Apr 19

The Business of Books: Passion For Publishing

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the-business-of-books-interviewswithjanecableThis week I’m genuinely excited to welcome Karen Sullivan, the powerhouse behind the most talked-about independent publisher in the UK

1)   What is your book related job or business?

I am publisher and owner of Orenda Books, an independent publisher that specializes in literary fiction, with a heavy emphasis on crime thrillers and about half in translation. We turned ‘two’ last November.


2)   What is the most rewarding part of it?

In all honesty, all of it is rewarding. It is a genuine privilege to be in a position to work with talented authors from around the world, and to bring them and their brilliant books to readers. The Orenda list is very much my own taste, and I account to no one, so while I can often feel quite exposed when a new book comes out, it makes the positive response all the more exciting. With each little success, there is more attention paid to the list as a whole, and everyone benefits. 


I love the thrill of finding a new book, and working with authors from the moment a book is signed, right through the editing process and then onto marketing and PR and even sales … none of the original excitement is diluted en route. One of the most moving and satisfying parts of my job is publishing debuts, making some often very long-held dreams a reality. I work incredibly long hours, but as we inch towards increasingly strong book sales across all formats, shortlists for awards, mainstream press, invitations to prestigious festivals, and fantastic endorsements from highly regarded authors, every challenging moment is worthwhile and I am in a constant state of wonder that this is mine!


karen sullivan, writing, publishing, Jane cable

Credit: Ian Patrick


3)   What do you consider to be your major successes?

There have been many! It was fabulous to be shortlisted (twice) for the Nick Robinson Newcomer Award at the Independent Publishing Awards. Watching Ragnar Jonasson’s debut novel Snowblind knock The Girl on the Train off the number-one kindle spot for the first time was unbelievable (sorry, Paula!), as were the exceptional sales of the Dark Iceland series. We’ve had three books selected for the excellent WHSmith Fresh Talent promotion (Amanda Jennings’ In Her Wake, Agnes Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal ­[translated by Rosie Hedger] and Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories), and The Bird Tribunal was a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime. Ragnar’s Nightblind won Most Captivating Crime in Translation at the Dead Good Reads Awards at Harrogate, and In Her Wake was shortlisted for Most Recommended Read. Louise Beech’s How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Pick, as was Ragnar’s Blackout. David F. Ross’s The Last Days of Disco was sold for stage to the Scottish National Theatre, and to Random House in Germany. It was the first-ever book that I published, and a massive boost! 


There are more of these ‘individual successes’, but I suppose the most exciting thing is to see the company grow. We quadrupled turnover in less than two years, and Orenda Books is definitely becoming a recognizable name both with readers and in the trade. Every positive review (and there are thousands), every bit of support from the ‘community’, every opportunity to bring my brilliant authors to festivals and events and bookshops, has added to the thrill of it all.  



4)   Have you always loved books, and what are you reading at the moment?

I have always been a reader. My dad was transferred a lot when I was young, and books were my solace and my friends. I would take a dozen books out of the library every week and be transported! When I was about eleven, I read a novel where the protagonist got a job in a publishing house, reading the slush pile. I couldn’t believe it! That was a job? And here I am! I always have a few books on the go. I’m reading Stav Sherez’s The Intrusions and Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent at the moment, plus first drafts by Orenda authors, including Louise Beech’s Maria in the Moon and Michael J. Malone’s House of Spines. All are AMAZING!


Karen Sullivan is founder and publisher of independent publisher Orenda Books, and a Bookseller Rising Star for 2016.