Ghosts and Other Creatures: New Finnish Small Publishing Houses

Myry Voipio

Over the past few years, several new publishing houses have been founded in Finland. All the new publishers focus on special themes and audiences. Here, we introduce three of these smaller Finnish publishers. Each of them have answered our questions regarding their role in the Finnish publishing field.

Question 1: What can you tell us about your publishing profile and your target audience?
Question 2: What kind of literature does your publishing house concentrate on and why?
Question 3: How does your publishing house work when it comes to receiving, editing, publishing and marketing manuscripts?
Question 4: What does the Finnish publishing field look like from the viewpoint of a smaller publisher?
Question 5: What new aspects do you bring to the Finnish publishing field?

Tiina Hautala, on behalf of Haamu Kustannus:

Question 1: Haamu Kustannus specialises in ghost stories. Haamu wishes to offer shadowy reading experiences to people of all ages – we publish ghostly pieces for children as well as for young people and adults.

haamukustannusQuestion 2: Ghost stories are related to everything we publish, one way or another. They are the greatest interest and passion of our publishing house and we want to produce high-class and inspiring literature on the subject. To encourage reading is an important background motive, especially for publishing children’s and youth literature. Generally, a more peculiar approach may tempt those who do not find the ”spark of reading” through more ordinary stories.

Moreover, other weird things somehow related to ghosts, and horror, are presented in our publishing programme. We want to create new viewpoints for our adult and young adult readers, and for example in the horror literature field, we want to produce new openings that transcend the genre boundaries. A good example is the comic novella, drawn by the comic artist Broci, based on the short story ”Varpaat” (’Toes’) by the Finnish horror author Marko Hautala. The story was originally published in the anthology Valkoiset varpaat (’White Toes’), for which we invited established authors to write short horror stories. The graphic novel is also going to be published in English under the title Pale Toes.

Traditional storytelling, witches, monsters, boogeymen and other creatures of the night have their home at Haamu Kustannus. We want to operate exactly at the boundary of the twilight.

varpaat_kannet_eng-1Question 3: Haamu Kustannus is a small publisher that requires the contribution of the publishing house and its collaborative networks to function. The authors, illustrators and the publishing house work tightly together to produce the novels. Editing is one of the most important phases of the process and we invest a lot in it. We also rank illustrations highly.

As a publisher, we are in charge of the editing, planning, execution and marketing, but the participation of all parties in each phase of the process is both possible and welcome. In small publishing houses, the functioning of this co-operation is important both for the author and the publisher.

Plenty of manuscripts are offered to Haamu and getting a response often takes a lot of time. If the manuscript does not suit the style of the publishing house, we aim to guide the sender to approach more suitable publishers. Rejecting a manuscript is one of the most difficult tasks in this line of business.

Question 4: Many small publishing houses exist in Finland and the field is rich and very versatile. Small publishers share a feeling of togetherness and co-operate a lot. Instead of rivalry, there seems to be a joint effort to get the books to the readers. It is an enormous challenge for all publishers, faced today by bigger publishers as well.

Question 5: Haamu Kustannus publishes fresh, ghostly, new and beautifully executed literature that might otherwise remain unpublished because of the unusual topics. Our standard is high and therefore we wish to be able to help forward the visibility, reading and accessibility of excellent literature that does not happen to be mainstream.

Jenni Meresmaa, on behalf of the co-operatively run Osuuskumma:

Question 1: We publish all speculative fiction genres, such as scifi, fantasy, horror and the new weird. The main focus is on Finnish prose for adults: novels, short stories and short story anthologies. We are a publishing house for our members – we generally do not accept manuscripts from non-members, other than by invitation.

Question 2: We focus on speculative fiction targeted for adults, differing from several other publishers who veer scifi and fantasy towards children’s and youth literature. Osuuskumma has been born precisely from the need created by this remark: Although the age of the protagonist is usually a secondary and flattening aspect from the viewpoint of a storyteller, it nevertheless often is the case that stories with young protagonists tend to deal with different issues and themes than stories with an older protagonist, whose life situation is completely different. However, we do not categorically insist that the protagonists in the works published by Osuuskumma cannot be young. Nevertheless, we want to abstain from the thought that speculative fiction would somehow be a thing for young people only. Adults read scifi, horror and fantasy too!osuuskumma_yhdistelmalogo_rgb_578x141

Question 3: We have an editorial board that deals with the manuscripts and composes the publishing programme. In addition to the members who work as editors, several of our authors do editorial work. We are not a publishing machine for our members, and we have strict requirements regarding quality: an unfinished manuscript is not worth publishing. We are ambitious about our work, and we require that from our writers too. Patience and ambition. Stories take their time to ripen. In exchange, we offer peer critique, sparring, speculative fiction expertise and artistic freedom to experiment new things – and when the manuscript reaches that point, a publishing contract.

In marketing, we mainly organise events and utilise social media and the grapevine. We are already relatively conspicuous, and we have established customers who have said they purchase everything we publish.

Question 4: The Finnish publishing field seems to be in a state of change. Old publishing structures crack, shaking the foundations of big publishing houses that turn to other big publishing houses for support. Some middle-sized publishers may even do quite well, and new small publishing houses, ran by just one or two people, crop up all the time. Uncertainty – and the occasional atmosphere of desperation caused by the decreasing book sales – is nonetheless about to change into optimism. The book will hold its ground, no matter what. People need stories. Only the future will show what format will people want to enjoy them in.

luces_del_norte_fin_etukansi_web
Osuuskumma also publishes translated Finnish Weird. Osuuskumma International is a series of translated Finnish short stories from Osuuskumma Publishing.

A small actor will constantly face a pay wall: It is impossible to act alone when big operators set the rules. Print advertising, the exhibition stand costs, the renovated wholesale system – all of these require massive financial investments. Plenty of people working in the publishing field are passionate about literature but, on the other hand, the business structures can be extremely rigid and so impervious that in the long run it will hurt the whole business: The consumer will not know how to buy a book he or she knows nothing about and cannot find anywhere. It is bizarre that one of the most difficult things to buy is a book from a bookstore, unless it is already a hit. More than polarisation, the book field would benefit from better visibility of the variety of Finnish literature. We have bloody many publishers that work with different profiles, and they are sure to offer something for everybody. A constant delight is the diversity of the publishing field and the courage of small publishers.

There are still readers in Finland. We should cherish it, and everybody needs to have the will to support it: even in the future.

Question 5: We have knowledge of and respect towards genres. We have an uncompromising DIY mentality. Scifi and fantasy – and speculative fiction more generally – is the type of literature that opens us to other realities and vistas of future. Imagination is deep humanity. The ability to imagine enables us to create new things, to change, for better or worse. To imagine various possibilities is valuable and important, not just for an individual but also for the society. It can also be comforting and entertaining. Finnish speculative fiction has already been noticed abroad, and the Finnish New Weird as a phenomenon is drawing attention. Finnish speculative fiction has the opportunity to break into the awareness of bigger audiences both in Finland and elsewhere. At least the skills of our authors will not prevent that.

Jenni Erkintalo, on behalf of Etana Editions:

Question 1: We publish picture books for children. The youngest of our readers are one, the oldest are first graders learning to read. We invite adults interested in contemporary illustration to get to know our books. Some of them also work as silent books or as eye-candy.

Question 2: We focus on picture books. When Etana Editions was established, we felt that the Finnish picture book tradition had somewhat stagnated. We wanted to update the approach towards picture books. Our background is in design – we both studied at the University of Art and Design (Aalto University) – and for this reason it was obvious for us to start by paying special attention to book design, to the book and illustration as forms of art. A book illustrated in shades of brown produces a very different experience than one dominated by neon colours. Visual storytelling in Finland is still underdeveloped, compared to what is happening in the international field. Each and every book project is a “risk” for us, but thus far it has been worth it as we have received positive feedback and our books have found readers. Story and content will always be the focus in the books we do; we will not take on manuscripts or ideas that do not have some kind of a twist or some magic in them. We wish to offer the opportunity for new illustrators and authors to create unprecedented books and different ways of storytelling in Finland.

etanaeditions_logoQuestion 3: Etana Editions is ran by a two-person team. I make each publishing decision together with my colleague, Réka Király. Producing one picture book takes about a year. The manuscripts can be rather rough when we start the work on them. We work with a network of professionals on editing the manuscripts, when it comes to the text. In-house, we work strongly together with the authors on building up visual storytelling and I share the task of image-editing with Réka. The reproduction of original illustrations’ and the preparation of the print-ready manuscript happens in-house. Our books are printed in Latvia.

We have a clear vision of what Etana Editions is. We are open for proposals about new books and we are willing to review the proposals, but our publishing plan is usually already set for a year ahead. We inspect all proposals carefully and if the plan does not fit our concept, we try to think of an alternative way for the proposal to be worked on, together with the author. A diverse visual language and a unique way of storytelling guide our publishing decisions.

We publish six books a year. Marketing and distribution follows the usual ways in the book-business, utilising the traditional channels. Our books can also be found in museum shops, cafés and children’s stores. We have also been working on spatial and experience design projects related to the books. Most recently this was done at the Habitare 2016 exhibition, in the Habi Kids area and the café. The area’s visual appearance and functionality was based on our latest title, A House Around the Corner. The story looks at the various ways different people and families live under the same roof, from the point of view of a child. We do not shy away from the in-between grounds of marketing and design to make our books known to the audience. The website, the web-shop, blogs and social media sites are all part of the marketing we currently handle in-house. In addition to the making of editorial decisions and the planning of our book selection, the job of a publisher also includes the distribution and delivery of our books, publishing, the reproduction of artworks, graphic design, marketing and communication, sales, logistics and mailing.

Tuhat_ja_yksi_otusta
Thousand and One Creature by Laura Merz and Aino Järvinen, published in 2016 by Etana Editions

Question 4: In the field of children’s book publishing, risk taking is not common and investment leans towards bestsellers. Well-known authors tend to gain more and more visibility and their worlds are “recycled” into new books and nowadays also into new products. There is nothing wrong with this, but if the amount of new titles from bigger publishing houses will be reduced year after year, new authors will not appear on the market and there will be no opportunity for a new generation of readers and authors of Finnish children’s literature to grow up. Although there are plenty of new talents, authors and illustrators, there seems to be no willingness to take any risks. The responsibility is also in the hands of the bookstores and their decisions regarding their selection. As long as bookstores consider paper-clips and other stationery products more valuable than new titles from independent publishers, the chances of a new author’s book to end up in the hands of a reader are slim. Bookstores are often more likely to believe in books by international toy manufacturers, such as Lego and Disney, than in Finnish children’s books. This is rather sad and in our view, it is reflected in the present-day culture.

Question 5: We hope to work with future classics. They are books that today’s children will remember as adults. Our aim is to enrich the present children’s book scene by offering an alternative point of view, and by challenging our readers.

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