Two Ravens Press was set up in November 2006 by two writers, Sharon Blackie and David Knowles, operating originally from a working lochside croft near Ullapool in the north-west Highlands of Scotland. In May 2010 we relocated to another croft by the sea, in the wild and beautiful region of Uig, just where the road runs out on the far west coast of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides (see map on left sidebar). We keep two small flocks of registered rare-breed sheep (Hebrideans and Jacobs), a couple of breeding sows, Roman geese, Cayuga ducks, a miscellany of hens, and a Kerry milk cow. And with our raised beds and Keder polytunnel, we plan to become self-sufficient in vegetable production.
In this and many other respects we're very different from most publishers, even from other small independent presses. Although we've always been (and remain) committed to high-quality ethical publishing, it is one part of the richness of our lives, not the whole of it. We've worked hard – both in the kinds of work we now publish, and the way that we do business – to integrate Two Ravens Press into our own lives, reflecting changes there as well as changes in the publishing sector and the larger world around us.
Our current publishing focus is entirely on ecoliterature. In this respect, in May 2012 we began to publish EarthLines magazine, a quarterly, full-colour, lavishly illustrated, A4-sized 64-page magazine for writing about nature, place and the environment. In the past year EarthLines has grown very quickly, and received accolades from a number of writers in the field (including Robert macfarlane, Jay Griffiths and George Monbiot - please see the EarthLines website for more details). We have considerable followings on Facebook and Twitter, we run an online supplement to the magazine with a team of qualified and talented Contributing Editors at The EarthLines Review, and in our ongoing commitment to supporting writers, we sponsor both residential (in partnership with Moniack Mhor)and online courses in writing about nature, place and the environment: http://www.earthlines.org.uk/Courses.html.
Why we began to publish
Everything that we publish, we publish with passion. We love each of our books. They say something about the author, they say something about us, and they say something about the time and the place they were born into. Each book is a person we like being around. Because each, in its own way, fights back against formulas and homogenization, against the analgesic washing-out of colour that threatens to fade our bright thoughts. It is in this spirit that we have refocused our booklist and begun to publish EarthLines magazine.
And no, agreed, a battle-cry is not enough. We need to put substance behind it. We need tooling up for the job. We want scalpels and spanners and great big wrenches; we want literature: literature that follows conventional narrative structures, or literature that goes beyond them. Innovative literature, beautiful and ugly literature that speaks of its time and its people. We want the beautiful that breaks your heart – the real one, not the mawkish, sentimental one that can grow in its place. We want clever – much cleverer than us – we want not-afraid-to-be-clever, we want something to aspire to in its entirety. Not the clever elements of a formula, and not the clever charlatans who hide behind ‘clever’ and disappear up their own backsides. This is not a game. This is the Alamo. We want ideas, we want the language that Albert Camus demanded should ‘disorientate and challenge us’. We want literature as a rallying flag, as a sanctuary, a bayonet, a broom. We want what Cormac McCarthy wanted when he said that a book only matters if it deals with issues of life and death.
Our approach to publishing
We have always been very different from most publishers in the way that we approach publishing. We live in one of the remotest regions of the (already pretty remote) Outer Hebrides on a working croft; we spend as much time as we can outside and with our growing collection of animals. Taking care of the animals and the croft must always take priority. When we're not editing or typesetting our next book, trying to get an author on the radio or packing up books from website orders and making the post-office run, we stare at the sea a lot or talk to the pigs (they have a surprisingly large conversational repertoire).
In line with all this, we have absolutely no desire for big-city offices and all their trappings. We don't do glittering celebrity-studded launches, we don't do hype and we don't do fashion. We really don't find such things interesting, let alone valuable. We publish only what we want to publish and really believe in, sell only in ways that we consider ethical and to outlets that we can work with with some degree of mutual respect, and there are some activities associated with both traditional and new publishing models that we just don't do and will not be persuaded to do. We don't publish for big sales figures (which isn't to say that we wouldn't like some ...) rather, we publish only work that we love and that we believe really needs to be published.
This doesn't in any way mean that we're not serious about publishing. We are small and yet we are professional: we do our very best to get our books reviewed, and publicised to the widest appropriate audience, and available for purchase in the most appropriate outlets. And we take our books very seriously: as well as publishing new writers we also have published authors of the stature of Whitbread Prize winner Alasdair Gray, James Tait Memorial Prize winner Alice Thompson, and the late internationally acclaimed Franco-American experimental writer Raymond Federman.
Nevertheless, publishing the kind of books we publish does not provide us with anything remotely resembling a living. So we do not have either the time or the funds to put into big publicity campaigns; as small part-time publishers based in the Outer Hebrides, we (like many bigger publishers) have always needed our authors to get out there and help sell their own books – without which, in the current challenging and bestseller-obsessed marketplace, we can guarantee that they will flop miserably!
Two Ravens Press then is for us more a vocation than a job or a profession. We do not see ourselves in any way as part of a publishing ‘industry’ that ‘employs’ or ‘pays’ authors. Neither do we see ourselves as working for or providing a service to authors – secretarial, social or otherwise! Rather, we see ourselves as two professional writers and literature-lovers with a wide range of skills, who have taken chances on authors and invested a great deal of time and money into publishing their books. Because we ourselves are successful writers, and because we are in this business purely for the love of it rather than for any serious expectation of financial gain, we expect our relationships with our authors to be based on mutual respect, trust and cooperation.
How we publish
Over the five years of our existence, we've learnt a lot about the traditional publishing model – the one where you get a lot of submissions, accept one or two, pay the authors advances which you desperately hope the book will earn back, print and attempt to sell huge quantities of every title basically in order to pay the wages of distributors, warehouse staff, wholesalers, retailers etc etc ... struggle with bookshops, large and small, who buy a bunch of your books and then return them all unsold (and in varying conditions) a few weeks later ... You can read more about how publishing actually works (or doesn't, in the case of small publishers) in an article we wrote called 'The Real Story: publishing, four and a half years on'. Just click on the link. Now, happily, we've moved on from that model, and found our own individual, flexible and practical way of coping with the daily 'doom and gloom' messages about the future of the book that litter the daily publishing press.
There are a few things that we believe have always make us stand out from the average small press:
1. We care deeply about the craftsmanship of our product. We typeset carefully and professionally, and work very hard to ensure that our covers complement the ethos of Two Ravens Press, the content of our books and the aims of their authors, rather than simply going along with the latest cover fashions. We produce covers that we love, just as we publish books that we love.
2. We care about our product's impact on the environment: we are committed to supporting environmentally friendly printing processes and the use of Forest Stewardship Council-accredited paper in all our books. In our office we recycle everything that we can.
3. We also care about our authors. We will always work with an author to ensure that their book is edited professionally, and thoroughly if necessary, so that it is the best it can be. However, it is our policy to respect an author's voice and to maintain the integrity of their vision for their work wherever we can.
For specific submissions guidelines, please click here.