Novel-tea: indie presses

Credit: Soomin Kong/ Credit: Soomin Kong/
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The literary world has been transformed by the business acquisitions of the Big Five publishers (Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster). These publishers fight for our attention every step of the way, particularly making use of social media communities like BookTok and Bookstagram. They seek to replicate the successes of major book hits through early investment and promotion.

To a large extent, it’s working. According to WordsRated (a publishing industry research group), the Big Five control over 80 percent of the book trade market and generate 64 percent of its revenue (aside from educational books), which amounts to over $12 billion per year as of 2021.

However, this business strategy leaves a gap for inventive and creative literature: books that aren’t necessarily guaranteed bestsellers, but are groundbreaking, exciting literature. As Nathan Scott McNamara put it, “Major presses are inadvertently helping foster an environment for indie presses to thrive at the very thing they’re best at: being small.” Indie presses like Graywolf, Coffee House Press, and Europa Editions have promoted some of the most interesting books in the industry. Many of my favorite books come from these presses, to name a few: “Breasts and Eggs” by Mieko Kawakami (Europa Editions), “The Lying Life of Adults” by Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions), and “The Twilight Zone” by Nona Fernández (Graywolf). All of these books have a strange, captivating quality to them that is fostered by indie presses.

That is not to say the Big Five do not churn out interesting literature, but it is to say that indie presses have the space, ability, and reputation to produce some of “the best, weirdest, and most relevant work possible.”

In short, books are cool, so don’t be afraid to experiment with where you look for them.