Becoming a member of the LoveReading community is free.

No catches, no fine print just unadulterated book loving, with your favourite books saved to your own digital bookshelf.

New members get entered into our monthly draw to win £100 to spend in your local bookshop Plus lots lots more…

Find out more

Industry Insight: Q&A with Kate and Sarah Beal

Liz Robinson

By Liz Robinson on 8th July 2019

I adore the story behind Muswell Press. The two owners both had highly successful careers in publishing before deciding to buy Muswell in 2017. They really, really care about books and published their first full list (both fiction and non-fiction) in 2018. Having read several, I can confirm they are fabulous. At LoveReading, we have so far reviewed Close to The Edge, The Dissent of Annie Lang, A Reckoning, The Partisan Heart, and A Beer in the Loire, take a look at the reviews and you can see how much we loved them. Kate and Sarah's story is a fascinating read, and their fun book facts really made me smile!

Tell us about Muswell Press and how it came into being:

We were looking for an exciting new challenge As directors of bigger companies we’d spent hours of our lives in meetings where decisions were made by committee and great books often got overlooked. Originally we looked at starting a bookshop but swiftly realise that we couldn’t make the figures work. Then Muswell came along. It was about to close down because the owner had died. So we bought it – for a very small sum. We got a small backlist, a website and a distributor. Within a year we’d changed to a more dynamic sales and distribution team, rebuilt the website and began to publish the type of books we love.

What are your specific roles? 

We both decide on what books we want to acquire and the long term vision for the shape of the list.  We only buy books that we both love and enjoy working on and see a market for. 

Sarah manages the editorial function, editing herself or managing our freelance editors.  She works on the prepress, design and oversees the printing.  She is also more involved in the marketing and social media. Kate manages the commercial aspects. From setting the tiles on Nielsen to overseeing our sales teams worldwide. She also manages the author contracts and Rights side of the business. We both work closely with our publicist and are very hands-on with all our authors.  We have not always been so specific about our roles and worked across whatever needed doing, but as the company has grown we realised that we had to delineate our roles to be as efficient as possible. 

When it comes to your role, what makes your heart beat faster? 

The joy of acquiring a brilliant new book, editing it, commissioning the cover and nurturing book and author through to the market.  Seeing reviews come in and our sales grow is really rewarding. 

Since you first arrived in the industry, what is the one thing that has remained constant, and what has been the biggest change?  

The constant is the love and belief of books that is deeply routed in everyone in the industry.  Biggest change the evolving book market and the challenges of getting the books into the public’s hands and ears. 

Is there a fictional or historical character you would be thrilled to publish a book for, why is that and what type of book do you think it would be?

Shakespeare’s autobiography would be pretty cool! Such a colossaly talented and prolific playwright and poet and yet so little is known about his life.

Who are your book world inspirations? 

No-one specific.  Publishing is a collaborative process and all departments have to work hard and with conviction to make a book successful.  But of course we wouldn’t even be here without brilliant authors. S: I worked with Liz Calder at Bloomsbury. She is an inspiration, combining editorial nous, author care, a great eye for design with market knowledge. Something we try and emulate.

Describe your favourite place to read: 

K: Anywhere but probably in bed with no distractions.

S: A comfy old sofa with a dog at one end and glass of wine is perfect.

What’s your favourite book from childhood, how did it make you feel? 

Kate :The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The first books that I read to myself and they made me feel safe but wanting adventure at the same time.  But as I was reading them in the 1970’s during the power cuts and the 3 day week they didn’t feel to alien to me. 

Sarah: I absolutely loved Little Women by Louisa May Alcott mainly because I loved Jo. She was a bit unruly, and tomboyish and loved being outdoors, like I did. She was also clever, bookish and funny and still a bit of a girl at heart – all things I aspired too, and still do!

Hbk, pbk, ebook, discuss:

All of them.  We publish our books in all formats to suit our various markets and to give us the biggest reach into the global market.  Audio is very important to us as well and we try to retain Audio rights and effectively sell them for all books.  Our books have a wide readership so we give them as many options as possible to access the titles.

Any strange book habits?

K:  Not that strange but I always google the author of the book I am reading if I don’t know them to get a sense of who they are and how that has influenced the way they write. 

S: Yes, I’m with Kate – need to know about the writer plus I also crack the spine (sorry) and examine the binding!

What would be your desert island book? 

K:  I have barely read any of the Russian classics, started lots of them but not finished.  So I would like a bind-up of all of them which would keep me going for a while.

S: Tricky! A toss-up between David Kynaston’s brilliant social history of London trilogy, Tales of a New Jerusalem, to remind me of my home town, and the wonderful comfort blanket that is the Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard. I guess indulgence would win out and I’d go with the Cazalets!

Fun book fact:

K: Many years ago I was in a Waterstones and overheard a customer ask a bookseller for a copy of The God of Small Things that had just won the Booker prize. The shop couldn’t find it in fiction but eventually located it in the Sport/Fishing section as they had set it up on the system as The Cod of Small Things.  I wonder how many sales they lost. 

When we were publishing Eat, Pray, Love at Bloomsbury we thought of calling it Italy, India and Indonesia – so pleased it didn’t stick!

You can Follow Muswell Press on social media:

twitter @muswellpress

If you enjoyed this article why not check out our other Industry Insight Features?

Comments (0)

Leave A Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.