Jess Haberman has been musing about where to base herself as a publisher. I find this fascinating because I live in a large Australian state that is very decentralized.
Quick geography lesson: Australia is about the same size in land area as the continental United States, but with only six states and two territories. This makes most of our states extremely large, but Queensland (my state) is the second largest. In fact, at 1,852,642 km2 Queensland takes up one quarter of the total area of Australia. It is further from Brisbane to Cairns, cities both in Queensland, than it is from Brisbane to Melbourne, three states away.
Despite being the third most populous state, we are also decentralised. In nearly all other states and territories a high percentage of the population (65% or more) is clustered in and around the capital cities, such as Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. In Queensland this figure is only 45%.
Quick publishing industry lesson: Similar to London and New York, Australia’s publishing industry is concentrated in one major city, Sydney. At least, that’s how it is for the major trade publishers, the big six: HarperCollins, Hachette Australia, Pan Macmillan, Random House, Allen and Unwin and Penguin. By extension, that’s also where most of the literary agents are.
But here’s something interesting… some of the most innovative and energetic publishing in Australia is taking place outside of Sydney, and outside of traditional industry networks. At the mid-size level of the industry, a swag of publishers are really performing above and beyond what might be expected for their size, particularly UQP (Brisbane), Scribe and Text (Melbourne) and Fremantle Press (Western Australia). Melbourne is also the locus of a vibrant, exploding small press scene, with small independents flourishing in every other state, such as Small Change Press, Ticonderoga, Wakefield Press, eatbooks and Pulp Fiction Press.
There are any number of conclusions you could draw from this spread of the publishing map. For publishers, I would suggest that it doesn’t matter if you are located close to the hub of industry activity or not. There are now few if any barriers to publishing damn fine books wherever you are. Jess Haberman offers good arguments for not being based in the city at all, adopting a friendlier small town lifestyle which is likely more supportive of small businesses. But more than this, I wonder if the evidence in Australia demonstrates you’re actually better off not being situated in the swirling vortex of the publishing industry at all. If the publishers listed above are anything to go by, perhaps the distance lends some kind of perspective or inspiration for excellence and new innovation.
For writers, I think isolation is a tough burden and geographical isolation in Australia can be acute, especially in Queensland. Writers don’t need to be physically close to agents and publishers to sell a book, nor do they need to be physically close to other writers to participate in vibrant social networks. They just need a reliable internet connection (that’s a whole other story)
But I’ve seen the lightbulbs go on over authors’ heads when they attend a seminar or panel with publishers and agents and hear directly from industry professionals how the business works. I’ve seen the spark of new connections and relationships. I wonder if the mushrooming of small publishers in regional towns across Australia could, in turn, further support the development of writers in those communities.
What are your thoughts? I’m keen to hear from publishers and regional readers on this one.
[Note: Here’s some bonus material on the Australian tourism debacle that inspired the title of this post]