishers 404 Ink are being modest.
In just six months, founders Heather McDaid and Laura Jones have secured funding from Creative Scotland, launched a successful literary magazine and smashed a Kickstarter fund for their first book, a collection of non-fiction essays titled Nasty Women. They asked for £6,000 to help pay their contributors and cover distribution costs, a target they reached in just three days (against the odds of the post-Christmas financial dip, no less). They’ve since gone on to secure a whopping £16, 761, and as I write this (with five days left of the campaign), the figure is still rising.
They’ve been name-checked in The Independent, backed by Margaret Atwood and invited to sit on a Publishing Scotland panel at this year’s annual conference – testament to how swiftly they’ve made their mark in the industry. Their arrival on the publishing scene has been nothing short of electric – indeed, if I was a betting woman, I’d put good money on them winning the Saltire Society’s Publisher of the Year Award, if not this year then at some point in the near future.
Part of this success has surely come from 404 Ink’s canny ability to establish dialogues with their readers long before ink is committed to paper. They post frequently on their blog, updating their backers on what they’re doing. They interact with their authors and followers on Twitter with the sort of informal charm and authenticity that big publishers struggle to achieve. And judging by the overwhelmingly positive response to Nasty Women, they’ve tapped into a cultural conversation with an enduring international appeal.
I’ll let them tell you the rest in their own words. Here’s 404 Ink on their ethos and publishing journey so far.
You’ve both worked for ‘traditional’ publishers, but 404 Ink has a distinctly non-traditional business model. How did that alternative approach appeal to you?
We knew from the get-go that we wanted crowdfunding to be a considerable element of our business model. Using crowdfunding to kickstart a company is not a new method by any means, but we had yet to see it used as a long-term strategy in publishing (apart from Unbound, who nail their particular crowdfunding model brilliantly).
One of the big aims for 404 Ink is brand loyalty and using Patreon as a subscription model for our magazine is one of our ways of reaching for that. The amount of money we receive per issue on there is publicly visible and we plan for our subscribers to have a say in what we publish down the line. We love the two-way street that crowdfunding creates between readers and publishers, breaking down mysterious walls and offering transparency instead. There’s an element of trust in it, which makes us accountable to make good books, a kind of pressure that keeps us on our toes and always doing our best.
What has been the most challenging part of the 404 Ink journey so far?
Forgive us for this boring but truthful answer: the most difficult part of 404 so far has probably been time and priority management. [We] both work freelance and have numerous jobs and clients that need our continued attention. 404 Ink was meant to be something of a side-project for the time being, but the unanticipated attention from the success of Nasty Women’s Kickstarter has meant that it’s taking a lot more of our time and attention than we budgeted for! Of course, this is a fantastic problem to have!
We’re having to figure out the less sexy behind-the-scenes things like distribution, sales and event management that we didn’t expect to be handling so soon. It’s all a bit of a whirlwind and we’re still finding our feet, but we’re doing it and, we hope, doing it well. We couldn’t have done it without a lot of help along the way from a lot of people so we owe a hell of a lot of drinks! (Once things have calmed down a bit…)
As press coverage for Nasty Women gathers momentum, 404 Ink has being hailed as the new, cutting-edge voice of Scottish publishing. How do you think 404 has redefined (or will redefine) the ‘booky bubble’ in Scotland?
We’ve ironically received such praise of being ‘cutting-edge’ in Scotland without us actually referring to ourselves as a Scottish publisher all that much. We typically describe ourselves as a ‘UK-based’ publisher because we are deeply aware of how misrepresented Scottish books and publishers typically are beyond our borders. Often wrongly disregarded, seen as irrelevant and parochial, we’ve had first-hand experience in previous jobs seeing Scottish publishers dismissed because of geography and we wondered how we could avoid this.
By letting the 404 list speak for itself and garnering nation-wide press for the titles, we hope that people see and appreciate the quality writing before they see the address of the publisher. Once our list is a little larger and reputation a little stronger we hope to break out of the Scottish ‘booky bubble’ and point readers back to the amazing writing coming out of Scotland today.
We don’t know if we’re bombastic enough to claim that we’re redefining the Scottish book bubble but we do know that we want to bring a bit of fun to the industry while tackling some big and difficult subjects head on.
Nasty Women features an array of new and established female voices on the subject of being a woman in the 21st century. Can you tell us a little about what we can expect from the book?
Punk, power, Brexit, role models, sexual assault, immigration, pregnancy, Trump’s America, contraception, fetishisation – that’s just skimming the surface. Each contributor tackles an experience, prejudice or politics that needs voicing and does so in their own way. Some essays verge on academic, some are descriptive personal accounts and some are more fictionally creative – all essential and riveting reading.
Chitra Ramaswamy writes about seeing the poetry in pregnancy, Nadine Aisha Jassat implores the power of naming, Elise Hines tells her adventures as a half-Black woman in America, Ren Aldridge explores gendered violence in the punk rock community, Jen McGregor laments a painful relationship with contraception, Zeba Talkhani tackles what it is to be ‘good’ in her religion, Belle Owen explains why she won’t let her disability hold her back – the list goes on.
We learned so much working on the pieces, our eyes opened to our own privileges and what we can do to help our fellow feminists. It’s been humbling to work with such a range of empowered and empowering women, [and] we can’t help but burst with pride that we’re able to offer a platform for them to share their stories. We’ve been prompting women to ‘tell their stories and tell them loud’ – Nasty Women is the 200+ page starting point that kickstarts an essential push-back against dangerous rhetoric that is seeping into political and personal dialogue today.
Finally, how does the future look for 404 Ink? Has your success so far led you to expand on your initial expectations for the company?
Our plans aren’t about expanding as much as they are about establishing. The success has been amazing, but at this point we only have two publications so we still have a lot to prove. A start-up is always sexy, but what is today’s shiny new toy is often tomorrow’s forgotten, dusty plaything. We don’t want and don’t plan to disappear after the hype has worn off but we also know this kind of momentum would be nigh on impossible to keep up.
Instead of relying on the hype, we plan on publishing something very different compared to Nasty Women in hopefully mid-2017 that will give readers a better idea of what 404 is about. Despite our utter dedication to Nasty Women and its message, 404 Ink isn’t solely a feminist publisher or a publisher of women only, despite what some have assumed. We hope our next titles will reflect this and establish our reputation as the exciting, kick-ass Scottish publisher we set out to be.
404 Ink is a new, alternative and independent publisher of books and a literary magazine based in the UK. Founded by Heather McDaid and Laura Jones in mid-2016, they sought to publish a little differently, namely with crowdfunding and loud marketing at the heart of their operations. Looking to champion the more weird and wonderful writers both within and outwith Scotland, their first magazine arrived in November 2016 and did just that – showcased some dark, hilarious and memorable stories, poems and comics in English and Scottish Gaelic. Their debut book Nasty Women, a collection of essays and accounts on what it is to be a woman in the 21st century, publishes on International Women’s Day (8 March) following the highly successful Kickstarter campaign.