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Publishing Interview with Andy at Seventy2One

Recently, I caught up with Andy Leach of Seventy2One – a publishing imprint of Massive Overheads.

Hi Andy – cheers for getting involved. Great to have you on the blog.

To start things off, can you tell my readers some more about Seventy2One and Massive Overheads?

What’s your angle as a publisher, and what sort of literature do you want to deliver to your audience?

Hi, John, good to be here. Massive Overheads Productions is essentially me and my pal Alec Bowman-Clarke.

Alec’s a photographer, filmmaker and musician. We’d met via Twitter and talked about doing a project together. In 2020 I mooted the idea of a short film and sent Alec a script I’d written. He liked it, so as the UK came out of lockdown we started making a film, called Overheads. The experience was great for both of us, so we set up a creative collaboration called Massive Overheads Productions, through which we could put any other work that we might do together. Over time I began to like the idea of Massive Overheads being more than short films, and so when I decided to set up a publishing imprint, I put it under the same umbrella.

Seventy2One was essentially born out of frustration. My friend (writer) Hannah Persaud and I had long talked about how we’d like to run a small press. In 2021 we found ourselves in similar positions; we’d both recently split from agents, were both frustrated at both the pace and lack of originality in publishing. 

"I want to concentrate on short stories, in a genre I'd call accessible literary. Bite-sized pieces of art."

So we decided to do something about it and created Seventy2One. In July 2021 we agreed that the first book would be a collection of short stories, focusing on the climate emergency. Somehow, 80% of the writers we contacted about it said yes, and it came together quickly, enabling us to launch Sunburnt Saints in November.

Hannah stepped away from the project after Sunburnt Saints came out; she’s still an enthusiastic supporter and we’re still good friends, just that the demands of Seventy2One didn’t sit with the rest of her life at the moment. Whereas I had 101 ideas about how I wanted to progress the imprint, so decided to take it on myself. 

I want to concentrate on short stories, in a genre I’d call accessible literary. Bite-sized pieces of art.

I hear that a lot from indie publishers in terms of a lack of pace and originality. Could you expand upon it a little?

And regarding your point on making literary writing accessible, I think that’s a really great endeavour. Some readers I speak to on a regular basis tend to be quite put off by literary fiction.

Speaking as a marketer, I think your Twitter presence gets that ‘accessible literary’ vibe across really well to be honest.

Thanks for saying that we’re managing to get what we’re about across on Twitter; it’s certainly been a good place to grow our community.

I’ve always found the term [literary fiction] to be somewhat pretentious, a bit up its own backside. It suggests a denigration of other genres in favour of itself, a sort of ‘one true calling’ of book genres. But as we seem stuck with it, what I mean by it is something that’s original, that uses language to communicate as much as story, if that makes sense, and which doesn’t follow a conventional pattern. Those type of books have always been more interesting to me. 

But essentially it’s a nonsense term. I remember a Booker longlister being described as a litfic crossover with crime and thinking ‘Stop trying to pigeonhole books! It’s just a damn good book that happens to be about a crime.’

As to pace and originality, there are times when publishing feels like a sausage factory, a never-ending line of genre-based identi-books. And then when something new does come along and become an unexpected hit, everyone spends the next eighteen months trying to pull off a repeat of it with sub-standard replica books.

The pace thing is a mystery to me. Books are written within a timeframe and yet by the time they come out, the author has moved on, is probably interested in different things, is writing different things, so they’re always retrospective. I’m less bothered as to why this is the case (because I’m sure someone from Harper Collins or wherever would have an answer) than the fact that it just shouldn’t, needn’t be the case.

For me and what I’m trying to do at Seventy2One, it’s back to that late ’70s early ’80’s ethic of immediacy, of writing it, editing it and getting it out all within a pretty short period of time. And then move on to the next one, knowing that the best of them will stand any test of time as great works.

At Seventy2One, you’re all about chapbooks.

What are they exactly, what made you opt for that format, and how do they differ from a regular paperback?

It’s all about chapbooks for now. Going forward, there will be other projects. I think chapbooks suit the short story format really well. They allow short stories to stand up for themselves in the way that a novel would, rather than getting lost within an anthology. I find the best short stories more satisfying than most novels.

"Think high-end punk aesthetic. The Elvis Costello of publishing! "

There are lots of definitions of ‘chapbooks’ online; as I understand it. They originated in the sixteenth century as little folded pamphlets, and were popularised in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as print became more accessible. ‘Chap’ books because they were sold at the roadside by chap men: pedlars and street sellers. Chap taken from the old English cäep, meaning ‘cheap.’

The modern resurgence tends to mean little books of 40 pages or less. Mine are 28 pages from cover to cover. I wanted them to be easily affordable but with great writers, quick, unpretentious, accessible, things you could slip into a pocket or handbag, but at the same time retain a literary integrity. Think high-end punk aesthetic. The Elvis Costello of publishing!

On a similar note, you’re a subscription-only publisher.

What made you take that route, vs the traditional method of selling books for a one-off fixed price?

I think the traditional method is broken. I spent some time working as a bookseller at a branch of Waterstones, ostensibly to gain more insight into the UK fiction publishing market. 

I started wondering why they made Greta Thunberg ‘author of the year’ yet positioned her books at the till, surrounded by plastic toys and all sorts of environmentally ridiculous bits and bobs. I got told that’s where the profit is. It’s not in books. And then you have great indie publishers putting out some terrific work that are one flop away from going bust. 

I also think distributors have too much power. So I wanted to see if things could be done differently. Subscription builds a community among Seventy2One’s readers and also means the cost can be kept low. Times are so tough for so many at the moment, that spreading the cost of four storybooks over a year at just £1.50 a month means that perhaps people might be able to manage that, rather than an outlay on one individual book. 

Books are, after all, a luxury item. At least when compared to food and energy costs.

Wow, that’s pretty telling.

I must admit my (and a fair few others’) eyebrows were raised when last year’s Waterstones Book of the Year was Paul McCartney’s book (selling for around £75 no less!)

I think the booksellers at high street bookshops do a great job, and I’ve got a lot of time for them, but it’s pretty interesting to get that insight from a higher-up commercials point of view.

Yes, the McCartney book is another good illustration as to what’s wrong.

No one loves McCartney more than me, I think he’s up there with Mozart as just the greatest composer we’ve ever known, the definition of a living legend. But for a £75 book to be Book of the Year suggests someone somewhere is trying to claw back a huge advance!

I noticed that you published an anthology on climate change in Sunburnt Saints – you’ve got some really talented writers in there!

What impact do you think writers, and indeed publishers, can have on influencing positive action towards climate change?

To a certain extent we’re preaching to the choir. If you have a book subtitled ‘An anthology of climate fiction’ it’s not going to be bought and considered by those in denial. By the same token, I think it’s vital that we, everyone, not just writers and publishers, continue to engage with the subject, learn more, demand more, take action, make better decisions. 

And the one thing writers and publishers can do is use their voice, their platform, to continue to raise awareness, to show what’s happening. If one story in that collection made one reader out of hundreds stop and think and make a better choice with the environmental crisis in mind, it’s done its job.

What are the main challenges you face as an indie publisher? In an ideal world, what would you change overnight?

Seventy2One’s challenges are those that face any new brand: awareness and customer acquisition. The quicker we can grow, the sooner we can bring out more books and do more things. 

But it’s very easy to lose money in publishing! So it’s a constant battle between seeking growth and finding out what works. 

In terms of changes, my initial reaction was to restore the net book agreement, but in retrospect that ship has sailed. I think changing the distribution landscape would bring most benefits to indies. Distribution deals that don’t allow for more than a certain percentage of returns would make a more level playing field. At the moment the publisher takes the risk at both ends of the market and that can’t be right.

Yeah, distribution returns can be a real pain point for small press. I can imagine it’s incredibly hard to manage the budget with that in mind.

For my readers who aren’t aware of distribution agreements, essentially, how it works is that a publisher sells an inventory of books to the distributors, who then move them on to retailers.

If the stock isn’t shifted by the retailer (or not shifted after a stipulated period of time) the books get sent back to the publisher and the publisher essentially has to reimburse the distributor accordingly.

Pretty much, plus a distributor can, for example, charge the publisher for its services on a weekly basis and then agree to pay the publisher for books sold monthly or quarterly, so it becomes a cashflow issue too.

Do you think there’s an appetite for that sort of change? Presumably it would have to come from the bigger publishers.

There are a number of small distributors out there, but since Bertrams’ demise it’s basically Gardners, so it’s fair to say a large percentage of the market is sewn up. And of course, the big publishers have their own distribution services, too. Grantham Book Services, for example, is owned by Penguin Random House.

But things are changing, indeed have been changing since Amazon entered the UK 15 years ago (yes, it’s only been 15 years!). Don’t forget, Amazon’s original offer was built around books. They were the first real modern disruptor to the books market and offered all sorts of differences to the consumer and to writers.

And from a Seventy2One point of view, I see lots of things being sold by subscription that in times past you’d never have thought would have been: wine, fruit and veg, beauty products, vinyl records, gadgets, cheese… they’re all available on subscription. We’re just adopting a retail method that’s proven in other sectors. 

Big thanks to Andy for getting involved. If you enjoyed this interview, leave a comment below and head over to Massive Overheads to find out more!

10 Brilliant Book Bloggers to Follow in 2022

10 Brilliant Book Bloggers to Follow in 2022

So, the wonderful folks at Pages Unbound are running a monthly posting challenge designed to support book bloggers in 2022.

There aren’t any particularly strict rules to #BookBloggerSupport22 – feel free to try the challenges in any order – but it must focus on bloggers. We love our BookTuber and Bookstagram comrades and friends, but this is designed to promote longer-form written content.

The first challenge I’m choosing to tackle is to list 10 brilliant book bloggers to follow in 2022 – if you’re not on this list, I still love you. Promise.

Pages Unbound

The creator of this challenge deserves a shout out.

Pages Unbound is easily one of the best book blogs on the internet, with a diverse mix of classical literature and YA fiction. 

Briana & Krysta are amazing at creating (and promoting) their bookish content – if I’m ever half as successful as them, I’d be thrilled.

Rebbie Reviews

Rebbie Reviews is an absolute star. Again, a really fine book blogger. She takes part in The Write Reads book tour circuit fairly frequently, so you can guarantee you’ll find some interesting independently published books on her blog.

She also brought my attention to a really interesting used book scheme that is promoting literacy in the UK, whilst reducing waste.. 

Spells & Spaceships

Alex @ Spells & Spaceships has cornered the SFF book blogging game like an absolute pro.

His interviews with authors are always interesting, and his famed #Norsevember month of Norse-based content is really impressive.

Little Bird Book Blog

Little Bird Book Blog has captured a really neat aesthetic; it’s approachable and captures what Rosie, the blogger, is all about.

She has a very conversational writing style, which brings you closer to the writing itself. I really enjoy that aspect of her blogging.

Esther @ Cozy With Books

Cozy with Books once posted 100 blog posts in 100 days. That’s how seriously she takes blogging. Her dedication is matched equally by her quality of content.

We don’t typically read the same books, but that’s partly why I enjoy her blog so much – it exposes me to other types of writing.

Plus, Esther’s just a really flipping nice person.

Literary Time Machine

Speaking of great people, Chantelle’s blog, Literary Time Machine, is one I started following only recently. She’s a historical fiction book blogger and possesses a MA in Holocaust Studies.

An active social media user, Chantelle is kind, conscientious, and always posts something fascinating each day.

I don’t tend to read much historical fiction, but there are a handful of books on Literary Time Machine that I’ve since added to my TBR!

Lit Lemon Books

Mackenzie @ Lit Lemon Books is brilliant. She posts regular, diverse book-related content – as well as some fun ‘beyond bookish’ posts including her favourite scary movies

Interestingly, she’s also challenging herself to ‘read for free’ in 2022, by supporting local libraries. For many of us, the idea of not buying new books for an entire year is virtually impossible, so do check in and see how she’s doing!

Owl Be Sat Reading

Owl be Sat Reading is a phenomenal book reviewer and a real credit to the Book Twitter community. On her blog, expect to find reviews of the latest ARCs – especially in both women’s fiction and horror.

Jennie @ The Redhead Notes

Jennie only started her book blogging journey recently, hence I only came across The Redhead Notes a short while ago.

It’s a stunning website and I think she’ll go really far in the book blogging community, so head over and give her a follow. Her guide to tea drinking is a great place to start! 

Bookaholic Bex

Bex is one of the funniest, most authentic people on Twitter – and a super passionate blogger. After all, she’s focused on ‘books, more books, and nothing but the books’!

If you’re not following Bex, you’re missing out big time.

Got any bloggers you want to give a shout out to? Post a link to their site below!

Desert Island Lit | Episode 3 (BooksNest)

Beth | BooksNest

Beth is an award-winning blogger and BookTuber.

She also writes about mental health, blogging & social media tips, feminism, sex positivity and travel.

As one of my favourite content creators, it’s an absolute pleasure to host her.

Welcome to Desert Island Lit. In this episode, I’m thrilled to be joined by the delightful Beth of BooksNest.

In this series, I ask my guests to pick five – and only five – books to take with them to the Island of Absurdia. A solitary island where one whiles away their days in joyful isolation, accompanied only by their favourite literature!

Swept away on an existential tide, Beth finds herself in solitary confinement on the Isle of Absurdia.

And because we’re on the Isle of Absurdia, our esteemed guest will, as always, receive a copy of The Myth of Sisyphus and a luxury item of their choice. In this case, she’s picked a cinema popcorn machine – large but of course necessary.

Beth's Desert Island Lit Picks

Is anyone surprised… probably not.

I have a few reasons for picking this book, not only is it huge and therefore would take me a good chunk of time to read, but also there’s so much to discover from it in each reread. I feel I could read it as a different book each time which would be an excellent source of entertainment for me. There are so many messages in Tolkien’s books and I love the way we all read them differently. 

The world of The Lord of the Rings has been with me ever since the first film came out when I was a child. I loved the elves the very best; their elegant movements and skill with a bow and arrow. My grandad actually made me my very own bow and arrow so I could be like Legolas in a nearby forest.

In short, this world has been with me since childhood and will be with me for my whole life I expect. It’s something I have a very personal connection with on quite a few levels. 

It wasn’t until a few years ago I first read the books, which I think was the perfect time for me to read them and love them. I’m already considering a reread, so it’s a good thing this tome would be with me on a desert island! I loved comparing the books to the films, of which the films have stayed incredibly true. And seeing my favourite characters come to life in a whole new way.

I’m sure there are better yoga books out there – but this is the one on my shelves. If I’m going to be abandoned on an island, I’d like to find some zen and get really good at something that will help my body and mind. I’ve always enjoyed yoga, but I’ve never dedicated enough time to get particularly good at it, so I guess this would be my time! 

I find exercising is always something I think negatively about, despite the good it does for me. But there is something about yoga that makes me hate it a little less. The release it gives when your muscles start to stretch and your body feels more open, is quite brilliant. 

It pains me to give away a perfectly good slot to a book about exercise, but I think I’d thank myself for it.

This has quickly become one of my favourite books. I read it in 2020 and it’s stayed with me ever since. This is a book about a man who can bring the characters from other books out of their pages and into the real world. This is based around books we would know and love, such as Matilda and The Chronicles of Narnia

It follows two brothers within its story, the magical brother and the one trying to help. We’re following the latter as he tries to get to the bottom of something much larger at play. Along this journey we see a fictional street being created where all of these fictional characters can live together. Seeing them interact with each other and be so true to their original depictions, is any fiction lover’s dream!  

The reason I’ve picked this, other than it being absolutely excellent, is also because it’s almost like getting multiple books for the price of one. Because this book features characters from childhood and adult classics alike, it feels like you’re also getting the familiarity of those books too. It’s a rather lovely experience to rediscover these characters in new ways and see what adventures they dive into in The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep.

I was wracking my brain to think of books that would cover a range of genres, so far we’ve had high fantasy, contemporary fantasy, exercise (uhh exercise), so it was about time for a historical romance. 

If you haven’t heard of this book then perhaps you’ve been living on a desert island because it is AMAZING. It follows the life of Evelyn Hugo, a Hollywood starlet in the 50’s onwards as she experiences rises and falls in her career and also seven marriages along the way. This is one of the best books I have ever read. It is brilliantly written, captivating and tender, tense and emotional, it has everything an amazing work of fiction needs to keep its readers hooked. So I think it would keep me endlessly entertained on a desert island. 

I remember my first (and only – so far) read of this book was in the autumn of 2018. I listened to it as an audiobook on my way to and from work and I can still remember the feeling of listening to it every day. It became the anthem for my commute and gave me something to look forward to each time I drove my car. It really is a book with an atmosphere that just stays with you so perfectly – how could I not pick it for this list?!

I thought long and hard about my final book for this list, especially trying to pick a stand alone vs a book in a series I’d never be able to finish stranded on this island.

There was a lot in contention, but I wanted something long enough to entertain me for a while, and something that felt warm and wholesome. I went for Little Women in the end, a book I only very recently read for the first time, in December 2021. 

I wouldn’t say it’s a favourite book of mine, but it’s in this list for one simple reason. It feels like home. 

My logic being, if I’m stuck alone on this island I’m of course going to be homesick, I’d yearn for family and friends, for companionship and for traditions and festivities. Little Women is pretty much the first book I thought of that had all of these things. It’s pages are filled with the stories of the March sisters and their lives as they grow from girls to young women. I know I could turn to any chapter and feel comforted by their stories. 

I think this book really resonated with me because it follows four very different paths these sisters take. I’m at a crossroad in life at the moment where I’m seeing a lot of friends my age go on to do very different things to those I am achieving and it can often feel strange. But for me, Little Women reminded me we all have our different routes in life and it doesn’t make them any less valid if they’re not the route everyone else is taking. 

Also having seen the recent film adaptation, I think I could picture this in my head too and have an even more visual reading experience. So really, this book would be like bringing a film with me too.

Big thanks to Beth for getting involved – it’s been a genuine pleasure to host one of the UK’s most popular BookTubers on the blog.

Let me know what you think of her selections in the comments below, and don’t forget to check out her blog, Patreon, and social channels 👇