There’s a whole world of reputable publishers outside of the Big Five that offer traditional publishing models on a smaller scale. Instead of being aggressive marketers, many offer creative control to their authors and are more willing to take risks on projects they believe have artistic merit. Authors often receive a lot of personal care and attention from the editors, designers, and even owners.
While this approach is very well received by the writing community, small presses with their limited funding have been slow to emerge from the shadows of the wealthy publishing giants. Small presses generally have a reputation as being stepping stones for authors in the publishing world. But thanks to support from the literary community in the form of crowdfunding and book awards, that trend is shifting—many small presses are now seen not just as gatekeepers, but as emerging platforms for mainstream success.
Small presses are being honored both in the U.S. and internationally. The Man Booker Prize, one of the biggest UK-based literary prizes for fiction, was recently awarded to Paul Beatty for his novel The Sellout which was published by OneWorld in the UK. Beatty was the first American author to receive this prize, and small independent publisher OneWorld earned their second big win after Marlon James’ The Book of Night Women earned the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
An impressive nineteen of the thirty-six Booker-shortlisted books from the last six years have been published by independent presses. Along with Beatty, this year’s shortlist featured two other fiction titles from independent presses – Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing from Granta, and Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project from Saraband. Vahni Capildeo, who won the Forward Poetry Prize for Measures of Expatriation, published by Carcanet, just made it on to the shortlist for the T.S. Eliot prize, alongside Ruby Robinson’s Every Little Sound from Liverpool University Press, and Bernard O’Donoghue’s The Seasons of Cullen Church from Faber.
Award-winning novelist Neil Griffiths—who recently created a new literary prize for small UK and Irish presses—explains why he supports the small press movement on his website, Republic of Consciousness:
“We need small presses: they are good at spotting the literary outliers. Their radar is calibrated differently from agents, or mainstream publishers. Small presses don’t ask how many copies will this sell, but how good is this – what is its value as literature? Quality is the only criterion.”
Meanwhile in the U.S., Judith Rosen of Publishers Weekly speaks of a recent National Book Foundation winner whose life has been changed forever:
“When the National Book Foundation announced its recent list of 5 Under 35 honorees, a number of heavily buzzed works from two of the country’s largest houses, Penguin Random House and Macmillan, dominated the list: The Mothers, Homegoing, Prodigals, and Hall of Small Mammals. By contrast, Transoceanic Lights by 31-year-old S. Li isn’t even available at most bookstores. That’s because its publisher, Harvard Square Editions, doesn’t have a distributor, a sales force, a publicist, or even a central office. Its editor-in-chief lives in California and board members live as far away as Cypress.”
The story behind the manuscript is a testament to dedication:
“After being turned down by 50 agents—only one asked to see the manuscript—Li submitted the novel to Harvard Square Editions, which he had seen featured in a newsletter from another small house, Black Lawrence Press. That was in 2013. After he made revisions during his residency, his novel was accepted, and published in March 2015. To date, Harvard Square Editions has published 55 books. Thanks to his nomination, Li has been fielding phone calls from a barrage of agents, and he recently signed with Kent Wolf at the Friedrich Agency.”
In August, Brooklyn-based global crowdfunding platform Kickstarter released some interesting statistics showing the popularity of small publishers on their website:
“We’re thrilled to announce that $100 million has been pledged to Publishing projects on Kickstarter. Since we launched seven years ago, authors, publishers, book shops, poets, podcasters, and more have brought their creative projects to life with the generous support of the Kickstarter community.”
Some of the numbers behind this milestone:
“Publishing Statistics (28 April 2009 — 10 August 2016)
- Amount pledged: $100,000,000
- Projects launched: 33,009
- Projects successfully funded: 9,660
- Creators who have launched more than one successfully funded Publishing project: 608
- Successfully funded creators who have backed at least one other project: 6,414
- Number of backers: 1,226,438
- Number of countries/territories those backers have come from: 211
- Number of times they have pledged to a project: 1,673,631
- Number of publishing projects supported by the backer who has pledged to more publishing projects than anyone else: 364”
“More than a million people from around the world have gotten behind over 30,000 Publishing projects on Kickstarter, helping nearly 10,000 of them come to life. This outpouring of support for the inspired ideas of creators committed to writing, storytelling, and culture is incredible. And the projects funded reflect the breadth and diversity of writers, readers, and storytellers around the world.”
“Independent publishers are looking to Kickstarter to gauge interest, experiment, connect directly with readers, and create beautiful books with high production values. Examples include Restless Books’ expertly illustrated edition of Don Quixote, Copper Canyon Press’s edition of recently discovered, previously unpublished poems by internationally beloved poet, Pablo Neruda, and the gorgeous hardcover editions of John Crowley’s new translation of The Chemical Wedding, published by Kelly Link’s and Gavin Grant’s Small Beer Press.”
Republic of Consciousness: