In the second of my series on author-publishers, I’m interviewing Julian Davies, one of the owners and founders of Finlay Lloyd, a non-profit publisher which has been going for nine years. Julian describes himself as jack of a number of trades – writer, potter, painter and front-man for a non profit art gallery, The Left Hand. As well as publisher of course! He has lived in the mountains near Braidwood, New South Wales, for much of his adult life. The author of five novels, he has also written various stories and essays.
When and how did Finlay Lloyd start? What motivated you in the first place to start your own publishing company?
Finlay Lloyd was begun by four people – Phil Day, Ingeborg Hansen, Robin Wallace-Crabbe and me – all with somewhat varied interests in making books, but joining together to form a press with different values from mainstream publishers. Phil and Ingeborg had a background in producing inventive, beautifully set and designed handmade books, and had an interest in publishing fiction and poetry. Robin, a well-known writer and artist, had also designed books in his youth. I wanted to offer a counter-model, however modest, to commercial publishing. Our aim was to make
well-designed paper books while encouraging and supporting the sort of inventive writing that the big presses were too risk averse to back. It was important to me that FL was non-profit – we do not pay ourselves at all – in contradiction of the dominant paradigm.
How did you initially persuade booksellers to stock your books?
I simply got on the phone and called every bookshop I could locate, explaining what our intentions were. I made it plain that we were supplying firm sale, but that we didn’t want shops to buy books they couldn’t sell.
Have your aims and strategies as a publisher changed from the beginning? How?
Through the nine years since the establishment of the press our values and methods have remained consistent, but with the departure of Ingeborg and Robin from Finlay Lloyd, Phil and I have settled into a pattern where we discuss everything but he sets and designs the books while I act as editor and deal with publicity and sales. Our partnership has become closer and more interactive (hence his doing almost 400 drawings for my novel Crow Mellow). We envisage the press evolving to mainly undertake collaborative projects, whether between us or with others.
I’ve found helping other writers realise their projects as well as possible an intriguing and valuable experience. It has given me a greater perspective on writing, publishing, and bookselling. Although this was not my intention in starting the press, Finlay Lloyd has finally provided a means to publish my own books in an inventive, unconstrained way, free from the commercial imperatives of the big presses.
What are the challenges and pleasures of small-press publishing, in your experience? Any memorable anecdotes?
I’ve found the many aspects of making books both rewarding and challenging – the demands on my time have been considerable. I’ve often wished I could clone myself in order to cope better, but my family likes to remind me that one of me is quite enough. Perhaps the keenest pleasure has been learning at close quarters how other writers think as they respond to editorial input.
Because the book industry has been in such flux in recent decades more room has opened up for small presses. With their business model under threat, the big presses have withdrawn from some aspects of publishing. Furthermore, computer setting and the reduced cost of printing have made the process far more accessible. With these factors in mind, I’d suggest that anyone entering publishing may be brave but not necessarily as foolish as it might appear. I’d also suggest that having a broad and perceptive curiosity about all aspects of writing, typography, design and book production is a prerequisite as rare as it is obvious and valuable. I can’t stress that enough. There is a plethora of badly made books out there in the world. Small publishers should be self-critical and nimble enough to reinvent what they do imaginatively