‘The Novel is in Great Health’..After Nyne Meets Publisher Tom Chalmers

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In their tenth anniversary year independent best-selling publishing house Legend Press has a lot to celebrate, not least that two of their titles – After Before (Jemma Wayne) and Life of a Banana (PP Wong) – have just been shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

After Nyne’s Daniel David Gothard went to meet Legend founder Tom Chalmers to find out about his inspirations, his opinions on the death of the novel, and what the Baileys win would mean for Legend.

Tom, many congratulations on the 10th anniversary of Legend Press.

It’s an incredible achievement for a small publisher to have survived across the past decade – financial crisis, changes in book formats, etc. What do you attribute the continuing success of Legend Press to – apart from your leadership?

The last ten years has been a vantage point to massive change in book publishing – the industry of 2015 looks completely different from that of 2005. I think using the advantages of being a small company – being fast-moving, creative and taking risks with new ideas – and making up for the lack of resources of large companies by never panicking when there are issues, finding solutions and passion and dedication to what we are trying to achieve.

How do you keep on top of the changes in publishing?  

I am less interested in the industry than I am in what works from us and keeping it simple – we want to publish works the customer will buy. Therefore, if we try this, will it achieve that aim – and after all the customer is the key person. We aren’t trying to affect industry change, but by being successful we can help to cause it.

Do you believe the novel really is dead or dying?  

The novel is in great health – more people are reading then ever before, more people have access to reading and the novel has survived for centuries as forms of entertainment have developed. It is the business of supply that has and is changing and that is an issue for publishers not readers. Publishers need to understand customers better and use the supply routes that work best for customer while retaining a workable business model in those routes.

Who or what has been your biggest inspiration? 

It’s hard to pick one and I am a little obsessive with reading about people and businesses to absorb as much useful information as possible.

Picked at random, the story of what Allen Lane achieved at Penguin is very inspiring and more recently I love the creativity and brand McSweeney’s in the US have built. Outside of publishing, Steve Jobs comes to mind as a creative visionary and successful business person all the way through to the Martin Luther King badge I used to have on my wall to remind me to have a ‘day on and not a day off’.   

What do you consider your greatest achievement, other than founding Legend Press?

I am proud of all the businesses that I have started that form with Legend Press the Legend Times Group and also IPR License, the online licensing platform that is changing the way book and journal rights are traded globally.

When Legend Press was formed you published a series of short story collections. Would you return to that idea at some point?  

We have no plans at the moment to do so, but I am passionate about the short story and how it fits with today’s consumer, often time pressured and flitting between different forms of entertainment.  So you never know, I would be happy to return to it if the idea worked and we had the time resources to commit to it.

Obvious question: what’s your favourite book, and least favourite – and why?  

Again, hard to say as there are so many to choose from, but outside of what we’ve published, Lord of the Rings inspired me to love reading as a child and more recently, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. The latter just for being so different, creative, ambitious and not only staying in your mind but feeling that your mind had marginally altered for having read it.

I was just trying to recall the book I nearly through out of a train window in Romania in 2003, but it’s not coming to me, so will just say reading is a personal experience and sometimes books just don’t work for you.

Which author do you think is overrated?

It’s not possible to be overrated as a writer. If you are writing books you want customers to buy and enjoy and they do then you have been successful and deserve that success.

What are your future plans for Legend Press?  

In specific terms, we want to be publishing 25 titles in 2016, which we believe is a good sized independent publishing list and in general terms to learn, improve and provide an even better platform for promoting great works by fantastic authors and at getting them to the customer.

Have you ever written any fiction?  

I once started writing a novel and within a few thousand words broke all the rules I had set – it was drifting into being semi-autobiographical and it didn’t even interest me. I appreciate what an achievement it is in itself to complete a novel and think I am better on the publishing side!

If one of your two Bailey’s Prize nominees won, how do you think the win would affect the way the industry views Legend Press and other small publishers?  

The Baileys Prize along with the Costa Prize are leading the way with highlighting fantastic new works, as seen by Galley Beggar Press having the winning Baileys book last year.

James Daunt recently said it’s the big publishers that are able to take the risks. He’s wrong. Risk-taking should be in the blood of all small publishers and this leads to some amazing books being published for the customer. It is fantastic that the Baileys Prize is shining a light on the best new work, the producing of which is why I began Legend Press a decade ago.

See all Legend Press titles at their website


Charlotte Tilbury