For a long time now I’ve been trying to make sure my money goes directly to independent publishers and their authors, rather than corporate giants like Amazon. This began organically as I tend to like experimental, adventurous literature and mainstream publishers weren’t really cutting it. Which is how I discovered gems like Ankara Press, And Other Stories, Hot Key Books, and Natterjack Press. After a few years of reading indie publishers, however, I began to realize how important small sales can be. Because they have fewer overheads, indie publishers generally don’t have to sell as many books to “justify” publishing an author. Which is exactly the way publishing should be, even if the reality is a squeezed mid-list, dwindling advances and financial uncertainty for most authors.
So by buying a couple of indie titles a year from my favourite publishers I was making a viable contribution to keeping them afloat and funding my version of a publishing utopia. And then I moved to The Netherlands and my good book buying habits began to unravel… While Amsterdam has an amazing literary scene, new books are very expensive here, the second hand book stores tend to mainly stock the established, big-name publishers and to buy indie books I generally have to pay gianormous shipping fees or go to Amazon. I know, I know: ebooks. But ebooks are actually expensive here as well and I can’t lend them to friends and family so I end up hoarding 4-5 great titles on my ereader, rather than sharing the love. Thankfully publishing seems to be undergoing a mini-revolution that plays into my love of indie books publishing and my desire not to spend a billion bucks on a tiny number of titles.
The last few years have seen the UK mainstream literary establishment become far more welcoming to indie presses and those authors who aren’t a natural fit with big name publishers. A number of high-profile books have been published by shoestring presses and went on to top bestseller and prize lists. The 2012 Man Booker Prize shortlist featured three indie publishers, including the miniscule Salt Publishing. A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing (published by Gallery Beggar Press) won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2013. Two of the books on this year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist are by indie publishers (in a year where big-publisher backed Marilynne Robinson and Anne Enright were passed over). And the 2015 Guardian First Book Award longlist has 5 or 6 titles originally published by indies.
One of the Guardian First Book judges, Jonathan Ruppin, was interviewed by new indie press Dodo Ink last month and explained that the prize is for authors who are “doing new and interesting things,” a concept that mainstream publishers seem less able, or willing, to embrace. Ruppin suggests that the lower overheads of most indie publishers mean that they are: “more willing to try writing that’s a bit avant garde, a bit experimental, that pushes the boundaries a little bit… indie publishers are there to remind the bigger publishers that fiction is still an evolving art form.” The ability of smaller publishers to be financially agile is reiterated by Sam Mills, co-director of Dodo Ink. Mills points out that the financial crash has made many publishers more risk averse and so now is a fantastic time to be publishing experimental fiction.
Ruppin and Mills’ comments reflect my own love of indie publishers and watching the entire interview (available here) made me realize that there was another way for me to fund indie publishers without forking out massive delivery costs or limiting myself to 4-5 books a year. By funding projects like the Dodo Ink kickstarter (which is finishing in the next 24 hours!) I can support the publishers I love, without compromising the volume of my reading. From now on, for every pound, euro, dollar, etc I give to the big companies I’m pledging the equivalent to a new start-up project. Whether that’s funding a local literature festival, an anthology, en entire press or even my own publishing project…