Kohl Publishing is a new independent Scottish publisher set up by Lesley Dickson and Leila Cruikshank earlier this year.  I chatted to them about chick lit, why they decided to go it alone, and the inescapable topic of the digital revolution…

What prompted you to start your own company?

We realised the book trade was changing quickly with the advent of digital and that the publishers we had previously worked for weren’t changing, so we decided to set up our own company. Following this, we came across the Starter for 6 programme, which offers people with innovative businesses a chance to pitch for funding and 4 months of business training. We adapted our business plan to make it as innovative as possible, successfully won funding, and started the company this summer.

What are you looking for people to send in?

We’re looking for smart, quirky novels for women in their 20s and 30s. They can be literary fiction, crime, fantasy, sci-fi, romance – any genre, so long as they’d suit our target market. We’re not looking for poetry, non-fiction or short stories at the moment, though novellas are fine.

You plan to publish eBooks and print – which is more exciting?

We started out thinking about eBooks, and eBooks are changing a lot at the moment with new possibilities and technical advances that allow us to do fun things (although it does mean a big learning curve for us with the techy stuff!), but we see the books as the exciting things.  We just want to make the books as widely available as possible.

In the summer you wrote a feature on your website in defence of chick-lit – have you come across a lot of detractors?

No, not really. We did find that we got a lot of people sending us chick-lit as a result, which wasn’t really the intention. 

Leila: I wrote the post because of the Booker Prize-related criticism of women writers and the so-called dumbing-down of the list – I wanted to make the point that chick-lit isn’t necessarily bad writing.

How will you ensure your books don’t fall into the trap of being marketed at the wrong audience?  Will authors get a say on cover design?  Will you be working with different independent designers or using the same artist?

Well, we see our audience as the most important part of our business, so we’ll be very careful of our marketing. Authors will certainly be given a say in cover design, and we’ll be using a range of artists and designers to achieve jackets that really suit the book as well as being beautiful and striking. We agree that beautifully-produced paper books have a place as well as eBooks, we are much more likely to buy paper books ourselves if the cover is a thing of beauty.

Your website is quite interactive and asks for article submissions and photos of people reading in unusual places – how important is it to the success of Kohl?

We’d like our readers to see Kohl as a place for talking about books and other things they’re interested in.  We want to break down the traditional idea of publishers as gate-keepers and interact with our readership directly. We can’t afford to publish as many books as we’d like, but we can always ask people to send in blog contributions and get involved that way.

What’s your favourite book?

There are too many brilliant books out there!

Leila reading a book in a kohl place..

Leila: I re-read my favourites again and again, so the ones I like best are the ones I’ve read hundreds of times. I’ve loved The Lord of the Rings since I was 11, so it’s probably the book I’ve read most often, but there are so many… The Time-Traveller’s Wife made a huge impression, and The Raw Shark Texts, and I was so pleased when I first read a Margaret Atwood book and then realised she’d written lots of books for me to work my way through!

Just recently We Need To Talk About Kevin scared and fascinated me more than anything since I read Lucky, by the author of The Lovely Bones – I’ve never read anything else that gave me such a visceral reaction as Lucky, but I couldn’t call it a favourite; it’s about rape and it was too disturbing to be a favourite. I like children’s books, too, The Railway Children makes me cry, and I like fantasy and horror books, I’ve read Kelley Armstrong’s werewolf thrillers over and over.

Lesley: For me without question it is Lanark: A Life in Four Booksby Alasdair Gray. There are too many reasons why


this book gets the number one spot so I’ll name just a few.

  • Firstly, I love the works of John Milton and William Blake so any book that deals with the Heaven/Hell dichotomy is always a winner with me.
  • Secondly, Lanark is structurally experimental and challenges literary convention.
  • And lastly, it explores my beloved Glasgow in a nuanced way avoiding ‘no mean city’ cliches and instead portraying the city as a sci-fi dystopian hell plagued by a disease called Dragonhide. It is a seriously brilliant book – for those who haven’t read it, please do!

I also love Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale because it’s one heck of a horrifying tale, Alexander Trocchi’s Cain’s Book because it’s so brutally raw and honest and disgusting and clever, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm because it’s utter brilliance in less than 150 pages. Oh and I shouldn’t forget Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita. Humbert Humbert, while a vulgar and altogether awful character, has one of the most captivating narrative voices EVER!  I’m going to stop there. It seems my literary tastes are rather miserable, a prerequisite being repression, oppression and lots of psychologically challenged protagonists.

And finally, when will your first book be out?

That depends very much on when we sign up our first author. We couldn’t offer anyone a contract until we won some funding, so we’re still searching for our first book, although we have someone in mind now and will be negotiating soon. We’re thinking in terms of Christmas 2012 though.

Keep up to date with further developments by following Kohl on Twitter, liking them on Facebook, and bookmarking their website.