Wise Words from a Kat on a Hill – An Interview with Katriona Chapman of AVERY HILL PUBLISHING

Hello and welcome to another fascinating interview with fan-favorite indie publishers! Today, we’re chatting with Katriona “Kat” Chapman, comic creator (Breakwater, Follow Me In) and head of marketing for Avery Hill Publishing. She’ll be giving us answers to all your burning questions about the publisher, like the kinds of comics the publisher likes, the types of creators they look for, and how self-publishing can help you get picked up by a publisher like Avery Hill.


 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Hello, Kat! Thanks so much for making time for us and being up for chatting about London-based Avery Hill Publishing!


How’re you doing? How’s business? How’s comics treating you?


KATRIONA CHAPMAN: I’m very well thank you! Business is good. Comics are…a lot of work! But I think one of the nice results of that is that most people involved are there purely for the love of comics, so we end up working with a lot of people who are really passionate about what they do.



CBY: Avery Hill has published a lot of excellent works over the years (I’m narrating for our lovely audience, as I’m sure I don’t need to educate you on the publisher you work for!), from Tillie Walden’s On A Sunbeam and Zoe Thorogood’s The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott to even your own works, Breakwater and Follow Me In. Can you tell me a little bit about Avery Hill’s history? When was the publisher founded, and by whom?


Kat Chapman

KC: I joined Avery Hill in 2015, and they’d been going for a few years before that…which makes this year AHP’s ten-year anniversary! The company started when Ricky [Miller] and Dave [White] (who’d known each other from school) started self-publishing their own zines, then moved on to wanting to publish comics work by other people. They saw a lot of work they liked around the London scene by people like Tim Bird and Owen Pomery, who were friends of Ricky and Dave and who they wanted to help promote. I think that’s always been their main focus: finding exciting comic creators and helping give them a platform to get their work seen by more people.


I’d actually been talking to Ricky about a graphic novel I wanted to make (Follow Me In) before I started working with Avery Hill. Ricky had given me feedback on my pitch and I was starting to focus properly on comics work, when Ricky and Dave also mentioned that they needed someone to help them with marketing. They both had full-time jobs (and still do) so they really needed someone to help keep Avery Hill going!



CBY: Has it always been a guiding principle of the publisher to work with new or not-well-known creators in the industry? What else would you say makes Avery Hill unique or different among comic publishers, whether it’s in the type of comics you like to publish, the diversity of creators, specific genres, or anything else that feels like Avery Hill material?


KC: Yes, I think so… we’ve definitely come to see our niche in publishing as seeking out new creators with a lot of potential and helping them get a start in the "industry." As a small publisher with just four part-time staff, we can afford to take risks on projects we love. I think often larger publishers aren’t able to take on a book that, [although] they may like [it] on a personal level, [they] aren’t sure how well it’ll sell. But since we all have other jobs, we’re not necessarily reliant on consistently huge sales to keep us afloat. This means we can take on projects that are quite niche, or too unusual for a larger publisher to consider. Avery Hill’s focus is definitely on creators who both write and illustrate their work rather than creator teams (though we have published collaborative projects occasionally.) We also definitely have a central focus on seeking out a diverse range of voices to publish. Aside from that, "Avery Hill material" just basically comes down to whatever Ricky and Dave find interesting!


"I think that’s always been their main focus: finding exciting comic creators and helping give them a platform to get their work seen by more people."

CBY: Now, according to the site’s Submissions page, Avery Hill Publishing isn’t accepting unsolicited submissions. Do you expect that to change anytime soon? Or do you have projects in the proverbial pipeline for the next 5 years and no room for more at the moment? And what’s the best way to catch the eye of the publisher to open that door a crack?


KC: As we only publish around six books a year, our slate for future projects has filled up very quickly. As you say, we’re pretty booked up which means that we’ve had to stay closed for submissions for a while now. In terms of advice for people hoping to approach a publisher…I’d say definitely do your research on the publisher before submitting work, and make sure you’re not submitting something that’s wildly off-base for them. Then I’d say keep any communications concise and professional…create a really concise summary of your project with a small amount of sample artwork, and if the publisher is open to submissions, submit that.

In terms of the type of projects we publish (single-creator projects), I’d also say that if you’re a very new creator, it really helps to have a piece of work that demonstrates your storytelling abilities, like a self-published comic. A publisher might like your artwork, and your idea might sound interesting, but an example that shows you can execute a complete story (however short) is a great way to convince a publisher that you’re ready to make a book with them. If you’re able to get along to in-person events, that can be a good way to make contact with publishers as well. Handing them a copy of your self-published comic that they can look at in their own time is a great way to get on their radar.

I created a panel in 2020 for the Thought Bubble Festival about pitching to publishers… there’s lots of good advice and ideas here.




CBY: Lately, it seems like many independent publishers are relying more and more on crowdfunding. Does Avery Hill? Do you see that changing anytime soon?


KC: We did our first crowd-funded campaign last year. We treated it almost like another way to generate pre-orders, and get readers really excited about the books in advance. It can be an exciting process to set a target to aim for, and it gives you the opportunity to really shout about the book or books and get people to take notice. I think it helped create a focus for our early promotional work for the books and it was fun working with the creators to help create early buzz about their projects. We’re also considering whether it can help us go back to making some shorter comics, which we’ve largely had to stop doing due to [the] fact that our distributors only want longer books, and the opportunities for selling minis in shops and shows are getting fewer and fewer.


CBY: A couple big questions our readers often have are:

  1. How does Avery Hill Publishing pay? For example, paying in advance, offering a share of profits once the production of the book is paid off, or does it change based on creative teams, contracts, etc.

  2. Does the publisher keep IP rights and, if so, for how long?


KC: We don’t take any IP, and we now do a combination of royalty split and advance. The terms are the same for all projects.


CBY: Are there other publishers out there who you look to for inspiration, or simply share a similar spirit with? For example, the Avery Hill Publishing Twitter account recently retweeted a Kickstarter from Cast Iron Books (another favorite of ours!).


KC: Yes! Cast Iron are publishing a book by Rachael Smith, who’s an artist we’ve worked with twice and whose work we love. Other publishers who inspire us…we loved Koyama Press, and the role that Annie Koyama continues to have in nurturing artists despite closing shop on her publishing work is definitely something we admire. Retrofit Press...before we had a North American distributor, we worked with Retrofit to distribute each other’s comics on either side of the Atlantic. In the UK, Good Comics are another example of a small boutique publisher who’ve done amazing work helping spread the word about interesting new creators.



CBY: So, what are the future plans for Avery Hill Publishing? And how does the publisher define success? Is it to grow big enough that employees don’t have to work day jobs elsewhere (referring once again to the Submissions page)? Is it to publish more books, more often? Or is it to stay the course, and keep doing what you’ve been doing?


KC: I’m not sure that we have any goals to scale up much beyond our current model. I don’t think Ricky and Dave have any plans to quit their day jobs! We actually publish slightly fewer projects a year now than we used to, and I think we prefer it this way. We can devote more time to promoting the books when we have fewer on our slate. We’d rather do our best to bring attention to each book than publish more books and not be able to devote enough time to promoting them.


CBY: Last, is there anything we didn’t cover here that you’d like to say, whether about Avery Hill, publishing in general, or how the industry is changing amidst pandemics and paper shortages and everything else?


KC: We’ve definitely had some new challenges in recent years, whether it’s been fewer in-person events, [or] disruptions to shipping/paper supply chains. But I think the pandemic showed people how important the arts are in terms of keeping people happy and entertained, so I guess that’s one positive to have come from it. Shipping and distribution remains the biggest headache, especially internationally, be it the length of time it takes to get books across the Atlantic, or sales tax regulations in the various EU countries, or just the cost of sending one book through the post to a customer.


CBY: Kat, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions! Where can people find Avery Hill Publishing online and on social? And where can folks find you?


KC:

Thank you for talking to me about Avery Hill! We can be found at:


averyhillpublishing.com

Twitter: @averyhillpubl

Instagram: @averyhillpublishing


katrionachapman.com

Twitter: @katchapman

Instagram: @katrionachapman

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