I run Peirene, an independent publishing house that specialises in foreign literature in English translation. I also write novels. My novels are published by Salt Publishing.
To balance writing and running a publishing house can of course be a challenge. Both require a lot of time and in many ways each requires skills from opposite sides of the brain - running a company relies heavily on the organising capacities of the left hemisphere while the creative process requires a connection with the free-flowing right hemisphere. Sometimes I can feel the strain as I switch from one side to the other.
However, both activities also benefit from each other. Here are ten of my most valuable insights I have gained by being both.
Focus/Vision: As a publisher I have learnt from writing to trust the creative process without losing focus. When I set up Peirene many people told me that concentrating on translated literary fiction of under 200 pages represents commercial suicide. I held onto my vision and we found a way to build a community of trusted readers - through our salons, pop-up stalls, subscriptions and literary newspaper.
Moaning: Writers love to moan about their ineffective publishers, and publishers like to complain about their uncooperative writers. Since I now know both sides, I have discovered that usually everyone is trying their best, and therefore I am much more likely to be appreciative than to criticise.
Team Work: A difficult lesson for a writer to accept. But a book doesn't happen without the creative input of editor, proofreader and designer. Just take a look at the stunning cover of 'Kauthar'. The artist Whitney McVeigh, the designer Sacha Davison Lunt and my publisher Salt turned the book into what it is now.
Marketing: Writing and publishing a book is easy. But how do you convince people to read the book? The real challenge is marketing. And in order to sell a book well you have to be able to tell a good story about it.
Literary Quality: As a writer I have learnt from the authors who I have published. Veronique Olmi for her courageous portrayal of a woman who commits an unforgivable crime; Birgit Vanderbeke for handling an important historical moment from a personal angle; and any number of authors for teaching me the power of compression and strong voices.
Demystification: I used to approach authors with awe and assume that the publishing process only involved an elite. I now know better. In an age of web-sites and e-books, publishing has been democratized and everyone who wants to write should. We live in exciting times.
Guilt: Carving out space and time for my own creative needs used to make me feel guilty. It often felt like a self-centered, self-serving interest. Helping other writers to find an audience for their work has relieved me of that guilt.
Time Management: I write for four hours in the morning then I switch my attention to Peirene. If I decide to waste my time for four hours on facebook, I still have to switch to Peirene afterwards. So I might as well write.
Social Media: In my weekly blog 'The Pain & Passion of a Small Publisher' I have personified Peirene, the ancient Greek nymph who gives my publishing house its name. Peirene is my alter ego. The blog raises the profile of the press - but I couldn't sustain it if I hadn't learnt the disciplines of creative writing.
Stamina: The most important characteristic you need for both jobs.