ALMA BOOKS – INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER OF THE YEAR 2013
“Independence I have long considered as the grand blessing of life, the basis of every virtue, and independence I will ever secure by contracting my wants, though I were to live on a barren heath.”
– Mary Wollstonecraft
I set up Alma Books in October 2005 with my wife Elisabetta Minervini, who was also the co-founder of Hesperus Press. Following its takeover of the Oneworld Classics list in February 2012, the company now publishes around seventy new titles a year, mainly in the field of contemporary literary fiction and classics. Alma takes around forty per cent of its titles from English-language originals, while the rest are translations from French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese and other languages. Alma also publishes around five non-fiction titles each year. Alma Books includes the following imprints: Alma Books, Alma Classics, Overture (music imprint), Calder Publications (founded 1949) and Herla (Poetry). The backlist comprises over 300 titles. Alma counts half a dozen Nobel-Prize winners in its list and many more British and international award-winning authors and translators.
As well as publishing internationally renowned authors, Alma takes pride in discovering and fostering new talents that go on to win prizes and become established writers across the world.
WHAT MAKES OUR PUBLISHING APPROACH DIFFERENT
Alma – which is Spanish for “soul” – is a publisher that regards a book as an aesthetic artefact rather than as a mass-produced commodity. The company’s whole emphasis lies on quality over quantity, all the way from choosing projects for publication to creating the physical look and feel of each volume. Alma works intimately with authors and translators to develop the best possible finished scripts, and displays a passionate commitment to the kind of professional editing, copy-editing and proofreading that is dying out elsewhere. Click here to find out more about our translators.
Alma’s launch title, Anthony McCarten’s The English Harem, sold over 25,000 copies when it was released in December 2005. This early success was matched, in 2006, by William T. Vollmann’s National Book Award-winning epic, Europe Central, Mike Stocks’s sparkling Indian comedy, White Man Falling, winner of the Goss First Novel award, Robert M. Pirsig’s Lila, a sequel to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Tom McCarthy’s debut novel Remainder, which has received high critical acclaim both in the UK and across the world.
2007 brought Alma the phenomenal success of Michel Benoît’s religious thriller, The Thirteenth Apostle, which has sold over 100,000 copies, as well as Jane Hawking’s memoir Travelling to Infinity, which has been adapted into the major Hollywood movie The Theory of Everything.
In 2009, Alma published Rosie Alison’s moving war-time novel, The Very Thought of You. The book – which has sold over 120,000 copies – was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and longlisted for other important literary prizes such as the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year and the Le Prince Maurice Prize.
2011 saw the publication of Aharon Appelfeld’s Blooms of Darkness, Anna Stothard’s The Pink Hotel and Peter Benson’s Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke. Blooms of Darkness went on to win the 2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, The Pink Hotel was longlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and Two Cows was selected for Fiction Uncovered 2012.
2012 was a watershed year for Alma Books. It acquired the Oneworld Classics list (including its prestigious imprints Calder Publications, founded 1949, and Overture Publishing, which publishes opera guides in collaboration with English National Opera), previously developed in partnership with Oxford-based non-fiction publisher Oneworld Publications. As well as conducting a branded relaunch of the list under the new Alma Classics imprint, Alma launched a new series of high-quality, affordably priced classics called “Evergreens”. Meanwhile, on the Alma fiction and non-fiction front, Trilby Kent’s Stones for My Father won the Canadian Children’s Literature Award, while Louise Miller’s A Fine Brother was shortlisted for the HW Fisher Best First Biography Prize.
2013 saw the publication of highly successful new-fiction titles such as Clara Sánchez’s The Scent of Lemon Leaves and Charlie Lovett’s The Bookman’s Tale (voted the nation’s favourite read on National Reading Group Day), as well as Chris Barnard’s Bundu, which was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and Roland Watson-Grant’s Sketcher, the acclaimed first instalment of his Swamp Trilogy. Another success was the topical non-fiction title Angela Merkel: The Chancellor in Her World, published to coincide with the German chancellor’s re-election. Helped by the ever-growing sales of the classics list – particularly the Evergreens and Fitzgerald lists – the newly crowned Independent Publisher of the Year recorded its strongest figures to date.
2014 represented a new milestone in Alma’s ten-year history, with turnover hovering around the £1M mark and the publication of two major film tie-ins: The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais (75,000 copies to date) and the reissue of Travelling to Infinity, My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking (200,000 copies to date; the film won two Golden Globe Awards and three Baftas and was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (won by Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking), Best Actress and best Screenplay – by Alma author Anthony McCarten, who has just won a BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay).
2015 and 2016 were years of consolidation for Alma, with steady sales of its main title, Travelling to Infinity, and a strong performance from our revitalized classics list. Thanks to our continuing success, we were able to attract some of the greatest international illustrators for our new illustrated classics list – among them Axel Scheffler (the illustrator of The Gruffalo), Chris Riddell, Quentin Blake, Ian Beck, Ella Bailey, Satoshi Kitamura, Chris Mould, Adam Stower, Philip Waechter, Gary Blythe and many others. In April 2015, we had our first Number One in the UK charts with Travelling to Infinity.
2017 saw the relaunch of our prestigious Calder Publications list, and the last three years have seen our European classics list grow from strength to strength, becoming wider in scope and ambition. Our list now comprises over 700 titles in print. Despite the recent pandemic and the exit of the UK from the European Union, we remain optimistic about the future and more committed than ever to enrich the life and broaden the cultural horizons of ever-new generations of readers.
The critical and commercial successes garnered in 2012 resulted in Alma being named Independent Publisher of the Year at the Bookseller Industry Awards in May 2013. The following month, Alma was awarded the Premio Nazionale per la Traduzione by the Italian Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali for its contribution to the promotion of Italian culture abroad. It was the first time, since the award’s inauguration in 1989, that a British publisher won this prestigious prize.
Watch an interview with me and my wife Elisabetta Minervini (courtesy of Nils Kahlefendt, 2013), where we talk about our ethos and publishing philosophy.
Apart from attending events and festivals as an author, I am often invited to conferences, colleges and universities to talk about my ideas about publishing and translation. Here you can read the talk I gave at the Whitefriars Club on 29th January 2014 about the Future of Publishing. Here you can read some ideas about translation that I love to share with students and budding translators.