We spoke to Anna Hughes, founder and editorial director of The Pigeonhole. Anna has been working in the publishing industry for over a decade. She has had a brief fling with The Erotic Review, a minor assignation with Condé Nast and a long and complicated relationship with Random House. She then swapped sides and went to see how the other half lived at Peters Fraser & Dunlop, before jacking in the traditional and going rogue with The Pigeonhole. In 2015 she was named a Rising Star and shortlisted as Digital Achiever of the Year. She tells us she is actually rather disgusted by pigeons. Questions by Melanie Price.
- Tell us a little bit about your career thus far in publishing and how you first came up with the idea for The Pigeonhole.
I love stories. I love the transportation they allow; reading is time travel. As soon as I realised I could work with the time travellers themselves, with editors and booksellers and writers, I went about trying to get a job in the industry. After a couple of years truffling about in the slush pile at various agencies and taking anything vaguely editorial (even moonlighting at a porn mag) I managed to snag myself a job at Random House. It was there that the first thoughts of Pigeons were formed. The big publishing houses are filled with the most brilliant people, but they are also home to status quo. I was always a bit of an upstart and got a little bored of being told ‘that’s just how it works’ when questioning certain publishing traditions. It started to feel a bit like Sunday school all over again. And there was such a distance between an author, their stories, and reader. It was this gap that I wanted to bridge with The Pigeonhole.
- The Pigeonhole releases a book in chapters, or ‘staves’. What are the advantages of serialised reading?
The serialisation bit was the brainchild of my business partner Jacob, and it turned out to be quite the mindbaby. The advantages are manifold. In the first instance it was a great story to tell potential users – Dickens done digitally. Practically, when reading socially, it’s important to try to keep people travelling through the book at the same pace. Not only does it keep the conversation fresh and constant, but it also minimises plot spoilers. However, the one aspect we find the most popular is the fact that it fits reading into any lifestyle. The number one reason people cite for not reading is lack of time. We manage your reading for you, so that you are able to get through any book with the support of a community of others. And have a cracking good time doing it too.
- The Pigeonhole adds extras into the margins of each story to immerse the reader in the world of the book even more. Tell us a bit about why this was included.
One of things we always wanted to highlight is just how different digital can be. The extra content played into this perfectly. Ebooks offer so little when compared to physical books. In fact, bar the ability to transport many titles in one place, I’m not sure they do much to replace books. Which is probably why sales of eBooks are starting to fall. But mobile books are something else altogether. Think of all the things that you might ask while reading a book: what’s this author like? How does that song go again? How would I go about even making fried green tomatoes? With our extra content, you never have to leave your book. More than that, it’s a conversation driver, dotting book club questions throughout the text to get readers chattering. We are a global book club in your pocket – it’s all about giving you everything (and a song or two).
- You have a wide range of genres and novels, both new and old, in your Pigeonhole Library. How do you choose these titles?
With the new titles, it really comes down to the author and how much they want to be involved with each launch. One of the key things we offer during a live serialisation is the ability to ask their authors questions during launch, we are here to grow an author’s profile as much as anything else. Then there are titles that lend themselves beautifully to the digital side. Stefan Ahnhem’s Victim Without a Face for example, it is such a pace-ridden, unforgettable Scandi crime novel, so we decided to launch it as a disappearing book. Readers had till 5am to finish each stave, after which point we stole it away. Stefan was there to answer reader’s questions and it was such a gas. We vanished another one on the 13th July, a relaunch of one of our first ever books – Deadlines by Chis Brosnahan. In order to make the absolute most of our titles, we like to keep serialising them. As for Classics, that’s easy really, it’s just a list of all our favourite books. Many of them were originally serialised and all.
- What are some new titles coming out?
Big things are happening. We’ve got two Pigeon originals lined up for the autumn; one is a collaboration with the Southbank’s Festival of Love called Letters on Love. We’re collecting love letters from around the world in an attempt to open up a discussion; one that steps away from heteronormative stance and looks at how love affects all. The other is a reaction to the fall-out of Brexit. Home is a collection of Essays that questions the concept of home and the current displacement that affects 65 million people across the world. Then there are partnerships with incredible indie publishers like Dodo Ink and Tilted Axis, a couple of digital publishers too, as well as something massive I can’t really talk about just yet. How’s that for a teaser?
- Where do you hope to see The Pigeonhole going in the future?
The future for The Pigeonhole is to become the one and only social reading platform for authors and publishers to share their books. A place where each launch helps to learn as much as we can about how to market and sell future editions. With this in mind, the dream is for writers and editors to think of us at concept or acquisition stage. For them to say ‘this would be perfect for Pigeonholing’ at the very beginning of their book journey. It’s already starting to happen, soon it will be second nature. Within the next two years I imagine that there will likely be multi-language Pigeonhole satellites around the world, as well as partnerships with universities and schools. For us the future is collaborative.