Small Press: Innovation and Integrity

We've all seen the hype machine of the big publishing houses, and honestly those books are fun! They market for mass appeal and are good at doing it! We genuinely enjoy reading what's new because we can join in on the larger conversation along with everyone else who's reading it. We know, undoubtedly, that there's real value in that sense of community.

But, on the flip side, there's only so much of the hype we're interested in, and it can be a real turn off for Rikki especially. So when we're itching for something different, we turn to backlist and indie publishers to round out our reading lives.

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Indie publishing houses operate with a slightly different set of rules than the major publishers. They often offer a lot more diversity, and with that comes access to ideas and points of view that can be under represented in the big publishing houses. They're also more likely to publish books that are doing unique things with prose and style, more willing to publish experimental novels, and put out more poetry books that are "too risky" for the bigger houses.

Since smaller presses can take those creative risks, they often publish brilliant, daring, sometimes strange and beautiful things. Most of them also have a solid identity, and the things they send to print reflect that because they can be so careful in their curation. Many of them also do really kick ass things like print their novels in crazy environmentally responsible ways, make large donations to little free libraries, and are active force in enriching their communities. Sounds intriguing, right?!

On top of this, we've definitely found that talent isn't exclusive to the big name publishers. Most indie presses have some major players --- you'll often see names you know and love in addition to new or new-to-you authors who put out amazing work. If you look, you'll also start to notice that indie presses are just littered with literary awards and accolades. The rise in popularity and successes of indie publishing even has the big publishers looking to them for inspiration and trend spotting.

We're also of the opinion that indie presses are especially important in this political climate both because they're giving a voice and a platform to many of the points of view the current administration is trying to censor, and because they provide an alternate choice in a more and more heavily corporatized nation. 

If any of this interests you, here are some independent presses you should know about.

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Tin House - Based in Portland, OR and Brooklyn, NY Tin House is one of the better known indie presses, and for good reason. They have a reputation for tending toward the creatively playful, the real, the passionate, the lively. They are consistently refreshing and diverse in what they publish, and also put out a hugely popular literary magazine.

Book we'd pick up: Rabbit Cake, by Annie Hartnett

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Graywolf Press Another giant in the indie world, located in Minneapolis, Graywolf has become something of a  Pulitzer winning powerhouse. They tend to publish adventurous books and have an eye for extreme talent and cultural relevance. Much of the work they publish is exquisite, refined literature that often tackles difficult topics.

Book we'd pick up: Almost Everything Very Fast, by Christopher Kloeble

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Two Dollar Radio - "Our work is for the disillusioned and disaffected, the adventurous and independent spirits who thirst for more, who push boundaries and like to witness others test their limits." says the front page of their site, and for good reason. Based in Ohio, they put out gloriously off the wall and perfectly indescribable fiction. They are also extremely environmentally conscious, which I respect. For example the book above says it's "printed on Enviro 100% post-consumer EcoLogo certified paper, processed chlorine free and manufactured using biogas energy," I mean come on! Definitely a personal favorite.

Book we'd pick up: Found Audio, by N.J. Campbell (our review)

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Catapult- This press fosters a really great community of writers with their online magazine, writing classes, and books. A fairly new and ambitious press, it puts truly great storytelling and collaboration at the center of everything it does, and it shows. Their focus is on all the layered, meaningful, gritty stories that make up life as we know it, primarily in the form of literary fiction and memoir.

Book we'd pick up - Reservoir 13, by Jon McGregor

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Coffee House Press- Another more established indie press, also based in Minneapolis (can we move there now?!), CHP is invested in innovative literature. They aim to publish books that are diverse and exciting but also enduring in a world obsessed with the next bestseller. Here's a really great in-depth profile of the press and the non-profit organizations they run as well. Plus they won us over when we read that they donated 12k books to Little Free Libraries and do meaningful work to support indie bookstores!

Book we'd pick up- Empty Set, by Verónica Gerber Bicecci out in February, but I'm so excited for it

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Other Press- One of the noteworthy things about this New York based press, is that all their non-fiction blends cultural, historic, psychic, and literary shifts into the main topic, and explores how all those things interact. This means you get non-fiction thats significantly more dynamic and interesting than standard fare. They also publish really imaginative fiction, and we had a hard time picking a title to recommend, they all look amazing!

Books we'd pick up - At the Existentialist Cafe, by Sarah Bakewell or Three Floors Up, by Eshkol Nevo

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Red Hen Press- Celebrating wildness in their works that is both supremely appealing and sometimes a bit savage, this Los Angeles based press says, "We seek a community of readers and writers who are actively engaged in the essential human practice known as literature," and give strong support to literacy in their community. Their selection is absolutely wonderful and exciting.

Books we'd pick up- Blue Cathedral, by Katie Gale or The Dead Go to Seattle, by Vivian Faith Prescott

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Ferrar, Straus, and GirouxOwned by Macmillan, FSG is still an innovative and interesting small publisher. Karl Ove Knausgaard? Yeah, he's with them. They just generally have a curation and taste level that I trust, and have won accolades for that eye for quality. They avoid dull, pretentious literature, and instead publish truly literary works that captivate. They've maintained their stellar reputation for more than 50 years at this point, and that's pretty damn impressive. 

Book we'd pick up: Sourdough, by Robin Sloan (Mr. Penumbra, anyone?) our review

We'd love to start conducting our own tours and interviews with several presses in the coming year and really dive deep into what makes them work. We absolutely can't wait to find out more, because even on a surface level, many of these presses align so perfectly with our own values and tastes.  

We also really encourage you to do some investigating into small presses in your area, checking out your local bookstores selections, or hopping over and buying from some of these presses directly. They are all doing really interesting, amazing things for the literary community, not only through their published works but through other causes they run and support. It's easy to see that they strengthen literature and the literary community as a whole with the work they pursue, and that is so worth supporting.

If you do find one, let us know! We'd love to find more, too. We've had really great success with books from smaller publishers, and hope you do too. Happy exploring!

Do you already have a press that you love? Tell us about it, we are so intrigued by this side of publishing!