I am an eternal optimist, and this condition has been worsened recently by a very positive year for Europa in 2013. Discoverability is still the big question, as far as I see it. How do readers discover new books when the offer is infinite or at least seems that way? I sense that there is a return to the search for quality, for a sure thing, which, as far as readers are concerned, means a satisfying read in the face of the gigantic number of books available. Quality independent bookstores are reporting growth, and I suspect this may be a consequence of readers’ thirst for quality books. I suspect the restructuring that some national book retailers are undertaking is partly an attempt to respond to the same needs on the parts of readers. In this landscape, quality publishers—particularly those smaller, independent realities—take on added value. The publisher with a strong personality, a recognizable brand and a reputation for excellence becomes in and of itself a means of discovery; readers look to these realities, and to the dialogue they are engaging in with readers, to discover new books to read.
I think our recent successes with Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (2012) and The Story of a New Name (2013) are indicative of this. The reaction we’ve had from readers, writers, critics and booksellers has been amazing. And each response has had a single underlying theme: “I’ve been waiting for this, looking for this, for years. And now here it is!” Ferrante is an accessible but literary writer who takes on important themes about our human condition and writes with a pacing that is unusual for contemporary fiction. The sales successes and the response to these books convinced me that quality will win out—something that one can too easily forget in times like these.
Beyond the kind of trend that interests me, I believe, like many others, that mobile reading is going to grow this year, even as reading on “readers” slows. This may lead to an interesting explosion of short-form fiction. For me, this is quite exciting, especially as one who looks with particular attention at what is being written abroad. There is terrific short-form fiction (and other genres) coming out of Europe and Asia, where it is not so much a new trend but a consolidated genre.
A kind of startup ethos has saturated many sectors in recent years. One trend I would like to see end: established large, midsize and smaller houses feigning startup cred or attempting to present themselves as nimble startups. It incites in me the same icky feeling Gustav von Aschenbach incites when he starts dressing more jauntily and making himself up so garishly. The past years have perhaps undermined many publishers’ senses of what they are, what they do well and what their unassailable qualities might be. It’s time for the industry as a whole to feel surer of its purpose and capabilities.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I acquire fiction, so there is no topic or genre or book that I can exclude a priori or one that I am looking for more eagerly than others. How topics are treated, the seriousness of purpose in a writer’s ambition, her voice and her vision, these are the things that matter to me.
Europa launched its World Noir series last year. I see this series as a home for books that are not only hugely entertaining but are also important for a variety of reasons. I would love to see more work by American crime writers who are capitalizing on the possibilities offered by the modern crime fiction genre. To get a better sense of what I’m talking about, I’d recommend looking at, from our list, Jean-Claude Izzo, William McIlvanney and Gene Kerrigan.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
Among the manuscripts I saw this past half year, there were many about disappearing women—wives, mothers, daughters, girlfriends. Easy enough to understand as, over the past couple of years, there has been a handful of very good, very successful books featuring disappearing women. But I started to find this theme rather disturbing. I might be reacting more as the father of two girls than as a reader or an editor. Whatever the explanation, I declared a moratorium on books with those elements. That said, if one came along that was particularly great, who knows?
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
We’re an independent publisher, and personality—the personality we express through our choice of authors and their books, our way of publishing and our way of positioning ourselves on the market—is key. I feel very strongly that we are engaging in a dialogue with readers first and foremost but also with booksellers, reviewers, sometimes even other publishers. And not only is the dialogue unique, the effort to create that dialogue is, too.
Michael Reynolds has been at Europa Editions, where he is currently the editor in chief, since the company was founded in 2005. He was born in Australia in 1968 and now lives in New York.