By Alice Fusai, Frankie Harnett and Laura Ingate
Founded in 2006, Bluemoose Books is a Yorkshire-based publishing house, driven by sixty-two-year-old Kevin Duffy working directly from his home desk. As the founder and only full-time employee, it is no surprise that only around ten books get the Bluemoose stamp per year, but don’t be fooled by this small number – Duffy favours quality over quantity.
Winner of multiple literary awards and longlisted for a remarkable amount more, Bluemoose Books is playing a different kind of game to most of the publishing industry. His masterful approach certainly has some old-fashioned rules: passion for quality literature, novel voices and the delicate art of word-digging. Yet, the results indicate that this method definitely pays off.
Thanks to his commitment, Duffy continues to make publishing more diverse, innovative and relevant to our times. He is an example of how an independent publisher can still see great success in today's hectic and profit-led book market, and do so with rules dictated only by personal taste and a strong ethos. The story of Bluemoose Books is one worth knowing, or rather, studying. The future of book publishing may well be inside a secluded cobbled house.
Unlike large publishing houses such as Penguin Random House, which produces around 70,000 digital books and 15,000 print books a year, Bluemoose Books publishes between eight and ten titles a year. Similarly, while PRH has over 12,000 employees worldwide, Bluemoose Books has only one full-time employee, Duffy, and depends upon five freelance editors. Hidden away in a terraced house in Hebden Bridge, nestled deep in the crags of West Yorkshire, Bluemoose Books is far from the shining publishing houses that populate London and dominate the literary market. However, against the odds, it has established itself as a multi-award-winning company, with an impressive number of prized titles.
As a small but extraordinarily mighty independent publisher, Bluemoose Books is uniquely unrestrained. Duffy’s philosophy revolves solely around the books. In his own words, “I don’t want to be the next Penguin… I just want to publish eight to ten books a year, make a bit of profit and invest it all back into the business to find new writers.” However, publishing houses like PRH, Bloomsbury and HarperCollins are limited by profit margins to satisfy their multitude of shareholders. Without this constraint, Duffy is free to select titles that are considered risky for mainstream publishing houses, including those by working-class authors, or older women.
A remarkable number of books published by Bluemoose Books end up winning or being nominated for major literary prizes including The British Book Awards and The Parliamentarian Book Of The Year. Bluemoose does not focus on producing celebrity memoirs: instead, the publisher wants to spend time finding great new talent, with an aim to create brilliant stories from across the world.
Bluemoose’s current bestselling author is Rónán Hession. His debut, Leonard and Hungry Paul, is a funny yet tender story about kindness and has sold over 125,000 copies globally and received critical acclaim. Bluemoose also published Benjamin Myers’ The Gallows Pole. The historical thriller was adapted into a BBC series starring Michael Socha and Sophie McShera. In 2023, Bluemoose has published four books so far: Twelve Words, Breaking Kayfabe, I Am Not Your Eve and Chopin in Kentucky.
Bluemoose Books' story is one in which the good really does seem to win at the end of the day. Duffy’s model of slow, ethical and researched publishing is really one for the books. Aspiring and well-consolidated publishers alike should all knock at his door.
However, the fact that Duffy is doing something that is considered extraordinary and out of the norm in the current book market says something different. If working in a certain way is simply not compatible with today’s economic models, and if mainstream publishers exist just to feed the public with what has already been ingested and approved by readers, then books become nothing but another commodity to consume and define us. If the provoking power of books is lost, then what are we reading for? Thank you, Mr. Duffy, for keeping this question ever relevant.