I was asked the other day whether it was difficult to start Fly on the Wall Press. I said no. The real challenge was to keep a small press running.
Based in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, I’m proud to say that Fly on the Wall Press was named Small Press Regional Finalist for the British Book Awards 2023 for the fourth year running, as we head into the fifth year of the Press. We are a plucky one-woman publisher specialising in socially conscious, politically-engaged fiction, poetry, and cross-genre anthologies.
Fly on the Wall Press started with a simple desire to collaborate with other poets on a project close to my heart. That project turned out to be the mental health anthology, Please Hear What I’m Not Saying in 2018, and the response was overwhelming. More than 600 poets from around the world applied to be a part of it, and I selected 116. The success of that anthology led to a hunger for more, and since 2020 our annual publishing schedule (between 11 and 18 fiction and poetry books annually) has grown into a full-time career.
From the beginning, I knew that I wanted our books to generate debate. I am proud to publish fiction and poetry on the pressing issues of our time, being unafraid to generate conversations about perhaps ‘prickly’ subjects – for example, Disobedient Women by Sangeeta Mulay, a novel set-in modern-day Pune, India, with religious intolerance at its heart.
Charitable projects are a significant part of our yearly publishing schedule. We have worked with organisations such as Mind, Shelter, Crisis Aid UK, WWF, The Climate Coalition, and Street Child United. Many of our authors choose a charity to donate a proportion of their royalties to as well.
We have several challenges as a Northern publisher. The larger picture is that publishing is still a London-centric industry, and Northern publishers have to fight harder to receive press coverage and bookshop space. We have the worldwide issues of paper shortages and inflation as well. The smaller picture is that the vast majority of Northern publishers receive significant funding amounts from Arts Council England, local authorities and translation grants.
One of the reasons I feel we have been a finalist in the 2023 British Book Awards is our 42 per cent revenue increase last year, despite being unfunded. Don’t get me wrong, we’d love to be funded, but I also don’t want to compromise on the kind of books we publish, or how we publish them, and sometimes funding revolves around jumping through hoops.
My role as Managing Director of the Press involves reading submissions and choosing our authors for the next year (via an annual reading period, with some curation to ensure that we are telling a diverse range of stories), project management, editing, cover design, metadata for distribution, marketing and distribution, and events. My favourite dilemma today is upscaling our distribution models. In the past, we have used print on demand (great for the environment and for international distribution but not great profit margins) and, as of 2022, we moved to UK warehousing (print runs and storage, great for bookshop distribution, not great for international relations). Though this has made our audience UK-centric, I’m proud of our visibility in the vast majority of Waterstones and Blackwell’s chains in the UK, as well as independents. International warehousing is a challenge we haven’t yet tackled due to significant costs (and time constraints).
I think every small press waits for its break in terms of prize visibility. Notably, Shahe Mankerian’s History of Forgetfulness was longlisted for the Julie Suk Award 2021, Dr David Hartley’s Fauna was longlisted for the Edge Hill Prize 2022, and The Sound of the Earth Singing To Herself was longlisted for the Laurel Prize 2021. Next, I’d really love for FOTW to be recognised by prizes which champion political and diverse narratives.
Fly on the Wall Press has come a long way since its humble beginnings, and we’re now proud to be a staple in Waterstones, Blackwell’s, and indie bookshops around the country. But, at our core, we are still driven by a desire to make a difference in the world. We will continue to publish books that tackle important issues, raise money for charity, and spark conversations. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Fly on the Wall Press and the incredible authors we have the privilege to work with.
By Isabelle Kenyon, Director of Fly on the Wall Press
Main image by Isabelle Kenyon
For more information about Fly on the Wall Press, click here.