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‘In 24 hours, people gave us £40,000’: how readers rescued a small press | Books

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If a novelist had submitted a story to my publishing company about someone losing £40,000 one day and then regaining it the next, thanks to the beautiful kindness of thousands of strangers, I would have thought that it sounded unlikely. If that novelist had also set the story just before Christmas, included scenes where one of the protagonists starts weeping during a phone call and brought events to a neat conclusion almost exactly 24 hours after they started … well, I guess I’d say it isn’t exactly the kind of thing that Galley Beggar Press likes to publish. But it is exactly what has happened to me and my co-director Eloise Millar.

On Tuesday night, I read the news that book retailer The Book People had gone into administration. Four hundred jobs were at risk, just before Christmas. And there was going to be a lot of collateral damage – including Galley Beggar Press. The Book People owed us £40,800, and the administrators had frozen all payments to suppliers. There was a small chance that a buyer would be found and we might be able to file a claim and – eventually – get some of the money back. But money that we might claw back in the future was no good to us when we had bills to pay now.

We began to panic.

Our small press has had a very lucky and successful year, which has seen one of our novels, Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport, shortlisted for the Booker prize. When that happens, publishers always supply hardback copies of their shortlisted books for The Book People to sell. We weren’t technically required to do so – but it’s an important promotion that’s been running since 2002, so it would have looked very bad if we had been the only publisher who hadn’t complied. It was a deal with very tight margins, but it was also one that (we thought) guaranteed us a lump sum at the end of the year. Which was good, because alongside the cost of printing 8,000 hardbacks, we had more books to supply and were racking up plenty of other debts and bills. We used my personal savings and took out loans. While it was hard not to be anxious, we knew the money was on the way – until it wasn’t.

The Book People went into administration just two weeks before the payment was due. We had a sleepless night wondering about what we could cut, who might be OK about being paid late. There were many questions and few solutions. Then, as a last desperate throw of the dice, Elly suggested crowdfunding. We didn’t like imposing on people’s goodwill – especially so near to Christmas – but we liked the thought of announcing our closure in spring even less. So when morning came, we quickly wrote a Gofundme appeal. I can’t bear to look at it now, as it feels like it came out in a mad fever … But that was nothing compared to what happened next.

Or almost next. Here’s an insight into the glamour of publishing. As soon as we’d fired off the appeal I had to go and put some boxes of books in a friend’s shed. I hadn’t realised what was happening until a journalist from the Bookseller phoned up. She told me that in less than an hour we’d raised over £6,000. It was at this point that I started crying. I am still teary, thinking of that extraordinary generosity and goodwill. We couldn’t keep up. The tweets. The emails. The man who knocked on our door and handed us a cheque for £250, telling us: “You have to keep at it.” Within 24 hours of thinking it might be curtains, people had given us the full £40,000. It’s a wonderful life.

I’d like to end there. But there is one more thing to say. I now feel much more hopeful for our future, but I also worry that we won’t be the only company to encounter this kind of trauma in the coming months and years. I worry that The Book People was affected by political and economic uncertainty around Brexit. Our national nightmare is going to take down more of us. Publishers aren’t supposed to be charities. I feel honoured and privileged that people have rallied around our flame this time. It’s just one of many that must be kept alive; I hope we can all support each other in the future, too.



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