Disruptor is an increasingly popular term in business, adopted by everyone from challenger banks, to energy companies, crowdfunded breweries and of course fintech firms.
But book publishing? Yes, although perhaps not usually by book publishers who hark back to a previous old-style model where the quality of the words are the currency and the beauty of the sentence construction and imagination the profit margin.
Lesley Affrossman – or LM Affrossman, author of Simon’s Wife: A Secret History and The Promise: When Promises Can Cost Lives – likes the term publishing disruptor for her ‘boutique’ publisher Sparsile Books.
Words are what it is all about. Not meagre rationing that results in a half-starved novel, but rich, healthy prose that puts meat on a book.
Together with business partner Margaret Morrison-Macleod, Affrossman has established her business in Glasgow and has quietly created a publisher which is gaining a reputation in the Scottish – and British – literary world.
As a growing small business that wears its heart on its sleeve when it comes to taking an old-style approach to literature, it is perhaps ironic that Lesley cut her teeth in the world of tech.
She said: “I was a philosophy graduate from Glasgow University and went on to work in IT, the world of Microsoft Word 1.0. I started writing while I was there, but it was training manuals back then.”
Lesley worked as a training manager for an Apple distributor based in Bellshill, Lanarkshire, and Edinburgh and wrote on tech for the likes of magazine Apple Business.
Back then she says it was all Apple 2E and floppy disc drives – “I still use some as coasters” – all a far cry from the world of publishing.
But after her son was born she went into the world of fiction – and her battle to get published left her startled at the direction the world of book publishing was taking.
She said: “Everyone tells you how difficult it is to get an agent, but they were like plankton.”
She was signed up by a famous one in the US – “the equivalent to Simon Cowell taking you on in the music business” – but “I didn’t like what was happening”.
“There was huge corporatisation going on. Books were looking anorexic and losing their meat.”
Her main issue was good authors were not being developed.
She said: “Publishers were saying more and more ‘that doesn’t fit’.
“Authors were being dropped not because they were unpopular but because they weren’t popular enough.
“They were falling between the gaps.”
Lesley believes corporatisation tends to flatten the individuality of art.
“Books were becoming very narrow, strained, when they should be extraordinary.The beauty of language goes beyond the envelope.”
So Lesley set up Sparsile Books in order to “give books a voice”. The very word Sparsile encapsulated what she wanted to achieve.
“It’s an old word that is not used any more. It means ‘a star not included in any constellation’ and was used between 1656 and 1858. It was its sense of standing out from the crowd I liked.”
So the ‘publishing disruptor’ was born. “I liked the idea of thinking a little bit outside of things.”
There was only one drawback. Lesley is, by her own admission, extremely shy – and small businesses, if they want to thrive, need to “get a bit of a following”.
That is where Lesley’s Sparsile partner Margaret Morrison-Macleod comes in.
Margaret is a chartered surveyor and entrepreneur – she runs aromatherapy lifestyle concept The Divine Hag and writes articles on complementary health – who prior to graduating as a mature student worked in a bookshop.
Margaret met Lesley on the school run. Their daughters were friends. And once “I got Lesley out of the car” and found out about Sparsile Books, Margaret was soon on board helping to drive the project forward.
She brought “breadth of ambition”. She said: “It is all very well having a boutique publisher but not if no-one knows anything about it.
“It is very important to build up a following.”
That is what the pair have achieved. Since Sparsile was set up, three books have been published – LM Affrossman’s The Promise and Simon’s Wife, Tom Campbell’s Comics for Columbine, and Science For Heretics by Barrie Condon. A fourth is on the way and authors are flocking to them to have their works considered.
As well as having a love of language, Margaret and Lesley put in the work to get noticed. A strong social media presence is coupled with a face-to-face approach to doing business.
Margaret said: “Waterstones in Byres Road gave us a launch party, while the Scottish Design Exchange has been incredibly supportive as we’re a small publisher.”
A London launch saw a trip to the London Book Barge, Granary Square at King’s Cross.
Despite the setback of a serious illness for Lesley, Sparsile is getting noticed, as is its Glasgow home.
With little in the way of overheads there is a huge growth market.
However Lesley and Margaret are determined to “stay small and unique” publishing books that are “engaging and eclectic”.
Lesley said: “As long as we are financially viable, we want to be like an artisan cafe with beautiful things rather than a unicorn coffee chain that loses its soul.
“I want people to know that a Sparsile book is a quality book.”