A conversation with Emily Orford, Marketing Manager at Pluto Press.
Pluto Press describes itself as a radical publisher of non-fiction books. What makes you radical, and will you always aim to challenge the status quo?
At Pluto Press, we use radical as a phrase to denote the fact that we publish books that we hope might change the world in some respect. We want our books to make some difference to whoever reads them, with the hope that they apply the information in the books to their activism and how they relate to the world. As Karl Marx said, “philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point however is to change it”. That’s how we see our project.
We will continue to try and challenge norms and encourage people to rethink ideas. We want to give a voice to the majority of people who often don’t get heard. A lot of mainstream publishing is by the elite which means a lot of writers do not have access to the right publishing connections. This makes it very difficult to get published and for their voice to be heard. At Pluto, we publish a lot of younger writers, black writers and writers from a working class background. The radical issues that they discover in their lives are often found in their books and we want to help those voices be discovered. We take submissions from ‘unknown’ writers if we see something that looks really exciting, and then we will happily go and publish those titles. We usually don’t work with agents because we like to discover new voices who might not have agents already.
In the last year, with the pandemic and the rise of political movements like Black Lives Matter, have you seen an increase in sales and a turn to more “radical” thought?
Like the rest of the world, 2020 was a crazy year for Pluto Press and we did see a dramatic increase in sales. With lockdown and the Black Lives Matter movement happening in quick succession, it’s hard to extrapolate exactly where the change came from but we saw a significant increase in sales for titles written by black authors and about black politics. With the protests following Sarah Everard’s murder, we also saw a big increase in sales for feminist titles so there is definitely a correlation between what’s going on in the world and people’s reading habits.
Inevitably, some of your books will contradict each other. Is that ever problematic for authors to gauge a sense of your ethos as a publishing house?
Some of our books do contradict each other but it’s all within a political spectrum. We sit on the left so even if our books do disagree with each other, it is still within a particular space. We have a long and rich tradition of drawing on left-wing, socialist, marxist and anarchist writers, thinkers and activists. Authors that come to us will understand that tradition and know where they fit within it. The big picture at Pluto Press is encouraging a radical change of the system, so that’s the driver behind everything else.
Your books have received numerous prestigious awards, particularly for cover designs. Are you involved in the design processes?
We’re always really pleased when we get awards for our cover designs. I think we’ve got some great covers and a book cover is so important. Our cover manager, Melanie Patrick, does a fantastic job approaching designers who she thinks will understand us and also doing some of the designs herself.
Most processes are quite democatic at Pluto so I am involved in the design process. For book covers, we have a meeting with the editorial, sales and marketing and design teams to discuss the concept of the book and how that would translate into a design. We put a lot of thought into all our covers, not just our trade books but also academic.
We were also shortlisted for IPG Marketing awards in 2018 and 2019 which was around the time we launched the new website with Supadu. This marked the start of an online community which was able to flourish through the new website.
What are your big upcoming titles?
We just published Lost in Work by Amelia Horgon which is part of the Outspoken by Pluto series. Outspoken by Pluto is a book series written by young authors for young people. The authors are generally under 30 and some are very young, around 20 years old. The book is about the nature of work under capitalism and how it relates to young people’s lives. It examines the challenges of work, not in a personal way, but why the whole system is designed for work to be awful. It might be empowering for young people to understand why their jobs might be unappealing or unexciting, but then to be able to find tools to help them figure out what to do about it. The book has been really well received; we’ve had a review in The Guardian, high ratings on Amazon and a lot of publicity so we’re really excited about it.
Can you tell me about Patreon at Pluto Press? How did this come about and what does it involve?
Like other publishers, when we first went into lockdown we had no idea what the future would hold and we were worried that we might go under. So, in the first week we decided to start this Patreon project. The idea was to get a community together of our most loyal readers and discuss what they wanted to read and offer them extended podcasts, free ebooks and merchandise. We decided to donate 10% of all the proceeds to radical charities and organisations from around the world. For example, last month a Palastinian bookshop was bombed in Gaza and they were calling for donations to help them rebuild so we gave last month’s proceedings to them. This also helps us connect to radical organisations around the world and then we can all support each other. We are hoping to develop Patreon even further and potentially include a monthly book subscription but this is still being discussed!
How did your podcast start and who features?
I think this is one of the best projects we’ve done as a marketing team. It was originally my idea back in 2018 to start with but then my colleague, Chris Browne, took over because he’s brilliant at the technical side and has a much better radio voice than I do! Chris now does the whole thing: he comes up with the ideas, records, chairs and edits the podcast.. We base it around our authors because they are our main asset but we don’t just make it about the books. We also try to feature activists and thinkers who are working in the same fields that the authors are writing about, so that they can also bring in their experiences and make it very current. We want to contextualise the books around what is actually happening in the real world.
Podcasts, as a way of communicating and conveying ideas, are so important because not everyone can access books, afford them or read them so having a podcast can really broaden the audience. Our podcast is called Radicals in Conversation and you find it on any main podcast platform. Our podcasts come out once a month and we are now approaching our 50th episode!
Finally, what does your specific role as Marketing Manager involve and how did you end up at Pluto Press?
I graduated from university with an English degree. I knew that I wanted to go into publishing and also had an interest in radical politics but I didn’t know how the two things could come together! I knew how small the radical publishing industry was and had little hope of ever getting a job within it. I started working at Profile Books, an independent publisher, and after five years there a job at Pluto Press came along and to my delight I got it, and have been here since 2014.
As Marketing Manager, I manage my team of three and also manage the website. For the website, I keep an eye on the metadata, prices, discounts, graphic design and also write the copy and head our online campaigns, as well as commission for our blog. I ensure the homepage is looking good and I deal with our customers and eCommerce. The website is a huge source of revenue for us and we see a lot of direct traffic from Google and then also from our newsletters and social media.
My colleague James Kelly runs our social media pages. The team at Pluto Press all speak in the language of our readers and we love radical books. James is brilliant at translating this language into our social media posts and makes sure the pages feel natural to our readers.
Thank you to Emily Orford, Marketing Manager at Pluto Press, for speaking with Supadu. Keep an eye out for our next Publisher’s Chair interview next month!