UK: Swift Press’ Broccardo and Richards on ‘Of Boys and Men’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The co-founders of London’s Swift Press talk about publishing Richard Reeves’ ‘Of Boys and Men’ in the United Kingdom’s book business.

Diana Broccardo and Mark Richards. Image: Swift Press

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

A programming note: Diana Broccardo, managing director of Swift Press, speaks on Monday (November 27) in The Bookseller’s FutureBook Conference in a panel titled “Driving Force: Sales in Publishing, by Women in Publishing,” a discussion moderated by Emma Lowe and also featuring Anna Bond (Octopus Books), Anna Derkacz (HarperCollins UK), and Kathleen Farrar (Bloomsbury)

‘How Few Young Men There Are’
Last week, the author and research analyst Richard V. Reeves launched the American Institute for Boys and Men, a project that grew for Reeves out of his experience in researching and writing Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It (Brookings Institute Press, September 2022).

The basic statement of intent for the new institute is this: “Too many boys and men are struggling–at school, at work, and in their families and communities. At the American Institute for Boys and Men, we believe many of these challenges are structural and demand evidence-based policy solutions. Our aim is to inform policy and public dialogue with nonpartisan research so that boys and men from all backgrounds can lead healthy, happy, and meaningful lives.”

US cover design, Brookings

Not only has Reeves’ book found good traction among critics and many leaders in the public policy, research, and social sciences communities, but it has continued to perform well in international rights sales. Literary agent Vanessa Kerr at Toby Mundy‘s Aevitas agency in London reported to us in July for one of our Rights Roundups that the book had been sold in to territories including:

  • The United Kingdom: Swift Press
  • Germany: Xenomoi Verlag
  • Spain: Ediciones Deusto
  • Poland: TNSA
  • Russia: AST
  • Croatia: Naklada OceanMore
  • South Korea: Minumsa
  • China: Tao Zhi Yao Culture

For our story today (November 22), Kerr adds two new sales:

  • Japan: Ohta Publishing House
  • Arabic: Jadal

Richard V. Reeves

What’s more, when we reported on last week’s University Press Week, Of Boys and Men was one of the 103 books placed on the Association of University Presses‘ list of books chosen to demonstrate what’s distinctive and valuable in the missions and capabilities of university-press output.

In our interview with Reeves earlier this year, he spoke about the difficulty he’d initially encountered in placing Of Boys and Men with a publisher. Reeves now is working with Quarto’s Quarry Books to write He Can HEAL, a middle-grade book that Quarry editor Jonathan Simcosky has acquired to accompany another volume titled She Can STEM. This is a project we’d mentioned in our interview with Reeves, and he now has issued a call for recommendations of inspiring men working in the healing, educational, artistic, and literary professions (HEAL).

Spanish cover design, Deusto (translation: María Maestro Cuadrado)

For example, Reeves writes, “I’m thinking of men like Hector Hugo Gonzalez, who became a nurse in Texas in 1962 and then served in that capacity in the Vietnam War before becoming president of the Hispanic Nurses Association in 1982.”

The issues around men and boys in various societies today go beyond questions of career patterns and society’s need for guys in supportive, healing professions, of course.

In a lead article at the new institute’s site looks at Male Suicide: Patterns and Recent Trends, Reeves and his associate Will Secker look at a finding that since 2010, suicide rates have risen by 34 percent for younger men aged 24 to 30. The risk of suicide for men, in fact, is four times higher for men than women, though attempted suicide is higher for women. In his book, Reeves notes that in the United Kingdom, the biggest killer of men 45 and younger is suicide.

The High-Flying Swift Press

Reeves is British-American, originally from Peterborough, England. With London Book Fair taking the lead among the major international industry trade shows in March (see today’s announcement of the program’s main stage highlights), Publishing Perspectives is glad to have had a chance to talk with Diana Broccardo and Mark Richards, the managing director and publisher, respectively, of London’s Swift Press.

This independent house became the UK publisher of Reeves’ Of Boys and Men quickly after its release from in the States, prompting Tomiwa Owolade to call it “one of the most important nonfiction books of the year” in his Sunday Times review.

If the name of the house is ringing a bell, it may be because Swift Press is the publisher of Time to Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children by Hannah Barnes, a book that was shortlisted for the 2023 £50,000 Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction.

Working in fiction and children’s books as well as in nonfiction, Broccardo and Richards are hardly afraid of controversial content. This is the house that in September published Melissa S. Kearney’s The Two-Parent Privilege: How the Decline in Marriage has Increased Inequality and Lowered Social Mobility, and What We Can Do About It.

Richards and Broccardo–who talk over and around each other with brilliant energy for their work–clearly have seen messages for the publishing industry in Richard Reeves’ work. Although their banter is filled with good humor, they easily articulate what Reeves has talked about in approaching publishers, many of whom have done a superb job of producing fine, empowering content for girls and women, but may not see an opportunity in doing the same for boys and men.

When Of Boys and Men was considered in some other houses” in the UK, Richards says, “the most common reaction, we know, was ‘Boohoo for men, they’ve been having it great for however many millennia; women have been doing better for five minutes and you’re already calling foul.'”

Richards’ background lies in 13 years with literary imprints at multinational publishers, starting as an editorial assistant at HarperCollins’ 4th Estate in 2007, then moving to Hachette UK’s John Murray as editorial director before becoming publisher. Based mainly in literary fiction, he’s also worked in crime, thrillers, and nonfiction.

For her part, Broccardo was the commercial director at Andrew Franklin‘s Profile Books for 10 years, overseeing sales, marketing, publicity, art, and warehouse operations. Prior to that, she’d held commercial roles with Faber & Faber, Hodder & Stoughton, and Orion.

She and Richards co-founded Swift Press in June 2020, and their catalogues demonstrate the caliber of their approach. Their output in fiction includes the July publication of Booker Prize for Fiction winner John Banville’s The Singularities. (In the States, the book was released in early September by Penguin Random House / Knopf.)

In their conversation you hear echoed one of Reeves’ most persistent points: caring about men’s and boys is not an automatic criticism of women, who in any workforce, as in life, are surely deserving, capable, and dedicated. “Some argue,” writes Reeves, that addressing the issues facing boys and men “is a distraction from the challenges still faced by girls and women. I think this is a false choice.” A “political stalemate” on issues of sex and gender, he writes, makes it hard to discuss the issue, when “progressives refuse to accept that important gender inequalities can run in both directions” and conservatives use the struggles of boys and men “only as a justification for turning back the clock and restoring traditional gender roles.”

‘Men and Women are Different’

“We’ve been noticing this so much in the publishing industry,” Broccardo says.

“Shall we not have any young men publishers? Any male publishers? I think it’s really a dangerous place to be.”Diana Broccardo, Swift Press

“How few young men there are–if you just look at the up-and-coming staffers, the Rising Stars, the people interviewed for Bookseller articles, the number of men on prizes. Historically, there haven’t been enough women in these prizes, and we get that.  But you can’t just ignore 50 percent of your population, not giving these people jobs and opportunities.

“Shall we not have any young men publishers? Any male publishers? I think it’s really a dangerous place to be. And that’s when I started to look around at all these women and wonder, ‘Are you happy for your sons not to have jobs later on? And to be second to women?’ Once you start having these discussions sensibly–and most women are sensible about this,” Broccardo says, the industry should be able to have a healthy, honest conversation about how the business can fully serve a society that’s essentially equally male and female. She says she looks forward to such a moment.

“But I’m not convinced the tide has turned yet,” Broccardo says. “There’s so much of that word misogynistic. The word is overused, and we have to see our way through this.”

Richards, nodding his agreement, picks up the thread, saying, “Ironically, I think what it comes down to is a real reluctance to admit that men and women are different. There are bad reasons but understandable reasons why more men commit suicide than women. Of course, we need to stop women from killing themselves, but the solutions will often be different for the sexes. And if you don’t admit to any differences between the sexes, then you won’t have solutions tailored to the need.

“One of the great things about Richard’s book is that he not only diagnoses” the range of challenges for men and boys today, “but he also does come out with ideas. And whether or not you accept those ideas, the point is that we actually do need to think about ideas. If boys start learning much later than girls,” an issue that may well affect reading patterns, “would it make sense to give them an extra year?” He’s referring there to one of Reeves’ suggestions: “redshirting” boys, so that they start school a year behind girls, whose mental and emotional faculties typically mature more quickly.

Within seconds, Broccardo and Richards are laughing at the kind of pushback they might hear for talking about differences in gender-driven issues and book publishing.

“Did we really say men and women are different?” Broccardo asks, chortling. The two are accustomed to being out on limbs, they assure a listener, with their commitment to producing controversial material that they feel is important.

‘Bad Business Sense’

Questions about book business workforce and gender aren’t confined to the British market, of course. One of the key articles of this season in Germany has been Ralf Schweikart’s Tell Me Where the Men Are at the Börsenblatt, a magazine for the book business. In that instance, Schweikart is looking at children’s and YA publishers.

“I’m 41 and there are probably only five men younger than me in British publishing doing fiction. A tiny amount. We’re not serving the market right.”Mark Richards, Swift Press

“If you go one step into the engine room of children’s book publishing,” he writes, “… the search for men becomes a search for a needle in a haystack.” Men who once worked in children’s publishing, Schweikart reports, “have long sinced climbed the career ladder and are employed at least as program managers. The next generation is missing,” while the top executive positions in many of the key young readers’ houses, he notes, are held by accomplished women.

And in publishing in the UK, “It’s actually bad business sense,” Swift Press’ Richards says, to assume that only women will read fiction. “It’s not that men don’t read any fiction,” he says. “And yet, I’m 41 and there are probably only five men younger than me in British publishing doing fiction. A tiny amount. We’re not serving the market right.”

Richards says he sees parallels in the Reeves book to the controversies around the publication of Testosterone: The Story of the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us by Harvard’s Carole Hooven from Hachette UK’s Octopus in the UK and Macmillan’s Henry Holt in the States.

“I wouldn’t expect the business to be 50-50,” he says. “And Richard makes this point in his book. I’d expect it to be more like two-thirds, one-third. But again, you have to admit that men and women are different, and they read differently and they write differently.”

Related article: ‘Of Boys and Men’ and Publishing: Richard V. Reeves. Image: American Institute for Boys and Men

Yet, as he points out, questions of diversity, equality, and inclusion often turn on issues of race, ethnicity, socio-economic background, sexuality, and more, but not on gender–which nevertheless inherently affects people in all the other classifications addressed by diversity programs. This is, after all, what Reeves himself has said makes his Of Boys and Men “a difficult plane to land.”

Nevertheless, among Reeves’ international publishers, the two Swift Press co-founders may have a secret weapon in their discussion of topics that many–in any industry, not just publishing–might be nervous about getting into: they speak without rancor. They have the capacity to discuss these difficult points of a contemporary workforce without belittling others or staging a campaign to somehow persuade anyone in earshot that they’re right. The result is refreshing and enlightening, entirely without threat or pontification.

“And that,” says Diana Broccardo as she and Mark Richards break into laughter when a reporter points this out to them, “is because we’re independent publishers.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on nonfiction is here, more on political topics in publishing is here, more on public discourse and freedom of expression is here, more on women in publishing is here, and more on issues in men’s and boys’ reading is here, and more on independent publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.