Matthew Smith is an innovator, book enthusiast and madman. He also founded Urbane Publications, who happen to be putting out my novel, Waves, in September of this year.The range of what Matthew puts out each year is pretty astounding. Not only did he put out perhaps the best novel of 2015 - Dean Lilleyman's Billy and the Devil - the Urbane catalogue contains non-fiction, poetry and fiction in a host of genres (as well as many novels that don't fit neatly into any one genre - something Urbane prides itself on).With each year seeing more and more new releases, Urbane Publications has had a pretty dramatic arrival onto the publishing landscape, and Matthew Smith doesn't seem to be aiming for anything less than total world domination. In fact, even as I write this, I've just seen that Urbane made the longlist for Most Innovative Publisher in the Saboteur Awards 2016.
Did you ever have intentions of being a writer yourself?A quick confession, I’ve actually written about 10 or so non-fiction books, all under pseudonyms. One of them was even on sale at the Tate Modern for a while. And I’m not going to reveal any more than that! I’ve been toying with a story about my grandfather for a long time but Urbane tends to dominate every waking (and sleeping) moment so taking time to write feels very selfish – and gives me a good excuse not to get stuck in. I’ll get there one day, but it may actually be written just for my eyes. While I’ve come to enjoy helping others shape words, it becomes difficult to view your own so clearly. I’m sure there are many editors and publishers who go through the same. I will try and write more blogs – firstly because I enjoy it immensely, but it also helps give profile to Urbane and the authors.I imagine you have to read a great number of submissions, and then read and re-read books you do choose to take on. Do you still have time to read purely for pleasure?Always. I always find time, because I simply refuse to lose my love for books and the joy reading gives me. I don’t ever want books and reading to become ‘a job’. I’ve been involved with publishing for 25 years and there is always a book on the go that has nothing to do with what I’m working on. I have some wonderful page-turning pleasures that I go back to if I need to get back in the swing of reading again (hello Spanky by Christopher Fowler) and when I’m reading for pleasure I always try VERY hard not to do it with my publisher head on. If I find myself critiquing a book that I’m reading for me, I get bloody cross. The most wonderful moments are when you can combine reading book submissions with reading for pleasure, and when I receive manuscripts I always try to read them as a reader first, rather than with a purely commercial attitude. If that makes sense! I’m currently reading Muriel Gray’s Furnace, and have Perfidia by James Ellroy lined up next. I tend to alternate between sci fi/horror, classics, literary and crime, with the odd non-fiction title thrown in. I’m probably more widely read than well read!Urbane seems to be expanding year on year. How far ahead do you have to plan to keep Urbane progressing?I’m currently organising the frontlist for the second half of 2017, and even have a few titles for spring 2018. I know that might seem rather ridiculous, but I’m presenting the autumn 2016 frontlist titles to bookshops now, and working with my US distributor on spring 2017 books, so you get an idea of how far in advance you need to plan. Actually, it’s one of the challenges of today’s industry. Self-publishing authors can be incredibly dynamic and agile – finish a script tonight and have I published on kindle tomorrow. But the traditional channels (both retail and those that review) work in a very different, often not even considering books if they’re not presented at least 3 months in advance of publication. I’m trying to strike a balance between the two, ticking all the necessary traditional boxes, but learning from and utilising the entrepreneurial skills and strategies of the fast-moving self-publishing industry, particularly when it comes to publicising books and building discoverability.There are an endless number of articles, events etc discussing the future of publishing. As a publisher, do you feel a responsibility to be engaged with the industry at large? How concerned are you with keeping in touch with the goings-on of traditional, mainstream publishing?This is something I do have sleepless nights about. Not because I want to personally want to be at the heart of things, but because I want to ensure I’m doing everything I should and could be doing to help Urbane’s authors become a success. Urbane is a member of IPG and I’m trying to do more to raise visibility of the publishing house and what we’re trying to achieve. But I’m also very wary of losing our edge and just becoming like every other publishing house. I’ve worked for many of the big publishers and know what traits and practices I’d like to keep up and those I’m happy I’ve left behind :) It’s a fine balance of being enough like everyone else to ensure Urbane continues to grow and become ever-more established in a very competitive field, but that we maintain our independence of thought and spirit. I will always focus more on Urbane’s future than that of the future of publishing.Finally, what was the last thing (book, song, artist, place etc) that you totally fell in love with?That is a wonderful question Jared and may be the last thing I feel in love with :) I think it’s probably my signed copy of William Golding’s The Spire – it’s my favourite book and this copy means a huge amount to me. Although my new turntable comes a close second – the kids don’t agree though now they’ve seen the musical horrors that lie in wait in my collection of vinyl…..