Publisher of the Month: Prototype

Publisher of the Month: Prototype

Our Publisher of the Month for March is the ever-interesting and ever-varied Prototype. Their books are everything that makes independent publishing something exciting and something that should be celebrated. Founded in 2019 by Jess Chandler, Prototype describe themselves as “committed to creating new possibilities in the publishing of fiction and poetry”.

Each publication unique in its form and presentation and the aesthetic of each object is considered critical to its production. Importantly for readers and lovers of books, this means they are typically beautiful books both to hold and to read. In its current, evolving form, Prototype consists of four strands of publications: (type 1 // poetry) / (type 2 // prose) / (type 3 // interdisciplinary projects) / (type 4 // anthologies) including an annual anthology of new work, PROTOTYPE. You’ll find a selection of these in the shop and here online. Liam Nolan spoke to Prototype's Jess Chandler and Rory Cook to find out more...

Running any kind of independent business these days can feel like an uphill struggle. What motivates Prototype as an independent publisher?

We are continually inspired by two things: the work we publish and the community of readers and booksellers that support us and our publications. It is certainly difficult to operate as an independent entity, especially when you are jousting with major houses with serious means at their disposal. But when we read new, exciting, challenging work, the opportunity to present that material to our readership is all the motivation we need. Then we are enlivened by the devotion of our readership, the enthusiasm of independent bookshops such as Dead Ink, friendly coverage by supportive journalists, and the thrill of gaining new readers and followers.

If you were to signpost new readers to a few key Prototype books to showcase what you’re about, what would you recommend?

Every book is essential! Sorcerer by Ed Atkins & Steven Zultanski feels like the kind of book that couldn’t have appeared elsewhere. Vehicle by Jen Calleja is an amazingly inventive book that combines formal experimentation with original storytelling. It was an honour to publish our edition of Bhanu Kapil’s Incubation: a space for monsters — to make that text available for readers again. And there are many exciting titles forthcoming…

I love the way you categorise your publications into four strands but then blur the lines between them (prose written by poets, beautiful anthologies that contain interdisciplinary joy). How important/unimportant to you is it to define or categorise what you publish?

You put your finger on it here: we do categorise our titles like that, but what often grips us is how writing interrogates or deconstructs those categories. Disciplines are important too, but there’s always something exciting and dangerous about work at their edges, leaning into other things.

You recently launched the Prototype Development Programme in partnership with New Writing North, where you ringfenced places for those in the north. Why are regionally-diverse voices important to you? 

I’m [Rory] relatively new in London — I’m from Nottingham, and was in Manchester for a decade before moving to London in 2021 — and I’m continually startled at the resources of all kinds that are here. Literary culture in the UK has been centred around London, and in certain parts of London, forever. But there are incredible institutions, like New Writing North, doing important work to promote meaningful opportunities for writers nationwide. The Development Programme is, we think, a really exciting initiative to offer emerging writers insights into various aspects of publishing from Prototype’s particular perspective – from editorial sessions to workshops on book-making, curation, and input from other indies we love and admire. Ring-fencing applicants from the North seemed like a no-brainer. And we will get to know their work, learn from them, which will be a privilege!

What was your last great (non-Prototype) read?

A few recentish things: So Much For Life: Selected Poems by Mark Hyatt (Nightboat), Holly Pester’s The Lodgers (Granta), The Baudelaire Fractal by Lisa Robertson (Peninsula), Argento Series by Kevin Killian (Pilot), Perennial fashion presence falling by Fred Moten (Wave). A couple of older titles I’ve read this year: Repetition by Alaine Robbe-Grillet, tr. Richard Howard (John Cale’s favourite book), Daphne du Maurier’s I’ll never be young again.

In the spirit of independent businesses supporting each other, what other independent publishers are doing things you’re excited about at the minute?

Divided Publishing Ltd have been publishing an incredible series of titles — it’s a singular list. Lolli Editions are giving us wonderful, challenging work, bringing Scandinavian voices to English-language readers. Their books are always beautifully presented.

What does the future hold for Prototype?

We recently launched the inaugural Prototype Prize, which we’ve been developing for some time. Judged by Bhanu Kapil, Tom McCarthy, and Elizabeth Price, the prize seeks new work at the intersections of literary and artistic forms. We were thrilled to get so many submissions and can’t wait to get through them. We also have several forthcoming novels in translation. It feels exciting to expand our translation list: it opens new worlds.

Finally, if you were one of our booksellers, what would be your top choices from our website for your 'staff picks'?

Rory — Rachael Allen, God Complex (Faber)

Jess — Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, The Discomfort of Evening (tr. Michele Hutchison)

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