In Conversation With: Hoxton Mini Press

Hoxton Mini Press' niche, thought provoking and often humorous back catalogue is filled with stories and photo essays dedicated to highlighting some of the most interesting enclaves of the East End. 

Set up by husband and wife Martin Usborne and Ann Waldvogel in 2013, the independent publishers have gently nudged their way into the book lover's consciousness during what has been a relatively fallow period for the form through the art of being specific and familiar. Hoxton Mini Press publish books about certain streets, singular characters and recognisable 'back in my day' stories your parents will have told you. Columbia RoadI Have Lived In East London For 86 1/2 Years and Dalston In The 80s to name just a few.

Most recently, they have released East London: An Opinionated Guide. It's an unashamedly biased selection of the best spots in the area according to Martin and Ann, written equally for those visiting for the first time and a pointer for anything a native could easily miss.

We spoke to the small London Fields based team about the new book, what it takes to make it as an independent publisher and what draws them to the most particular of topics. 

How did the idea for Hoxton Mini Press come about?

It all began when Martin (co-founder and director of HMP) decided to self-publish ‘I’ve lived in East London for 86 1/2 years’, a photography book about Joseph Markovich, an East London resident who’d lived in the area his entire life and only left once to visit the seaside with his mother. After the success of the Joseph book, Martin and Ann decided to start creating collectable books about East London’s boroughs and people. Their goal was to bring photography to a wider audience by creating beautiful books that everyone can afford and treasure, the kind of books that you’d want your grandchildren to keep.

Starting a publication is never going to be easy. What were some of your concerns prior to starting Hoxton Mini Press?

Publishing can be a complex business, there are many elements involved that need to sync together to get your books seen and because we have had to learn everything from scratch, there has been ample opportunity for mistakes along the way. We have certainly not always got everything right but this has allowed us to grow with our books and audience, and to work with the skills and strengths we have. Our main concern was the popularity of our books, but we have always been so lucky in that we have a very loyal following and the topics and projects we publish seem to resonate with a diverse range of people.

What makes East London so unique?

East London is eclectic, creative, extravagant, multi-faceted, constantly transforming and growing. We have been living and working here for fifteen years now, we breathe the area, and yet we never stop being inspired by it. On the contrary, by virtue of publishing so many books about East London, we have had the chance to discover some hidden, fascinating corners that have perhaps made us love it even more.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered over the years that people should be aware of when self publishing?

One of the main things to be aware of is keeping on top of all the various elements that go into the making and selling of a book. Many people get caught up in the editorial and creative process of a project but having distribution, budgets and successful marketing in place is equally important. No matter how outstanding your title is, it will need the supporting structure to get it seen and most importantly, sold. Equally, if you’re not careful you can end up with a lot of stock in the warehouse - which is essentially money! The temptation is always there to print longer runs to get a more favourable price from the printers, but always be wary of what will happen if a book doesn’t sell as well as you’d hoped - it can be expensive.

East London: An Opinionated Guide, was this project pitched to you or was it something you had in mind?

It was something that we’d had in mind for quite some time. I suppose after ‘East London Food’ did so well we thought a more general guide of our favourite places (not just to eat!) might have appeal too. By making a guide to East London we were trying to treat our readers just as if they were our guests for a weekend, and share our knowledge by giving the same advice that we give our friends when they come to visit us.

It must’ve been difficult to whittle down the shortlist to just 50 odd places. What makes a place stand out for you?

It was tough! East London has so much to offer. I suppose we feel that all the places included have a certain edge and homegrown quality to them, a celebration of the area, often created by people who feel as passionate and inspired by East London as we do. The guide is very much an opinionated guide and so in some sense we simply chose the places that we frequent and enjoy visiting, and hoped it would give people the chance to live like a local and take in all that East London has to offer on a daily basis.

Do you see the gentrification that is pricing some creatives out of the area as an irrepressible force, or will the area continue to find ways to thrive?

Although we very much sympathise and understand the difficulty of the increased costs of living and working in London and know how hard it can be to make money as a creative business we have faith and belief in the creativity and inspiration that East London instils in people; it’s a melting pot of characters and ideas and we hope this aspect of the area will remain one of its defining attributes, after all it is often the creative types who are the most resourceful!

What draws you to certain photographers?

I feel in all of our books there is a point of difference, something that stands out or makes it a little bit unusual. But there’s also a common ground and human approach in a lot of our books that I think is what appeals to so many people. When we find a photographer that achieves both of these qualities in their work we get very excited.

What other projects should we be looking out for from you for the rest of the year?

We are working on a number of larger format compilation photography books to be released over the next 6 months, as well as continuing our Tales from the City and East London Photo stories collections. We can’t release specific details at this point but we are looking forward to showcasing more amazing photography projects and expanding into new areas, all very exciting and challenging stuff!

Any tips for those wanting to submit their ideas for new projects to you?

We look for projects that really stand out, firstly being lead by amazing photography but also look for projects with a strong narrative. Our Tales from the City series in particular focuses on urban themes and we are looking for projects from other cities around the world. If you think you have something that might fit what we do, then check out the submissions page on our website for more information.

StoriesJamal Guthrie