Peirene Press is a small, independent publisher of short fiction in translation based in North London, founded in 2008 by German author and journalist Meike Ziervogel. Peirene’s founding principle was to seek out the best of European fiction which had yet to be translated into English and publish it in high-quality editions of under 200 pages, with the idea that each of our books can be read in the same time it takes to watch a film. We publish three books a year which form a series around a common theme; and while our catalogue is still largely composed of European titles, we have now published several books from outside of Europe, including titles from Canada, Libya, Lebanon and Georgia.
The phrase “independent publisher” is used to cover a rather broad spectrum, and I often feel that readers don’t grasp quite what a small operation Peirene is. Since Meike moved to Beirut in 2018 to work with refugees in the Shatila camp, Peirene has been in the hands of a very small permanent team which currently consists of manager Stella Sabin and assistant Maddie Rogers (that’s me). Between the two of us we cover all the day-to-day activities involved in running a press: from the glamorous side of editorial selection, events planning and author liaisons to the grunt work of packaging books to go to the Post Office. And, of course, we work closely with a dedicated team of freelancers including our long-term designer, Sacha Davison Lunt, as well as copyeditors, proofreaders, typesetters and, naturally, translators, many of whom we have worked with for over ten years. This variety can be challenging – where larger presses have separate departments for editorial, marketing, production etc, we’re responsible for it all! – but it’s also what makes Peirene exciting and dynamic; every day is different for us.
One of our greatest successes has been in cultivating the kind of reader community that I think you can only really get around a small press. We have a subscription model which allows subscribers to sign up for a year and receive books two months ahead of their publication date, and this has built us a dedicated long-term readership who often write to us and engage with us on social media to let us know their thoughts on our books. Before moving to Beirut, Meike would hold regular salons at her house where readers could meet our authors and translators. In recent years that hasn’t been possible, but we’ve found that there’s a huge appetite for online events which the pandemic has fed further. It seems simple and obvious, but hosting events online which allow both readers and authors from far beyond our usual London circles to participate have been very well received.
The future for Peirene will most likely see us developing these online engagements further – both through our collaborations with other presses via the Borderless Book Club project which we established during lockdown, and as a standard way for us to launch our books and engage our readers in discussions – as well as expanding our horizons further afield in terms of the books we publish.
(Maddie Rogers joined Peirene as Publishing Assistant in December 2019, having recently finished her MA in Translation Studies. She is involved in all aspects of Peirene, including managing its social media accounts and running the Subscribers Book Club. Maddie speaks French and Italian and enjoys postcolonial literature, especially in the context of Francophone Africa.)