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Feb 25

Happy Birthday Morrigan Books!

Three years on.

It’s flown by.

It doesn’t feel like it was three years ago that I made the decision to brave the independent scene, with a new dark fiction publishing company. I can’t really say I did it alone, however, as Amanda Pillar agreed to come in as in-house editor straight away, and offered to help me work on a site (or rather design the site), while we got ourselves off the ground.

We had a book in the schedule, Voices, that had been started and was going to be edited by myself and Amanda before two other books came along: The Even by newcomer, T. A. Moore, and How to Make Monsters, by up and coming British horror writer, Gary McMahon.

With the addition of T. A. Moore’s, The Even, to the Morrigan Books’ ranks, we also received an offer from Reece Notley to help with artwork, if necessary. This began a wonderful working relationship with Reece that lasted up until earlier this month, and only ended with her desire to focus more on Three Crow Press, her own imprint built from a previous Morrigan e-zine.

And so it was those three books: an anthology, a novel and a collection, that started the company and introduced me to the mad, demanding, time-consuming, money-consuming, stressful, illuminating, inspirational world that is independent press.

2008 was a relative success (if you ignore the money), with How to Make Monsters receiving a nomination for the best collection of 2008 at the British Fantasy Awards, while good reviews also came in for The Even and Voices. We had cracking covers, designed by Simon Strantzas, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and, most importantly, Reece Notley, who would go on to design most of our covers, my favourites being: Requiems for the Departed, Dead Souls and Scenes from the Second Storey.

And we were being noticed; people were talking about us in the industry! Although sales and income has to be the prime goal for any business starting out, there is also much satisfaction in receiving the plaudits for a job well done.

In 2009 we saw a slight shift in the paradigm. There was a reduction in books released, as we tried to move nearer to my desire of Morrigan Books, following a publication schedule that likened the bigger presses more: that is, where the acceptance of a manuscript to publication was around a year in the making, allowing for a better sense of the product, more time to work on layout and typesetting, and ultimately, a much stronger chance to get reviews.

2009 also saw two of our biggest projects take shape. Grants Pass, edited by in-house editor Amanda Pillar and guest editor Jennifer Brozek, was the first of our books to not only break even but to make a healthy profit, something that, I’m told, is somewhat of a rarity for such a fledgling company. The book features established names such as Jay Lake and Ed Greenwood, as well as new and exciting talent: Carole Johnstone, K.V. Taylor and Shannon Page. It went on to win the Australian Shadows Award for best edited publication and was also in the longlist for a Stokers award in 2010 (for 2009).

The Phantom Queen Awakes was a case of showing our determination to attract the established writers to Morrigan Books, and we succeeded in commissioning four New York Times bestsellers: Katherine Kerr, Elaine Cunningham, C.E. Murphy and Anya Bast. It was an ambitious project, combining both new and established talent, interior artwork from Cecily Webster and yet another striking cover from Reece Notley.

2009 was also the year that the Morrigan e-zine, Three Crow Press, went from strength to strength and this could only mean that things were on the up and up for the company. The staff had changed somewhat over the first two years with Tammy Moore, Jenn Moffatt, Nyssa Pascoe, and M.G. Ellington leaving Morrigan Books to focus on other projects. In addition to the stalwarts of Amanda Pillar and Reece Notley, at the end of 2009, Morrigan Books had been joined by Sharon Ring — giving us a more international edge — and we focused on markets in Australia, the U.S. and the U.K.

And so 2010 started strongly, with The Phantom Queen Awakes, our opening book of the year and Sharon Ring settling into her role (or rather roles) at the company. Following on from our dark fantasy anthology (The Phantom Queen Awakes), we released the dark, Irish crime anthology, Requiems for the Departed, featuring mainly Irish writers, and combining Irish mythology with cracking crime fiction. Not content with sitting on our laurels after The Phantom Queen Awakes, we decided to approach several giants in the field of crime fiction and commissioned the likes of Stuart Neville, Sam Millar, John Grant, Ken Bruen, Neville Thompson and more.

Requiems for the Departed, ably edited by Gerard Brennan and Mike Stone, was released in June and received rave reviews immediately.

Moving on from Requiems, we kept up the pace and released Scenes from the Second Storey edited by Amanda Pillar and Pete Kempshall. This book was very close to my heart, as it contained some of my favourite Australian writers and stories based on one of my favourite albums of all time – The God Machine’s Scenes from the Second Storey. That the book is in the running for a Stoker Award is of no surprise to me, and I was informed only this morning that it has received a further three nominations for an Australian Shadows Award!

And still, we weren’t satisfied — still, we wanted more. And we got more; in the shape of Liz Williams and the incredibly popular Detective Inspector Chen series, with Morrigan Books agreeing to publish the fourth and fifth books, The Iron Khan and Morningstar.

Towards the end of 2010 we acquired the services of seven new editors to join the ranks of the successful editing team of Amanda Pillar, Sharon Ring, Pete Kempshall and myself. This was in readiness for out new E-book range, which we began taking submissions for towards the end of the year.

So all is rosy then? Well not exactly, as 2011 started with as many ups as downs. We saw the release of The Iron Khan in print form, a book that has done rather well for itself in our catalogue already; an advancement in roles for K.V. Taylor, who, after coming into the company as an editor only a month prior, is now our Queries Manager and Accounts Manager. K.V. has proved that she is more than capable of representing Morrigan Books to the standard we expect, but also to take us to new levels of excellence.

Sharon Ring, always on hand with help and advice, accepted the official title of Press Officer to go along with her many unofficial roles at the company. Sharon’s drive and determination are amazing and I hope she stays with us for as long as we’ve got books.

Coupled with this great news was the very sad news that Reece Notley would be leaving Morrigan Books. We had talked together several times about her need to focus on Three Crow Press and her desire to write, and even though this was the right decision for her — and, in the long term, for us — it still seems like the end of an era. Reece and Amanda have been here from the beginning and neither Amanda nor myself have come to terms with the loss of such a vital team member, or the impact her leaving will have.

The other negative start to this year was being forced to finally accept that I could no longer edit for Morrigan Books; the time required to edit was the time that I needed to spend on other work at the company. I had to accept that I could no longer be an editor and a publisher for Morrigan Books.

Much as this was a heavy pill to swallow, the cloud had a silver lining; Amanda Pillar has agreed to become the Editor-in-chief for Morrigan Books, a role very much needed with our new publication schedule and additional editors at the company.

In terms of the publication schedule, we are increasing the productivity at the company, not only taking on new titles for our E-book range, but also giving reprints a chance to find a larger audience. These will be in the form of books that have been sent to us, or books we have read and think needed a bit more exposure.

So there’s much to take in and much to do here at Morrigan Books, and, despite some setbacks earlier in the year, I think we are looking incredibly strong for a very successful 2011 and beyond, into our next phase at the company.

Thanks for reading and thanks for being part of the Morrigan Books experience!