Guest Blog: Things We Got Right – Jane Brittan, Co-Founder of YA Imprint Blowfish Books

“In the end, after talking to agents and publishers, I decided to do set up my own imprint. Here’s what we got right…”

“We started super small. I met Lisa Taylor on our Creative Writing MA and our first title was my novel, The Edge of Me, which went on to win a 2016 Carnegie Medal nomination and a final place in the Bath Children’s Novel Award.

To writers who are looking for that reason to say, “I’m a writer”, I say just start where you are – don’t wait for what you think you want – the publishing deal, your own shelf in Waterstones.

We had NO publishing experience. No knowledge of ISBN’s, Nielsen’s book data, typesetting or ‘leading’, or RGB colour codes; we knew nothing about PR, about foreign rights. We didn’t know a single journalist between us.

We have felt our way, we’ve made countless stupid mistakes, we’ve wasted money on sending proof copies of our books to obscure publications in the US and Australia; we’ve been laughed out of meeting rooms by PR people who wanted to charge us £3,000 a month for working on our ‘story’.

And we’re still here. Lisa’s novel, a crossover sci-fi, Summer at the Methane Lakes, is coming out soon and my second title has just launched. It’s called Bad Blood,  and it’s a twisty YA thriller about secrets, lies and bio-warfare, partly based on my military scientist father’s mysterious death. I’m working on my fifth book – a dystopian YA set in future London in the Isle of Dogs. And we want to start looking at other writers soon.

Things we got right:

The stories. No compromise: just original, crunchy storytelling with authentic voices that get in your head and stay there. We haven’t been afraid to take risks – some of my characters (and settings) are super dark, cruel, and pretty medieval. It’s OK. YA readers can take it.

The editing. We do sweat the small stuff but big stuff’s important, too. Like being consistent and coherent. I hate planning, so have to interrogate each draft it for characters which I killed off in chapter ten but have reappeared miraculously in chapter 23.

Cover. I remember thinking this would be the easy bit. It so isn’t. But it is hugely important, so if you’re outsourcing, find someone who gets you and what you’re trying to say. My advice: no soft focus teens. Keep it raw and punchy. Boys like books too.

Printing. We looked outside the UK and found Eastern Europe are all over this. The quality, service and turnover time is fantastic. Ask for samples of their work, then bite the bullet.

PR: If, like us, you don’t know any journalists, then you have to be a bit clever about getting coverage for your book. Think about your story: about you as a writer and what inspired you. It’s always good to have a social media presence. I love Twitter (@janeatblowfish) and when The Edge of Me (about a survivor of the Bosnian War) was coming out, I hooked up with many organisations that are connected with Bosnia. I had an amazing review from The International Commission on Missing Persons, and several speaking engagements.

Librarians. If you’re writing YA, then you need these wonderful people. Write to school librarians, write to the amazing School Libraries Association.

I waited far too long for things to happen to me. Now Lisa and I make them happen, when we want and how we want, and it’s the best feeling in the world.


Bad Blood (Blowfish Books) by Jane Brittan is out now in ebook and paperback

Read more: Writing from the shadows of my father’s mysterious death by Jane Brittan

Jane Brittan’s debut novel, The Edge of Me was shortlisted for The Bath Children’s Novel Award 2015 and nominated for a Carnegie Medal in 2016