How does a tree live? What makes it so strong and beautiful? (Yes, I’m feeling poetic…) Its ROOTS of course! And the Orenda Books Tree is so lucky to have the amazing, sweet and very talented Karen Sullivan at its top. Or bottom, if I keep the roots thing. Anyway, you get the idea! The point here is that today you can find out more about the big boss in this special “5 Facts About” !
Five … er … six things about me
Karen Sullivan, Publisher of Orenda Books.
First of all, I have to say that Donna has done the MOST INCREDIBLE JOB creating this Orenda Month, with reviews, guest posts, details about my authors and the team that make Orenda Books work! I am honoured and truly humbled by this generosity of spirit … and recognise all the hard work behind it! Thank you! So here are five things about me, which you might or might not know!
#1 I worked in publishing at the very beginning of my career (fresh from university in Canada), as secretary to the editorial director of a smallish publishing company. I worked my way up to commissioning editor in a couple of years, but left to have children and … to write. Not fiction, but books on health and, in particular, raising children! My books have been published in 20 countries around the world, and they are all about nutrition, emotional health and wellbeing, discipline, issues like bullying and stress. So I was set up nicely for looking after my band of authors! I did the first-ever reality parenting programme on BBC1, called A Good Smack?, where I went into families who smacked their children and attempted (!) to teach them alternative parenting techniques.
#2 I returned to publishing quite by accident, and after an ‘unfortunate series of events’, decided to start Orenda Books, quite literally overnight. I pitched the idea to Mr Orenda, and he agreed that we could give it a go. I haven’t looked back! I came up with a whole load of poncy Latin names for the company, before Mr Orenda pointed out that the name should mean something to me. INSTANTLY, I thought of the name ORENDA, which, loosely translated, means ‘the mystical power that drives human accomplishment’. It is the title of one of my most favourite books (The Orenda by Joseph Boyden) and its provenance is the place in Ontario where I have spent almost every summer of my life!
#3 I am an instinctive publisher … and that is sometimes hard to explain. I bought two books in Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series, despite a poor sample translation, because I liked him. I could see the potential in an author whose formative years were spent translating Agatha Christie, and whose setting was effectively a locked room in Northern Iceland. I don’t even remember if there was a sample for Agnes Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal. I just heard the pitch, and thought: Norwegian Yes! I’ve known that I would buy a book after reading three paragraphs (Amanda Jennings’ In Her Wake, Su Bristow’s Sealskin and Louise Beech’s How To Be Brave), and I’ve also bought books sight unseen (Thomas Enger, Kjell Ola Dahl, Antti Tuomainen, and more). Agents are sometimes surprised when I sweep in with a two-book offer … but somehow you know. I was pitched Sarah Stovell’s unbelievably brilliant psychological thriller Exquisite at the London Book Fair in 2016, and chased and chased it, and then pretty much bought it on the spot, before even reading half. It’s a weird business, and I am aware that I am hugely exposed by publishing books that are entirely my own taste, and often whimsically purchased; however, I imagine many editors operate that way. I have a couple of people who do second reads for me (and sometimes first, to whittle down the pile, now that they know EXACTLY what I like): West Camel and Liz (loves books), and they have agreed every single time!
#4 Although I am the only ‘employee’ of Orenda Books, this is VERY MUCH a team effort, and loads of its members coined the #TeamOrenda hashtag early on. Authors, translators, critics, sales people, distributors, other publishers, agents, bookshop people, amazing bloggers, freelance helpers, like my son, Cole, who does the press updates every week, bang on time, and the boring stuff like sort my book fair schedules, update the website, and lay down the metadata for me to use for pitching ebook deals, etc.; Anne Cater, who has done loads behind the scenes helping with rights stuff and blog tours; Liz, who is a first and second reader, and also a super-incredible ideas generator when it comes to marketing; West Camel, who is my editor and probably my left and right arms, and possibly legs, too. He steps in whenever I am away, and he just makes sure things HAPPEN. And, of course, Mr Orenda, unpaid and long-suffering money-man and contract-doer. At this point I hide! Mark Swan is the most incredible designer in the whole world, and does the vast majority of our jackets, ads, and everything wonderful, but James Nunn has also stepped in to create some beautiful jackets, rights guides, blog tour banners, and more! We have a fab freelance typesetter, too, Jonathan Harley, who comes up with the exquisite little details that make the books so beautiful. We are also getting some PR help from Sophie Goodfellow at FMcM, and that is working out brilliantly. My authors are simply magnificent. There isn’t even ONE who hasn’t jumped to every opportunity, or complained about being dragged around the country for weeks on end. Bloggers? OMG! This company would not exist without the generosity, enthusiasm, good will, excitement and huge kindness of our growing team of (now international) bloggers, whose reviews have reduced me to tears AND silly dancing! So, although I am the only one with an Orenda desk, this company is what it is because of the people who have provided such momentous support.
#5 I have had numerous offers to buy Orenda Books, from conglomerates, slightly larger publishing houses, and international organisations. Despite the thought that I might be able to afford a pedicure or take a day off under such an arrangement (and I could probably retire on the proceeds of most), that’s not what I’m trying to do. I love books. I am TOTALLY passionate about my authors, their incredible potential, the future that beckons … some are always going to be slower to sell, and I want to be there to ensure that no one says ‘Not selling enough … gone’. I don’t have to account to anyone, and I’m going to stick with this, no matter what. I didn’t do this job to be rich, or famous, or even special. I wanted to create a publishing company that, a little like Penguin, is recognised as a BRAND. I would love it if people read the next Orenda book just because they know it will be good, regardless of the genre they usually read. I want to give some amazing debuts a chance … and stick with them for as long as it takes, and beyond. I want to publish international authors that will open minds; I want to breathe fresh air into genres that have sometimes become stale and familiar. Every single Orenda book is different, and every single one of them is fantastic. Trust me! The truth is, too, that I also like working in my nightgown, which isn’t very ‘corporate’.
#6 And six! Because I am a rebel. I drink FAR too much Chardonnay, I have three sons (two at university, one at home, and he’s just started secondary school, so requires at least a bit of parenting), I bake all of my authors’ cakes and cupcakes myself, I do the laundry and the majority of the cooking because I work at home (and Casa Orenda has become home to many authors and bloggers who have travelled to the capital, including Michael J. Malone and Kati Hiekkapelto, who basically have their own rooms), and I don’t need much sleep. If I can grab five hours, I am happy! Although I definitely get tired, I LOVE my job and every day presents new challenges and opportunities. If you are thinking of starting your own business, I say: GO FOR IT! I had very little experience, but at a time when everything is about change, that can actually be an advantage!
Thanks to you all for reading!
Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us, Karen!
I love the fact you started as a secretary and worked your way to the top until founding your own publishing company! This was a risky bet that you and Mr Orenda took it and now we are offered some of our best reading experiences. Also, congratulations on writing those books! I never knew you were an author too! Is there something you can’t do? :p
I declare The Orenda a must-read for all Orenda Books lovers, haha! Let’s see how many of us can read it in 2017!
I cannot believe how much you rely on your instinct to find stories! I can only admire the fact you go with your guts and boy do they know what they are doing because every single story I have read so far has been a success!! But it feels so terribly frightening to get a story this way! It requires confidence and a real nose for authors and books.
Another thing to love: how you created a web of passionate people to work with! The #TeamOrenda is strong and devoted, and I am proud to be a part of it! (… am I???? Haha!) The fact this is not a big corporate company definitely plays a role because we can all attest just how you genuinely interact with your authors, translators and everyone involved, even when wearing your nightgown! Orenda Books is different because it feels homey and it brings out the best in everyone involved.
I’ll forgive you for the Chardonnay, as an inhabitant of Bordeaux, I am surrounded by fantastic wine… that I don’t taste because I hate it!
To finish, I would like to say that, in my humble opinion, Orenda Books is a brand. I have read 8 of your stories and haven’t been disappointed once. I recognize the originality and the authenticity of each story and I can say that Orenda Books is without a doubt a strong and safe go-to publisher. I always thought it was just for authors, but you proved me otherwise! Count me in on all books!!
I’ll stop there before I get accused of favoritism, haha! But let’s be honest, Orenda Books is definitely one of my favorite publishers. Go #TeamOrenda!
Thank you very much to Karen Sullivan, creator of Orenda Books, for those fun facts that felt more like a nice chat between friends around a platter of ham and cheese with a good glass of wine rather than a guest post!
This was the last post of the Orenda Tree… For now! Trees never cease to grow and I will be there to see the new branches and stories time will bring!
Don’t forget to enter the Orenda Books Giveaway to win a signed copy of the book of your choice!