Why you should care
Because these indie publishers are doing exciting stuff.
With 80 percent of the U.S. book market dominated by just five companies (which themselves are owned by huge media conglomerates like News Corp and CBS), these giants tend to dominate the book scene. There’s lots of innovation going on among small publishers, though, and it often gets overlooked amid the media hype for the next big thing. As a writer, reader and book reviewer, I’m always on the lookout for indie publishers around the world who are trying new things with language, technology or business practices. So here are 10 to keep an eye on in 2018.
Created as a punk rock band and then reinvented as an indie press, Curbside Splendor has now opened its own book and record store in Chicago’s South Loop. Its books aim to explore contemporary culture through innovative hybrid forms.
What to read: Body Horror: Capitalism, Fear, Misogyny, Jokes by Anne Elizabeth Moore, an exploration of the global toll of capitalism on women.
Peepal Tree Press in England has been bringing Caribbean literature to the world for 30 years on a shoestring budget.
Australia’s leading indigenous publisher started as a response to cultural appropriation. In the 1980s, Aboriginal writers often saw their stories used with little acknowledgment or remuneration, so the founders of Magabala Books set up their own organization to protect the rights of traditional storytellers and artists. The company’s name comes from a bush banana that spreads its seeds far and wide, and Magabala is spreading the seeds of indigenous culture by donating books to children and running a scholarship for Aboriginal writers and artists.
What to read: Lemons in the Chicken Wire by Alison Whittaker, a collection of gritty poems on rural identity.
With so many amazing apps and devices competing for kids’ attention, how can we encourage children to read? This U.K. publisher has won multiple awards for translating its children’s books into iPhone and iPad apps that are designed “to tell stories and provide information to children in new and engaging ways.”
What to read: Flip Flap Dogs by Nikki Dyson, with the accompanying app that lets kids mix and match dogs into new breeds with funny rhymes.
England-based Peirene Press is innovative in several ways: It champions contemporary European literature in translation, focuses on the novella, produces just three well-designed books a year and operates on an annual subscription model as well as selling books individually. It’s also crowdfunding its Peirene Now! series dealing with Brexit, refugees and other topical issues.
What to read: Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi, a disturbing French novella about a mother’s dangerous love for her children.
Coffee House Press
This Minneapolis-based press goes beyond publishing good books — it also tries to foster a literary culture and improve engagement through its Books in Action projects. It has created public reading rooms and library residencies, arranged literary art installations and more.
What to read: Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli, telling the stories of undocumented children seeking a new life in the U.S.
Peepal Tree Press
The Caribbean region has produced Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott and a host of other great writers. Peepal Tree Press in England has been bringing Caribbean literature to the world for 30 years on a shoestring budget, and it continues to evolve — check out its Discover feature, which aims to give its books a social context.
What to read: Ascent to Omai by Wilson Harris, a well-deserved new edition of a Guyanese classic.
In a publishing world seemingly dominated by the “more is more” philosophy, Dorothy is a welcome change. The St. Louis–based project publishes just two books a year and focuses on top-notch design as well as stylistic and formal variety. It’s “dedicated to works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women.”
What to read: The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz, a new translation of an Austrian literary horror story.
Mkuki na Nyota Publishers
Publishing books in African languages shouldn’t really be that innovative. But with so much of the African publishing industry still dominated by English and French, it’s refreshing to see this Tanzanian publisher producing in Swahili as well as English.
What to read: The Gathering Storm by Hamza Sokko, a poignant novel about the challenges of postcolonial life.
This British indie press wants to “put the short story at the heart of contemporary narrative culture.” So you can find highly relevant and engaging short story collections on war, protest, the refugee crisis and more.
What to read: Iraq + 100, edited by Hassan Blasim, in which 10 Iraqi writers imagine their country a century after the U.S.-led invasion.
In the heart of Brooklyn, Akashic Books champions writers who have either been ignored by or have chosen to shun the mainstream publishing scene over on the other side of the East River. Its slogan, “Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World,” says it all.
What to read: Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani, a Kenyan novel that reimagines the rise and fall of colonialism.