Small Norfolk publisher sprinkled with success

A small publisher based in a terraced house in Cromer was this week rubbing shoulders with the publishing giants at the Booker Prize. KEIRON PIM find out more about Salt Publishing.

When Chris and Jennifer Hamilton-Emery found out that their small publishing house had a novel on the Man Booker Prize long list they were stunned.

When they found out a month ago that it had made the shortlist they wandered off in a daze to celebrate their success with a drink at the bar on Cromer Pier.

This week they were in the grander surroundings of the City of London's Guildhall to learn whether The Lighthouse by Alison Moore had been chosen as the winner from the six-strong shortlist.

Though it didn't scoop the prize, the fact they were among hundreds of the British literary world's prime movers at the black-tie event, confirmed Salt Publishing's ascent to its place as one of the country's leading independent presses.

This weekend they are back at their terraced home in Cromer attending to the rest of their titles: short story collections, poetry, examples of literary fiction such as Moore's lauded novel.

The Lighthouse opens with her protagonist Futh standing aboard a rain-lashed North Sea ferry to Holland: he is on his way to Germany, intending to gain perspective on his recently failed marriage by taking a solitary hiking holiday. But as this atmospheric, subtly creepy and compelling novel unfolds, it appears that he is walking towards a troubling destination.

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The Lighthouse's success means good news for Salt, and has brought with it a deluge of new experiences.

'The next day, after the short-listing, it all went absolutely mad,' says Chris. 'We had quickly sent a reprint to the press beforehand and these sold instantly after the announcement.

'We have got a very big Twitter following, and using social media we created quite a powerful word-of-mouth campaign and the book took off.

'Then we printed 40,000 copies. The difficult thing about being long-listed is that you have to prepare for short-listing even though you can't believe it will happen! We had to prepare for a massive print run and find money for that. You're doing everything as if you'll be shortlisted. We sold about 25,000 copies in one day. We haven't sold 3,000 copies of any previous book.

'Meanwhile, there was the rest of our list – we had a few almost all-night sessions to keep our other books going.

'It's taken us to a lot of new places and into things we hadn't dealt with before, particularly on overseas rights. The genres we previously published, people wouldn't be interested in publishing around the world.'

Just last week, for instance, came confirmation that The Lighthouse will be translated into Turkish.

The novel came to them via one of their editors, Nicholas Royle, who lives in Manchester, as does its author.

'We brought him in some years ago to edit the Best British Short Stories,' says Jen. 'We asked him to bring in four novels a year and the first was this. We thought 'We've got to back him'. He had nurtured Alison: he found her through a writing competition he was judging and brought her on from there.'

This ability to focus closely on the careers of emerging writers is one of the strengths of a small independent press, as is the fact that they can publish books the big multinationals – Random House, HarperCollins et al – would deem commercially unviable.

'I wouldn't want to be unfair to the corporates,' says Chris. 'We are often prepared to take risks that a larger company might not be prepared to take, and operate in areas where the economics don't work out for the corporates, like short stories and poetry. The big businesses have to focus on big books with more chance of being bestsellers.

'We're also very good at spotting talent early and nurturing it. We're often a first step in a writer's career. We don't get anxious about that!'

The couple moved to Cromer with their three children in 2011. Chris is a well-regarded poet – his latest collection The Departure is shortlisted in the EDP-Jarrold East Anglian Book Awards – and before he and Jen began running Salt 12 years ago, he was a director of the Cambridge University Press.

Jen works as Salt's fiction editor. It was she who submitted The Lighthouse for the Booker, and she who heard that it had been shortlisted: 'I was just watching your face changing colour,' remembers Chris. 'You said 'We've been shortlisted…', and it took minutes and minutes to sink in.'

'We sent it in just because it was something we felt we should do,' Jen adds. 'We didn't for a minute think we had a chance.'

t The Lighthouse is published by Salt priced �8.99.