Interview with 404 Ink

Photo Credit: Sinead Grainger

Well it has been a busy year for 404 Ink with two critically- acclaimed book releases and a third on the way! Can you describe how it has been for you?
It’s very surreal, but very exciting. We decided to set up a publisher in 2016 and have been working away from a spare room since then, so it’s difficult to gauge how things will go down, or really get a perspective on how big things are getting. Being able to spend the year travelling across the UK and meeting people firsthand who talk about the books and their impact has been incredible. Nothing makes us smile more than hearing Nasty Women made an impact on someone, or that Chris McQueer’s Hings made people laugh out loud in public. It’s really cool to publish books we love from amazing people.

Now for those who are unfamiliar with 404 Ink, explain what it is all about.
404 Ink is an alternative independent publisher based in a spare room in Edinburgh. We’re two young women and a dog who publish books and literary magazines, publishing little, but publishing loudly.

What does it mean to be an alternative publisher and how does that influence the work that you do?
We felt that publishers didn’t market and publish how we would, and alternative just means we do things a little bit differently. We use social media primarily above all else, we integrate crowdfunding a lot, we try to build a community around the books we publish rather than it being a one way conversation saying ‘Buy my book’. We were more inspired by record labels, street teams, and the likes of Brewdog and wanted to bring that to what we do.

You caused a real storm at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year, how was it sitting on a panel with the First Minister and what do you think it achieved in highlighting the inequalities facing women in literature?
It was all sorts of wonderful and surreal – easy to feel like an imposter sat between two such incredible women! It highlighted inequalities of not just women in literature, but across the board – Nicola spoke about her experiences in politics, Elif about what’s happening in Turkey and across the world, it highlighted that inequality sits everywhere, and that there’s a real desire for people to address this, and to hear people talk on the topic. For us and Nasty Women, our main goal is to boost lesser heard voices as far and wide as possible; for us to go on and see our first book clinch the bestseller of the whole festival shows the desire that people are seeking to learn and do more, and we hope it’s something that continues. There’s no time to be complacent.

Nasty Women

We simply have to talk about Nasty Women because what an amazing and representative collection of powerful essays. Why do you think the climate was right for a book like this and how do you think this influenced how it was received?
The 2016 US election was a tipping point on many hateful rhetorics that had always been there but had seen a huge resurgence in the past few years. What do you do with the validation of hate on such a scale? For many, the book acted as a small protest against the way things were turning – putting their money somewhere that amplifies voices that were often silenced, and more likely to be silenced as time went on. That’s specific to the political climate. Beyond that, the timing was right because we really believed in the book and pushed it incredibly hard. The women in this collection are amazing and regardless of timing, a good book with people who really believe in it can capture people’s attention and imagination. We think it was a perfect crash of all the above – people were looking for something, we really believed in this, it took off. There’s no way to anticipate how a book is received but even in our wildest dreams, we never imagined this.

More and more frequently artists are turning to funding campaigns in order to fuel their work. As you used Kickstarter to help fund Nasty Women and are also part of Patreon, can you tell me why more and more people are turning to independent publishers and how this influences the industry?
We don’t know that more people are turning to indies so much as more people are paying attention to indies. Indies notoriously take the risks and find debut writers, nurture them until they (often) go on to bigger publishers. Indies can move far quicker than traditional publishers and react quicker, and so particularly on topics of current interest, they’re able to really publish in a more timely fashion, which is probably why more people are noticing them, if there weren’t previously aware. Unbound published the incredible anthology The Good Immigrant, Dead Ink with the working class collection Know Your Place – indies often do the heavy lifting.

Chris McQueer’s book, Hings, was also a massive hit, congratulations! How does it feel knowing that you are lifting the Scottish voice in the world of literature and why is that important?
It’s important because too often ‘Scottish’ can be synonymous with ‘niche’, and it’s absolutely not. Chris submitted to Issue 1 of our literary magazine and had us both in stitches; we asked him to read at our launch party and immediately knew we had to publish him. It’s important that when you find writers as talented and hilarious as Chris to do your best to get their work out further, and we’re absolutely chuffed to have been able to do so. Hings is the best debut we’ve read in a long time, and also one of the funniest books we’ve ever read. Chris is a brilliant writer, and we’re chuffed to have been able to publish his debut. So many publishers are discovering great debut authors in Scotland every day, and long may it continue!

You are about to release a book with the ferociously talented and creative rock band, Creeper, can you tell us a bit more about how this collaboration came about?
We literally asked them if they wanted to do a book. They’ve created such an elaborate and enthralling world but have never categorically laid out the ins and outs of the world they explore in videos and their songs, we felt a book would fit what they’re doing and could bring their story full circle. Luckily, they agreed! It’s been a fun year.

What can fans expect from The Last Days of James Scythe? (I’m a massive fan, I need the deets!!)
The Last Days of James Scythe looks at exactly that. Lilly Banning is a former investigator of the Ombudsman of the Preternatural, called back to work for one final case: what happened to James Scythe? These are her case notes, made public for the first time.

You have been described by Huck Magazine and many others as “two women trying to change the industry for the better”. What’s next for you and how can we all follow your lead?
Next, we continue publishing! We’re publishing two books from Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award winner Helen McClory, Issue 3 of our magazine at the end of the year and Issue 4 six months later, with a lot more planned (and being imminently announced) for 2018. The main takeaway we’d probably say is that if you think you could do something better than others, or would do something differently: do it! That’s all we did and continue to do. We don’t compare ourselves to what others are doing, nor do we worry if we’re doing it wrong in others’ eyes. We publish what we want, how we want, and in doing so, it’s incredibly fun and rewarding. We’re chase nothing, and have fun.

By Kristin Hay