Hurray for Small Presses!
For two decades, March has served as National Small Press Month, an annual promotion highlighting the independent spirit of small publishers and the important role they play in the book business. As giant, international conglomerates account for an ever-increasing share of the publishing industry, small presses remain a vital outlet for diverse voices and unconventional approaches.
Independent presses not only provide opportunities to new authors but also can enhance the careers of established writers. They take risks, push boundaries, fill niches neglected by larger publishers, and serve a wide array of audiences. They offer access to much of the new poetry and many of the translated works being published today.
A recent example of a small press success story involves Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. This revelatory novel was published in 2013 by one of the tiniest firms imaginable, Galley Beggar Press, which had been run out of a bookshop in Norwich, England. The book, initially rejected by larger presses in Britain over the course of nine years, ended up winning several literary prizes and became a bestseller. Clearly, “small press” doesn’t necessarily mean niche or unimportant.
Here at P&P, we’ve been marking the month by displaying, in several places, small press books. A few examples:
- Restless Books, based in Brooklyn, promotes fiction and nonfiction from other cultures. A recent offering is The Face, a series of short memoirs by a range of writers who use descriptions of their faces as springboards for more meditative discussion. This represents the kind of off-beat but compelling work that independent presses can bring to market.
- Two Dollar Radio in Columbus, Ohio, was started by a husband-and-wife team. Binary Star, a novel by Sarah Gerard cited by numerous critics as one of the best books of 2015, exemplifies the originality of the fiction this firm publishes.
- Other Press is distributed by Random House (as are some other small presses), but it remains an independent entity that has branched into literary fiction and broader nonfiction areas after a start focused on academic and psychoanalytic titles. One of its celebrated authors, Sarah Bakewell, is scheduled to speak at P&P on March 31 about her new book, At the Existentialist Café, a spirited account about the rise of existentialism and the revolutionary thinkers who shaped the movement.
- Deep Vellum Publishing is a Dallas-based nonprofit that publishes translated works. Among its books is Seeing Red by Chilean author Lina Meruane, a powerful autobiographical novel and the first of Meruane’s works to appear in English. Were it not for a small press, this major South American literary figure could well have remained inaccessible to the English-speaking world.
- Tin House Books, based in Portland, Oregon, releases only about a dozen titles a year but has garnered much positive attention. Its Ghosts of Bergen County, a debut novel by local author Dana Cann, explores the many ways people can be haunted by the past. Cann will be appearing at P&P on April 30, which this year is Independent Bookstore Day.
Additional small presses and their books currently displayed in the store include:
Open Letter — Rock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt;
Two Lines — Sleep of the Righteous by Wolfgang Hilbig;
Wakefield Press — Exemplary Departures by Gabrielle Wittkop;
New Directions — Love Hotel by Jane Unrue;
& Other Stories — 101 Detectives by Ivan Vladislavic;
Coffee House Press — The Deep Zoo by Rikki Ducornet;
Melville House — The Last Interview series.
Please join us in celebrating small presses everywhere!
— Brad and Lissa