Interview with Eric Lane, Publisher of Dedalus

Aside from feeding my recent obsession, I thought it would be interesting to ask Eric Lane a few questions about Dedalus Books and the impact losing its Arts Council England grant would have on the organization. Eric was kind enough to not only answer all my questions, but to answer them in a refreshingly honest fashion, demonstrating how difficult the business of literary publishing can be. (See the figures on sales, grants, etc.) He’s also very honest about the reasons why ACE was trying to cut their funding . . .

Chad W. Post: I’m familiar with Dedalus from my days in the bookstore, but I was wondering if you could briefly describe your press and the type of books you publish.

Eric Lane: Dedalus is mainly a fiction publisher. The Dedalus list includes contemporary English language fiction, translated European fiction in the Decadence from Dedalus, Dedalus European Classics, Dedalus Europe 1992 -2012, Dedalus Euro Shorts series and Dedalus anthologies. Dedalus also publishes literary non-fiction in the Dark Master, City Noir and Concept Book series.

Dedalus began publishing on November 30th 1983. Our first list consisted of three first novels, one of which—The Arabian Nightmare by Robert Irwin—has been translated into 18 languages and has found worldwide success.

Dedalus has invented its own distinctive genre, which we term distorted reality, where the bizarre, the unusual and the grotesque and the surreal meld in a kind of intellectual fiction which is very European.

Our mission is to be unique—an exciting, innovative and distinctive alternative to commercial publishing; to find new talent and put British publishing at the heart of Europe.

CWP: How many books do you publish a year? Are they distributed both in the UK and U.S.? What’s your average print run?

EL: We do 12 new titles a year. Our average print run is 2,000. The highest print run we do is 4,000 the shortest, normally for a reprint, is 1,000. These are actual figures.

Most of our books are distributed in the UK and the USA. (Ed. Note: Via SCB in the States and Central Books in the UK.) Occasionally we sell rights to US publishers. We see the USA as part of our home market. We want to offer a European dimension to the English-speaking world. From a publishing perspective US readers are better at letting you know what they think of our books. In our petition USA readers are well represented.

CWP: Here in the States we have “nonprofit publishers” (not that most publishers make a profit . . . ), these presses survive by receiving government grants (for profit presses are ineligible from receiving these funds), grants from foundations, and donations from individuals—do you have a similar designation in the UK? On a related note, how does your revenue stream breakdown in terms of sales vs. grants? (Nonprofits in the States are usually 50-50.)

EL: Our last full year our figures were:

Sales of books £70,000
Foreign rights £46,000
Arts Council £24,250
Other grants £10,000

We are a limited liability company and if we make a profit it is fed back into the company. We believe we publish in the public interest. We see our role as extending what is available to readers in the English-speaking world. In the UK you can get funding from ACE, local councils (we don’t as we are not in a big city), and donations from individuals are not really heard of. We do apply for translation grants from a variety of sources, including ACE and foreign governments. If we lose our ACE grant we will also not get any translation grants from them. Having got rid of us,they certainly will not give us money for anything. If they fail to get rid of us it is more difficult to refuse us translation funding. So with ACE it is all or nothing.

CWP: How much of your annual budget does your ACE grant represent?

EL: Figures above. The ACE money basically means we can support a staff of 1.25. With any organisation run on a very limited budget it is hard to make up the shortfall with one month’s notice.For us we want to continue publishing the kind of books that we do which we, and many others, believe are published in the public interest.

CWP: Why do you think the ACE is trying to eliminate your funding?

EL: With ACE it is personal. In 2003 it wanted to stop our funding as our grant was under £20,000, i.e., it was too much of a hassle to fund us. However ACE failed to do it correctly and so we kept our funding. But it then became a matter of bureaucratic honour to get rid of us. We had a performance review on 24/25 November 2003 which recommended substantial increased investment in Dedalus but when the printed report appeared in January all the recommendations had been omitted, and what should have been the basis of an expansion for Dedalus had been rewritten to be the basis for getting rid of us. We beat ACE again on procedure. We asked for the Minutes of the Performance Review meeting which they refused to send. In the end ACE chose to reinstate our funding rather than supply the Minutes of the Performance Review on a floppy disc.

We have made no secret of what has happened and have said it loud and clear many times.

The current attempt is just the next round. We will win again on procedure as ACE has failed to follow its own non-renewal process. A 7 stage process to be found on their website. Procedural Guidelines for Disinvestment. We will take them to court on these grounds.

CWP: How does the appeal process work?

EL: The current process gives you the right to fill in the gaps in their paperwork. Because of public pressure ACE will now take into account petitions and public support. I think that is just a sop so they can save a few theatre companies that famous actors have campaigned for. I think ACE knows how to manage its regional committees which make these decisions.

CWP: If your appeal fails, what will the immediate (and long term) impact be on Dedalus?

EL: The immediate impact is that we will have to make changes to what we do. Lose our full-time member of staff, ie me. We must work very hard at replacing their money from other sources.If we are not successful at replacing their money we wil probably wither away.

CWP: What can people do to help?

EL: They can sign our petition and email ACE who on Monday 28 January has a new chief executive, Alan Davey. He and Andrea Stark in Cambridge should be asked 2 questions:

1. Why after ACE put on the public record in 2004 that Dedalus was trading while insolvent and in breach of its ACE funding they took the decision to reinstate Dedalus’s funding rather than supply Dedalus with the Minutes of the Performance Review Meeting on a floppy disc?

2. Why won’t you supply Dedalus all the documents in its file? How is it in the public interest—as you claim—to withhold them. ACE should not hide what it says about the organisations it funds from them.

3. Buy our books—that is what we are here for.

4. If we receive confirmation on 1st February that our funding has been stopped we will launch ARTS VERSUS ACE, an organisation to raise money for a legal challenge against ACE. The challenge to be a class action for all arts organisations like Dedalus who has lost its funding without ACE going through the 7 stages of its disinvestment policy. We will have a separate bank account and ask for donations from anyone who wants to support this cause.

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