Independent publishing — that is, publishing whatever an individual or small group think is worthy of dumping their time and money into — is nothing new. From Virginia and Leonard Woolf starting up Hogarth Press to the early days of Farrar, Straus and Giroux championing now-iconic authors that other publishers wouldn’t touch, DIY publishing has long been responsible for some of our best literature.
That’s why, no matter what the latest doomsday prognostication about the future of big publishing happens to be, this is an exciting time to be a fan of literature. Among the long list of indie presses that are putting out great stuff, we’re singling out 25 that we love — but we encourage you to do some more digging of your own to discover even more great indies that are publishing great works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature, and more.
The name says it all. This Baltimore indie has an eye for spotting some of the best fiction and poetry long before anyone else realizes the work is, well, genius. It was the original publisher of Light Boxes by Shane Jones (before Spike Jonze bought the film rights and Penguin republished it), brought us Melissa Broder’s Meat Heart, and its always-great Everyday Genius webzine is on our — everyday — reading list.
Literature lovers smiled when Adam Mansbach’s Go the Fuck to Sleep became a massive bestseller — not just because of the clever title, but because it was awesome to see this fearless publisher get the mainstream recognition it deserves. And with a mission statement that emphasizes its intention of forever remaining a “independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction by authors who are either ignored by the mainstream, or who have no interest in working within the ever-consolidating ranks of the major corporate publishers,” Akashic is pretty much the ultimate indie. From its acclaimed Noir series to books on punk-rock history to publishing Melvin Van Peebles, Akashic is doing it on its own terms.
Growing from a 1970s poetry magazine into one of the most well-respected indie presses is no small feat, but this nonprofit press that’s housed in Minneapolis’ historic Grain Belt Bottling House has published more than its share of award-winning writers (Stephen Dixon, Anne Waldman, Frank Chin), and continues to be one of the presses that all other indies — and even big publishers — look to for inspiration.
We love an indie that prides itself on publishing the weird and unclassifiable, and that’s just what Black Balloon does. And when they’re not getting Jonathan Franzen to blurb books like Robert Perisic’s Our Man in Iraq, they’re running their great daily site The Airship.
Founded by publishing vets Jill Meyers and Callie Collins, this new Austin, TX press is already making waves with its first offering, Kelly Luce’s Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail.
Going strong as a literary magazine since 1999, this operation based in both Portland, Oregon and Brooklyn has seen its book-publishing wing getting bigger and better with every new book, including titles by Christopher Beha, Lucy Corin, and Matthew Specktor, as well as Zak Smith’s We Did Porn.
By now The Feminist Press is an institution — a very important institution that, since the 1970s, has lived up to its name by putting out works that promote freedom of expression and social justice, featuring the voices of individuals from Zora Neale Hurston to Justin Vivian Bond. Punk fans may know them as the publisher who recently published a compilation of highlights from NYU’s Riot Grrrl Collection
Any publisher awesome enough to boast a list that includes a book of Yoko Ono’s poetry, titles by Julian Assange and Douglas Rushkoff, novels like The Dream of Doctor Bantam by Jeanne Thornton, and the must-read Inferno (A Poet’s Novel) by Eileen Myles has more than earned its spot on this list.
Our favorite indie out of Ohio has been expanding into new places like film production and the great biannual essay journal Frequencies, but they’re still hellbent on publishing great titles by writers like Barbara Browning, Grace Krilanovich, Jeff Jackson, and a bunch of other authors you should be reading.
Kevin Sampsell and his Portland press have been putting out a steady stream of great little (in size, not stature) books and chapbooks like Chloe Caldwell’s wonderful essay collection Legs Get Led Astray and stuff by the almighty Gary Lutz.
Putting out fiction, poetry, art books, and translated literature in beautifully designed packaging has helped this Brooklyn nonprofit indie grow from a zine into a beloved small press with over 200 titles to its name.
We almost feel silly saying this, but this Minnesota nonprofit press gets better with age. Their last few years have featured a killer streak of releases from Joshua Cohen, Thomas Sayers Ellis, a stunning new translation of Dante’s Inferno, Stephen Elliott, Benjamin Percy, Fiona Maazel, and many other books that should be on your TBR pile.
Everything Lazy Fascist puts out will blow you away, especially titles like Anatomy Courses by Blake Butler and Sean Kilpatrick, No One Can Do Anything Worse to You Than You Can by Sam Pink, and Patrick Wensink’s perfectly titled Everything Was Great Until It Sucked: One Man’s Journey from Fake IDs and BBQ Sauce Sales to Stay-at-Home-Dad and Bestselling Author.
A nonprofit that consistently puts out great nonfiction, The New Press was founded in 1990 to give readers something different from what large commercial publishers were feeding them. Almost a quarter-century later, it’s still cranking out close to 50 great titles a year, with a roster of authors that includes everyone from Alice Walker to J. Hoberman.
Obviously any publisher linked to the great Hobart Pulp is going to put out great stuff, but with instant classics like Jess Stoner’s I Have Blinded Myself Writing This and Adam Novy’s chillingly brilliant The Avian Gospels, everything this small press decides to put out is worth your time.
This New York publisher knows the value of putting out beautiful books that house great literature. Books like Jim Shepard’s Master of Miniatures and Elizabeth Robinson’s otherworldly poetry/essay On Ghosts aren’t just fantastic reads — they’re sure to be be sought-after years down the line.
Roxane Gay’s name is at the top of the masthead of this small publisher, which has been totally on the money with each of its releases so far, which explains why we predict a bright future for this wonderful three-person operation.
Tyrant is pretty much it when it comes to cutting-edge fiction. Christened the heir apparent to Gordon Lish by the Los Angeles Review of Books, publisher/editor Giancarlo DiTrapano has put together an impressive group of titles that includes the controversial and much-discussed what purpose did i serve in your life by Marie Calloway, along with titles by Blake Butler, Michael Kimball, and the forthcoming Hill William by Scott McClanahan.
Putting Dzanc on this list is sorta like cheating, because not only is Dzanc great, but the list of its imprints — Black Lawrence, Monkeybicycle — is like a Murderers’ Row of amazing indie presses. But featuring books by Terese Svoboda, Kyle Minor, and xTx, it’s hard to deny that Dzanc itself is the kingpin of this incredibly strong indie press organization.
This New York-based nonprofit press started out in 2003 with a mission to publish the finest translated classic and contemporary world literature. A decade later, with titles originally written in Polish, Portuguese, Arabic, Japanese, and just about every other language you can think of, Archipelago stands alongside institutions like New Directions and Dalkey as the vanguard of American publishers of translated literature.
For over a decade now, Melville House hasn’t just been at the center of the Brooklyn literary renaissance you’ve heard so much about; it’s also been steadily putting out some of the most revolutionary books, both new and old, in existence. From Leigh Stein’s poetry and Tao Lin’s Shoplifting From American Apparel to the Neversink Library, the well-curated and visually appealing Novella Series, Anna Politkovskaya’s Is Journalism Worth Dying For?, and a forthcoming Roberto Bolaño biography, the people at Melville House know what you want to read.
You know how everyone pretends that the publishing industry is entirely located in New York? Well, we’d all do well to note that — just like this fine little press out of Oregon that put out Roxane Gay’s Ayiti and a bunch of Ben Tanzer books — many of the great indies on this list come out of the Pacific Northwest.
Not to harp on this whole Pacific Northwest thing, but this Seattle press has put out some damn fine poetry since its founding in 2005. Are you packing your bags for a move out west yet?
For fans of inspiring debut novels and translated works, Other Press has been kicking out some of the most interesting fiction over the last few years. Among 2013’s highlights are Elizabeth Cohen’s The Hypothetical Girl and Sam Toperoff’s Lillian and Dash.
We saved the best for last. Since James Laughlin founded it in 1936, New Directions has published just about everyone important from the last century. To go over the names wouldn’t even be fair, but the inclusion of this extraordinary indie is proof that if you can keep at it long enough, you might publish more than a few legends.