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Owl Meets Dodo – The Dodo Ink Q&A

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It was around this time last year that I became one of many readers who pledged to the ‘Grand Dodo Ink Kickstarter’ to help launch an independent press and the daring fiction it hoped to publish. Fast forward a year and their first title, Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen has been published. I was delighted to have the opportunity to ask Thom (and the Dodo himself!) about all things Dodo Ink…

Thank you for joining me on my blog to talk about Dodo Ink! First of all, could you tell us a little about yourselves and how Dodo Ink came about? What was it that inspired you to set up your own independent press?

Thom: It’s a pleasure! Dodo Ink started with an idea – what would happen if a blogger and an author got together to start a small press? Me and Sam had both been around the publishing world for a long time, and we saw that writers we admired were struggling to get deals – the buzzword was ‘risk-averse’. We felt like there was still a need for books that take risks and challenge readers, as the success of novels like A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing shows, and as passionate readers ourselves, we wanted to support non-mainstream work. We felt that our experiences could create a unique atmosphere at Dodo Ink – we involve our authors at every stage of the publishing process, from working on cover art to the promotional strategy, and we want to be known as a place where writers can develop their work without compromises.

The core Dodo Ink team is me, Sam Mills, and Alex Spears. I came into publishing through running my blog, Workshy Fop, and through running a quarterly literary salon in London with Sam, where we bought writers, publishers and reviewers together to socialise, gossip and get drunk. Sam is a novelist and editor, who has been published by Faber and Corsair – her most recent novel was the critically acclaimed Quiddity of Will Self. Alex is a digital marketing guru, who Sam first met when he worked on the campaign for Quiddity. We’ve also been joined by two associate editors, Tomoé Hill, the deputy editor of cult literary website Minor Literature[s], and Jessica Ballance, a bookseller and freelance editor. We also have a pet dodo, who lives in a hammock at Dodo HQ.

The Dodo: I remember it differently. I awoke from an absinthe-fuelled slumber with a goal – no, a vision! – of having my own independent publishing house. So I immediately ordered Sam and Thom to get on with making it happen. As for me, I was created in a top-secret German laboratory in 2004. I migrated to Soho shortly afterwards, and I have lived there ever since.

I love the Dodo Ink logo! What inspired this name and how do you feel it represents what you are aiming to achieve as a publisher?

Thom: The name comes in part from Sam’s habit of sketching dodos when she was signing copies of Quiddity. However, we also felt like it summed up a feeling of resignation in the publishing industry – we kept being told that the novel was dead, print books were dead, reviews sections were dead… we were starting to feel like an endangered species! But we wanted to embrace that feeling, and turn it into a strength.

The Dodo: Again, I feel like our memories are rather different. As I recall, my plan was to make sure my portrait appeared on every bookshelf in the land.

What would you say is the main aim of Dodo Ink? What is it that sets it apart from other publishers in what it promotes and the kind of stories you want to be told?

Thom: Our main aim is to provide a home for quality writing that is struggling to get accepted by mainstream publishers, and to celebrate novels which take risks. Our first thought should always be ‘what can we do to make our books as good as they can be?’, rather than ‘how do we make them more commercial?’. We don’t have a house style, but each of our novels challenges conventional thinking, whether that is about relationships, faith, the nature of memory or reality itself. Ultimately, we want people to see each of our novels as a recommendation from us, one reader to another. I think the fact that we’ve come to publishing from unusual angles, as writers, reviewers and book-lovers primarily, means that we are able to deal with our authors (and readers) in a very empathetic way, and be very open to their ideas.

There are many publishers we admire: Influx Press, Galley Beggar, Fitzcarraldo and And Other Stories were particular inspirations, and there’s a really supportive atmosphere in the indie publishing world, which is brilliant. The more people are looking to indie presses for inventive new writing, the better for all of us, and for the literary world in general.

The Dodo: What sets us apart? Well, that’s easy. Most publishers don’t have feathers.

Dodo Ink was supported through Kickstarter and last year you reached your fundraising target. How instrumental has this been in helping to launch Dodo Ink?

Thom: Completely essential, there’s no way we could have launched without the generous support we got. None of us has savings, or big incomes, so on a practical level it was vital. Beyond that, though, crowd-funding creates an amazing dynamic – we were really blown away by the enthusiasm people had for Dodo Ink, and the trust our backers put in us to produce something exciting. It really proves our point that there are people out there who are enthusiastic about daring and difficult fiction, whatever received wisdom in the industry says. It also gives us a community of hundreds of readers who we can talk to directly, keeping them up to date with what is happening, from choosing cover art to sending our titles to print.

The Dodo: I’m already planning my next Kickstarter campaign, for a new blend of absinthe brewed with fermented grasshoppers.

To create an independent press and see a book through to print must be an incredibly exciting experience. What would you say has been your most significant, rewarding moment during this process?

Thom: Definitely seeing the printed version of Dodge and Burn for the first time. It’s immensely rewarding to see a novel grow from a short story, through various drafts and edits over 18 months, into something you can actually hold in your hand. I’m delighted with the whole package, the artwork, the brilliant quotes we received, the novel itself – and also being able to see the list of backers who had supported us, whose names appear in the back on the book. We were also able to meet a number of backers at the launch party, which was great.

The Dodo: I enjoyed having my portrait painted for the logo.

What have you found most challenging about running an independent press?

Thom: Money, always money! As I’m sure any indie publisher would tell you. Apart from that, running Dodo Ink is incredibly time consuming, especially when we’re all working other jobs, so finding time to make edits on manuscripts, proof-read documents, update websites, reply to emails, post out review copies, commission cover art and so on is always a challenge. And, as a first-time publisher, you’re competing for space in bookshops and review pages with more established names, so finding new ways to get our books to readers is definitely something we have to put a lot of energy into.

The Dodo: A number of my exes, selling their spurious ‘kiss and tell’ stories to the papers now that I’m a literary superstar. Also, Thom asking me to move when I was roosting on a manuscript he wanted to edit, for some reason.

Dodo Ink is launching in 2016 with three launch titles. Can you tell us a little about these books and their authors?

Thom: Yes! Our debut novel, Dodge and Burn, is a psychedelic road-trip novel, about an American heiress, Eugenie Lund, and her twin Camille. The twins are kidnapped by the strange and ruthless Dr Vargas, after their mother dies in a freak accident involving killer bees. The first half of the novel is about their bizarre childhood; the second half follows Eugenie across America, as she searches for her missing twin. It’s honestly like nothing else we’ve read.

Our second, Wood Green by Sean Rabin, is about the relationship between two men, Lucian Clarke and Michael Pollard. Clarke is a renowned author, who once travelled the world like Hemingway, before settling in a small Tasmanian town called Wood Green, where he lives a reclusive life. He is joined there by Pollard, a young writer who has recently completed his PhD thesis on Clarke’s work, and comes to Wood Green to act as Clarke’s secretary. Both men have hidden agendas, and Pollard comes to realise he is playing a dangerous game… there’s a very Twin Peaks feel to the setting, and a brilliant cast of eccentric characters. There have already been some great reviews for Wood Green in Australia, where it was released earlier this year.

The third novel is The Eleventh Letter by Tom Tomaszewski. This is a real genre-twisting novel – part ghost story, part murder mystery, part love story. On a snowy night in London, a psychotherapist is joined in his office by a mysterious female visitor. Over the course of the evening, he replays tapes from a murder investigation he had been involved in, decades before. As he listens, he begins to wonder if the woman he once tried to defend is as innocent as he had thought. Was she involved in the killings, or were they work of the savage serial killer that became known as the Wolfman? There are also some very good Bowie references in this one.

You can read extracts from all three books on our website.

The Dodo: I have thoroughly enjoyed munching them all.

The launch titles certainly sound interesting. What is it that makes a story stand out to you? What do you look for in a manuscript?

Thom: With Dodge and Burn, we read the first sentence and knew that we had to sign it! That instinctive reaction is very important. Generally, though, we look for writers who take risks, who don’t fit easily into categories. Our novels have to have a strong story running through them too, though – The Raw Shark Texts is a great example of a book which inspired us, we love the way Steven Hall mixed experimental writing with a very engaging love story.

The Dodo: I like books with lots of wildlife in. No sparrows though, I can’t stand sparrows.

What can we expect to see from Dodo Ink in the future, do you have any exciting plans ahead that you can tell us about?

Thom: We’ve finalised our 2017 list, and we’re very excited about that – we’re working with three great writers, Monique Roffey, James Miller and Neil Griffiths. The novels are extremely different in style, but they all look at belief systems is very interesting ways. We’ll be able to tell you more about each soon, so keep an eye out for that!

The Dodo: This is just the beginning. First, the publishing industry – next, the world!

If you were to sum up Dodo Ink in just three words, what would they be?

Thom: Daring and different

The Dodo: Alive and kicking

Thanks again to Thom and the Dodo for joining me on the blog! If you would like to keep up with the latest news from Dodo Ink you can check out their website here.

Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen is available to buy now, you can order your copy from Waterstones, Foyles or Amazon.

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