Orenda Books is a small independent publisher focusing on literary fiction, with a heavy emphasis on crime thrillers. About half its titles are in translation. Founded in late 2014 by Karen Sullivan, Orenda began on a shoestring and has steadily developed its portfolio publishing six books in its first year, 15 this year and 20 are projected for 2017. It’s a company that really supports its authors, and as an indie publisher Orenda is a sponsor of New Talent November here on Crime Fiction Lover.
Thanks to the quality of the writing and the efforts of Karen, the books are getting noticed too. Orenda’s first ever book was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger while the second was sold for TV and stage, and has become a bestseller in Scotland. The shortlists for the Dead Good Reads Awards featured Kati Hiekkapelto’s The Defenceless, Ragnar Jonasson’s Nightblind and Amanda Jennings’ In Her Wake, with Jonasson the eventual winner. Karen received a Bookseller Rising Star this year and was shortlisted for Best Newcomer at the IPG Awards.
The Orenda approach
Orenda has a strong ethos based on giving opportunities to debut authors and sticking with them. It’s a company proud to produce beautiful, readable, excellent books that have a look and feel that’s equivalent to anything coming out of the bigger publishing houses.
“Everyone who is published here, or works with us on every level, is part of Team Orenda,” says Karen. “I truly want authors to experience something personal and special, with the support they need, all of their ideas taken seriously, their books given the full treatment before, during and after publication. I’m always surprised when publishers say that a book is dead, meaning they’ve moved on to something else. No book is ever dead here, and while it can take some time to get attention, we are in this for the long game.”
So, what makes Orenda different? “I suppose we have a bit of a boutique list, small and perfectly formed, but also commercial in many ways,” says Karen. “I love literary fiction, and will never take on an author who is not at the top of his or her game. The writing is fundamental. There are a lot of crime/thriller/other books out there, and I want people to feel confident that when they pick up an Orenda book, it will be outstanding on every level.
“We look after our authors, and with minimal overheads can be nimble and take chances – particularly on debuts – where the bigger companies don’t. There is a strong team mentality among the authors and everyone who works with us, and we try to ensure that it is a nice place to be! We produce beautiful books, on great paper, excellent jackets – truly brilliant reads across the board. One thing that probably makes us stand out is that we will continue to publish an author, regardless of instant or late-onset success.”
That’s all great news coming from a small publisher, but can it really compete with the big boys? Karen’s answer is an unequivocal yes.
“We pay small advances, but this is something I believe in. I do not want to tie up precious resources in big advances. I would far rather spend that money getting authors out there, and marketing the books. There can be nothing more demoralising for an author than receiving a royalty statement with an advance not earned out,” she says.
“Secondly, we don’t have huge marketing budgets, but we are sitting alongside the big publishers on awards short- and longlists, and certainly getting some good press attention. Ultimately, I feel that great books will sell, even if it takes a little longer! I am somewhat dismayed when bigger publishers swoop in with large advances to poach our authors, and we aren’t able to compete on that level. However, we have started from nothing and in less than two years achieved a lot. With every success, we are able to do more for all of the authors, and with great books, there should be every chance of competing in terms of sales, prizes, exposure and press attention. Just look at what some of the independents are doing now, with OneWorld winning the Booker Prize twice in row, and Saraband hitting the shortlist with Graeme Macrae Burnett’s His Bloody Project, to mention just two.”
Things are looking good for the future, too. All of the authors already on the Orenda list have second, third or fourth books coming out in 2017 and there are some highly anticipated debuts, including Steph Broadribb’s action thriller Deep Down Dead, Matt Wesolowski’s thriller Six Stories, Johana Gustawsson’s French noir debut Block 46 (translated by Maxim Jakubowski) and Sarah Stovell’s chilling psychological thriller Exquisite. Other names to look out for are Louise Beech, Matt Johnson, Michael Grothaus, Yusuf Toropov, Paul E Hardisty and David Ross.
But where does Karen see the company in five years’ time? “Hopefully doing exactly the same, holding tight to our ethos, publishing fabulous, intelligent books, widening the audience for translated fiction, and watching the books soar!”