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By Sylvia Warren.

Influx Press have been described as “a lynchpin of the indie scene” (The Bookseller), “one of the most interesting and caring independent publishers around” (Nikesh Shukla), and have drawn almost unanimous praise in publishing a wide range of innovative, beautiful books. With the recent launch of their 2020 list, alongside a new subscription service, I had a talk with Kit Caless about what makes Influx tick.

3:AM: For a small, independent press you make a lot of noise, and have drawn a lot of praise from the publishing industry as well. Your catalogue has been very broad from the beginning, with books in translation, collections of short stories, novels, and even poetry. How do you manage such an eclectic list whilst still maintaining the Influx ‘DNA’?

Kit Caless: Noisy, haha. Yes I suppose that’s us. The DNA of Influx is as simple as do Gary, Sanya and Kit like the book and is it doing something different to other books? The variation comes because we all love and are interested in very different things. What Gary reads in his spare time for pleasure is different to me and Sanya, equally what Sanya is passionate about is different to Gary and me. The books we pitch to each other are the ones we individually want to publish, and most often, come from our individual passions. When we all like a book, it means we know it might have potential. That’s how we get novels about forgotten feminist Sri Lankan architects, comedies set during the Lebanese civil war, short stories on hunger and control, non-fiction about grime music, or car parks.

3:AM: This could be considered a corollary question really, but what makes a book suitable for Influx? What makes you excited

KC: It’s very hard to pin down to something I can articulate. Often, it’s a feeling you get from reading a manuscript, an instinct. Sometimes it can be the subject matter of a non-fiction proposal that grabs me because I want to read and learn about the subject. Occasionally it’s just that you’ve never seen language used in the way the author is using it. I often know within 20 pages whether I’m going to try and sign the book, which sounds odd since the whole book could go off piste after that. But if it maintains its quality, the voice of the author and doesn’t turn sour then you know it’s a belter. Whatever it is, it must be trying to do something with language or subject that is new, or inventive. Without that initial surprise and ‘oh I haven’t read many books like this before’ moments, it’s hard to get further with the reading. The funny thing is, hardly anything is new in literature and things are recycled, pastiched, borrowed, stolen, influenced etc. all the time. It just happens to be new to me. Perhaps professing my ignorance could be exploited by authors now! I expect spies taking photos of my bookshelves in due course.

Personally, I’m interested in books that make me laugh but have something serious to say. With debuts (of which we publish a lot) the excitement is doubled because you know you’re going to be the person who brings this new author to the world. But there is also an excitement in investing in an author for two, or three books and slowly building their readership as they develop and progress their writing, to the point where the third book is the one that bangs. That’s a particularly satisfactory feeling and one I think we’re going to get with Gareth E Rees’s Car Park Life.

3:AM: One thing I’ve noticed, which is really a really positive way of changing the way the industry works as a whole, is that you have windows where you accept un-agented submissions for free. How important, to both you and the press, are these periods for you? With such a small team it must be a difficult balancing act in terms of workload.

KC: It’s very important. It’s clearly a great deal of work, though. Whenever we are open for un-agented submissions we get a shed-load of manuscripts sent to us. We try to get through them all and we try to reply to people within a respectful time frame, but sometimes we don’t manage it. However, the books we’ve picked up during these windows, such as Shiromi Pinto’s Plastic Emotions, or the forthcoming Exercises in Control, by Annabel Banks, are superb. We wouldn’t be able to find these authors otherwise, and they wouldn’t be able to find us! Agents are fine on the whole, but they aren’t the only way we want to discover new writing. No publisher can rely on them for all of their publishing needs because it narrows the field so much. As a publisher you have to trust your own taste as much as you trust an agent, so why would you only rely on agents to send you books? Also, agents naturally work with publishing trends in mind (because they have to make money) – we’re not interested in what is fashionable in literature, so that doesn’t apply to us.

3:AM: Your 2020 list has just been announced. Tell me about any favourites, titles that you really want to go on and make a splash? Those exciting new authors you’ve found?

KC: Ha! It would be remiss to say I have a favourite author or book, so I will just say what I think will make a splash.

There are two new debut novels that we’re very excited about. Between Beirut And The Moon is an extraordinarily funny coming of age story by Lebanese writer Naji Bakhti. It’s set during years of conflict in Beirut (civil war, Israeli war, Hezbollah rockets etc.) and I didn’t think such subject matter could produce some many serious belly-laughs. There’s huge potential for film or TV here too so we’re hyped about this. The other is Boy Parts by Eliza Clark, another very funny story, but dark and twisted as hell. A young woman obsessively takes explicit photographs of the average-looking men she persuades to model for her, scouted from the streets of Newcastle. Placed on sabbatical from her dead-end bar job, she is offered an exhibition at a fashionable London gallery, promising to revive her career in the art world and after that shit goes really, really wrong. At only 25 years old Eliza is an absolute star in the making.

Another great pairing is two backlist / reissued books. I’m particularly honoured to be publishing Percival Everett for the first time in the UK since about 2002. I Am Not Sidney Poitier is a book he wrote in 2009 about a lad who looks like Sidney Poitier, is adopted by Ted Turner, grows up with imaginable wealth – but still hits all the same problems in America as any other black guy. It is, again, very funny (sensing a theme here?) and Everett is a master storyteller. He’s so under rated and under published over here it’s shocking. Hopefully we’ll introduce him to a whole new set of readers in March. We are also publishing Joel Lane’s The Earth Wire. Joel sadly passed away in 2013 and most of his books are out of print. The Earth Wire, a gutsy, dark, brooding and unsettling book was published in 1994, and we are reissuing it for the 21st Century.

Additionally, continuing our strong support of the short story form (following Eley Williams and Clare Fisher in 2017/18) we’re publishing three new collections, one by Fernando Sdrigotti, one by Annabel Banks, and one by Anna Vaught. All three are doing things with language and narrative that you can’t do with novels, and that’s very exciting.

3:AM: You’ve just launched your subscription service – there are a lot of really interesting ones, from Peirene Press doing women in translation, some independent bookshops doing tailored bundles, you giving different price-point options…what made you take the plunge?

KC: We’ve set up the subscription because it’s one of the ways we’re trying to stabilise our cash flow and create a direct link between us and our readers. All small presses are on the brink of extinction every month, we’re no different. For each book that is a success, there’s another two that are less of a success (financially). We want to provide a good value subscription, but also allow our readers to choose which books are sent to them, rather than in some subscription cases, have the publisher choose. That’s why we announced all our books for 2020 at once and then the subscriptions.

It works like this – you can choose to be sent either 3, 6 or 9 books a year, for £25, £50 or £75 respectively. Postage in the UK is free, so you’re getting say three high quality, innovative, boundary pushing books for £25 delivered straight to your door, a month ahead of publication. Sounds like a good deal to me! When you choose how many books you want, you’ll then get to select which ones from the list and we’ll send them out as and when they are printed, and way before they are in the shops. We chuck in bits and pieces like postcards and signed bookmarks and other stuff like that too.

I think, looking to the future, if we can get a healthy number of subscribers (we’re on about 50 at the moment, but 100 would be amazing) it would give us breathing space and time to keep hunting out great writing. Writing has to be sought, found and polished up – that takes a lot of time and dedication. Half of our writers we work with publish their first major work with us and some go on to great things (Eley Williams, Darran Anderson, Jeffrey Boakye being the most obvious cases). We can’t keep discovering and nurturing talent without the support of a dedicated readership who are willing to take punt on our forthcoming books. If you trust us, and our taste, then subscribing is for you!

Kit Caless is an editor at Influx Press. He regularly contributes to magazines such Vice and The Quietus and is the author of the valuable thesis, Spoon’s Carpets: An Appreciation (Vintage/Square Peg 2016).

Sylvia Warren is an academic editor and writer. She is a contributing editor at 3:AM Magazine and the literary features writer for OX Magazine. You can find her on Twitter @sylvswarren.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, September 18th, 2019.