SYP South West spotlight on: Arkbound

Posted on June 8, 2022 in South West

As part of a drive to shine a spotlight on publishing houses in the South West, the SYP South West team speak to Steve McNaught at Arkbound, a non-profit publisher based in Bristol. 


1. Hi Steve, could you give us an overview of Arkbound and what type of books you publish?

We are a non-profit publisher, established in 2015, that works under the ambit of the Arkbound Foundation charity. With two branches in Bristol and Glasgow, our focus is on supporting people from under-represented, marginalised and disadvantaged backgrounds to get published. These represent our main author base. The majority of our books also cover environmental and social themes, such as homelessness (No Homeless Problem; Roofless; Sorrow, Tears and Blood), climate change (Arcadia; Climate Adaptation; Great Adaptations; Tangled Yet Colied), together with experience of disabilities and other forms of disadvantage. The genres are wide ranging and span both fiction and non-fiction. As well as traditional print books, we also publish ebooks and have just started producing audio books.

2. Can you tell me a bit about the Arkbound Foundation? How is it connected to Arkbound the publishers?

The Arkbound Foundation exists to empower people through writing. Whilst Arkbound and our European imprint Palavro is solely focused on publishing books, the Foundation also includes work around 1-1 mentoring, workshops and other specific projects. We even run tree planting initiatives! This is because we aspire to be a carbon negative organisation – one that collectively helps to absorb more CO2 than it emits. In this way, perhaps, we’re a little ahead of the curve, with many organisations (especially in this sector) struggling to even be carbon neutral. We are also the only UK literature and publishing organisation that is an accredited member of the United Nations Environmental Programme, and we have long been an advocate for the role that the creative sector can and should play in fighting climate change. Our books and linked events on climate change provide an informational and empowerment resource to achieve this for readers, whilst our planting of over 2000 native oak saplings was done with minimal funding (another 1000 are planned this year in Scotland). Our approach is one based on collaboration, creativity, and finding solutions to pressing problems without being encumbered by the restraints of the present socio-economic system that has caused so much environmental destruction and social exploitation. That sometimes means coming up with creative solutions and thinking outside the box.

3. What authors and books are you particularly proud to have worked on, and what exciting projects have you got coming up?

All our authors are special in some way, and we are proud of them all. For some publications, such as Climate Adaptation: Accounts of Resilience, Self-Sufficiency and Systems Change there are multiple authors based around the world. In that particular case, we worked with many people on the frontlines of facing impacts from climate change, rooted in their communities, with very little other support available to them. For others, such as Sorrow, Tears and Blood, we supported authors experiencing significant disadvantage street homelessness and severe health problems, even finding them accommodation and employment as part of the publishing journey. We have a number of books coming up this year. One example is Before I am Rendered Invisible: Resistance from the Margins by Ros Martin, who presents her experience with racial inequality in Bristol. It is as much about highlighting a pressing yet often misunderstood issue from a unique, lived experience angle, as it is about how people can find hope and overcome. Another (past book) we published was an anthology of creative work by people with experience of imprisonment Writing Within Walls which came in the wake of a National Writing Competition and 1-1 mentoring. Again, it is part of our mission to engage those who are both routinely excluded from the publishing industry and literature world, as well as helping to dispel negative stereotypes that would otherwise only impede social inclusion and rehabilitation. We believe writing is unique in its long-term ability to do these things to truly inform minds and change hearts as illustrated by powerful works across history.

4. What does a typical day look like for an Arkbound Editor?

As we are a small non-profit organisation it is often the case that editors do not solely focus on editorial work. They may find themselves, for example, evaluating manuscript submissions, or helping plan the promotion of a title, or even getting stuck into a completely separate project. Our structure is a circular, non-linear one; with each person being encouraged and rewarded for helping in different areas. When editorial work is required, it involves a thorough edit of material, with every change marked, and often we go back to authors and work with them in developing work. Sometimes it also means helping them in other areas they may be facing in their lives, and we have a wide network to draw upon to facilitate that. In other words, an editor’s work at Arkbound is as much about ensuring a written piece is as good as it can be, with a view to its appeal to readers, as well as supporting authors individually. 

5. What advice would you have for anybody, particularly in the South West, looking to get into the publishing industry?

I would say diversify your experience by getting involved in different areas. Try to widen your horizon to include wide-ranging elements: not just editorial (which is probably the most competitive), but also marketing, promotion, administration, social media, podcasting, video editing, website blogging and writing. For creative companies, there are usually some opportunities available.

Also I’d say, generally, experience is more important than qualifications: having a Masters in Publishing, for example, is certainly of benefit but usually having a diverse range of relevant ‘on the ground’ experience is the thing that stands out.

Steve is an Editor at Arkbound.