Not unlike the way record labels like Sub Pop and 4AD grew so quickly and became so influential that they were able to nip at the heels of the majors, indie publishing houses have done well in recent years.
The indies that are succeeding right now are doing so because they have a strong sense of who they are as a house. That’s great news for readers looking for material that’s new, fresh and vital. It poses a slightly different challenge for writers looking to publish with a successful indie. If your favorite new book was published by a small press, check out what else is in their catalogue. If any of it is similar to your work, you might be a good fit. Also, many of the small houses allow you to submit without an agent. Some even prefer it. Whether you’re submitting or not, it’s worth keeping an eye on what the big indies are doing. They tend to be ahead of the curve and majorly influence the publishing world at large.
Here are five independent publishing houses–and a bunch of great titles–to keep an eye on:
A personal favorite. Soho has entered a new era over the past couple of years. They’ve always been known for their successful crime division, but Soho has become the new go-to spot for literary fiction as well. The first title that I recall was Alex Shakar’s Luminarium, an incredibly complex and ethereal novel by the author of The Savage Girl. Last year’s success with Juliann Garey’s novel Too Bright To Hear Too Loud To See continued the streak. The identity Soho is creating is a unique one. They’re not a balls-to-the-wall, out-there publishing house. They’re more accessibly literary, without shying away from dark material. They’re prime directive is good, unique story telling, and it works.
Book to Look Out For: In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell (June)
Since Dennis Johnson started Melville House in 2001, they’ve arguably become Brooklyn’s most beloved indie publisher. Melville House is a smart outfit. They publish smart books for smart folks and their website is like a literary blog in its own right. They also put on a yearly book trailer awards show called The Moby’s and have had critical success with books like Leigh Stein’s The Fallback Plan and T.Cooper’s The Beaufort Diaries.
Book to Look Out For: Half the Kingdom by Lore Segal (Oct.)
Two Dollar Radio
Two Dollar Radio is the only non New York-based publishing house on this list, but without them, it would be incomplete. Two Dollar Radio follows in the tradition of publishing houses like Black Sparrow Press, Grove and more recently Akashic. They take the kind of risks bigger houses aren’t willing to take. They publish the books that turn them on and sit back and wait for the big houses to come clamoring for their authors. The folks at 2DR only publish a handful of books a year but the ones they publish are always dark and on the edge. They publish the kind of books they’d want to read, and the kind of books that challenge the status quo. Having published authors like Joshua Mohr and Francis Levy, it seems to be working for them.
Book to Look Out For: Mira Corpora by Jeff Jackson (Sept.)
A pretty bare-bones operation by the same folks behind NY Tyrant Magazine, and books by the likes of Atticus Lish and Blake Butler, NYT maintains an aura of mystery and complexity. Tyrant is like the kid in school with the leather jacket who you were always afraid to talk to and you heard he lived alone, just him and his older brother and they subsisted on pizza every night. Then one day he saved your life in a water tower. Now, all these years later he’s the only kid from high school you still think about. They also publish one of my favorite authors, Michael Kimball!
Book to Look Out For: Hill William by Scott McClanahan
Akashic is my personal favorite indie publishing house for a few reasons. First they seem unconcerned with distinguishing between “brows.” They publish what they like, what moves them, and what feels fresh. Akashic is also the most punk rock of the indie houses, with many books about the punk scene itself, and a couple of authors who could easily be referred to as “Punk Writers” (Joe Meno, Arthur Nersesian). Also, as Dennis Cooper is in essence the most punk writer alive and they’ve given him his own imprint (Little House on the Bowery,) and he has in turn published some of the most out-there literature I’ve ever read (see Benjamin Weissman’s Headless). Akashic has also managed to have a number of surprise successes. Beginning with the Arthur Nersesian’s, The Fuck Up, then Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned, then The Noir Series and finally Go the Fuck to Sleep, Akashic has become a force to be reckoned with in publishing. Look for my interview with editor-in-chief, Johnny Temple coming soon to Brooklyn Based.
Book To Look Out For: The Marijuana Chronicles by Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Childs and more (July)