At the London Book Fair I met the editor from the Feminist Press in New York. She is interested in some of our books. She also showed me their catalogue.
Back in the 1970s The Feminist Press established their name with publishing reprints of 1940s and 50’s women’s pulp fiction – the Femmes Fatales series. Many of these stories had been turned into black & white cinema hits with famous film divas such as Bette Davis and Gene Tierney. The books still sell today.
My eyes lit up. What if I were to publish this series as Peirene Retro here in the UK?! This might be our chance to get books into supermarkets and airport bookshops! Because, let’s face it: we will never be able to sell our highbrow, foreign literature in Tesco or WHSmith. But stories about women battling for their identity in classic 20th century patriarchal set- ups? This is what the mass market loves to read.
I suddenly got very excited about the Femmes Fatales series: Here was Peirene’s chance for nation-wide domination.
I knew it would be tough to convince the Nymph of this new business strategy. And sure enough, after I finished explaining she looked at me with raised eyebrows.
‘May I remind you, ‘ she then said calmly, ‘that you and I publish literature – art – and not pulp fiction.’
‘I know, ‘ I said, slightly impatiently. I had expected such a reaction from her. ‘But wouldn’t it be great if your name were known to a wider audience.’
‘I think we have quite an impressive number of readers as it is,’ she replied. ‘And the figure grows continuously. Your idea suggests that we might be desperate. And I don’t believe we are,’ Peirene added cool-headed.
For a moment I paused. It hadn’t crossed my mind that my expansion plan might look desperate from the outside. And then I pictured a future in the supermarkets: Did I really want to see the beautiful name of my ancient Greek Nymph next to a shelf of baked beans?
I’m lucky to have Peirene. She certainly keeps my standards high.
Image by Boston Public Library.