In praise of small independent publishing houses

It’s generally accepted that today’s big fiction publishers – and, a fortiori, most literary agents – won’t take on a manuscript from a new author unless they expect it to be either a best seller or a prize-winner, or (in rare cases) both. It doesn’t matter whether the new author has already published one or more books with other houses; if it’s new to the publisher in question, the same rule applies. This is why many writers, including some very good ones, have chosen to opt for self-publishing.

Neil Griffiths, a prize-winning novelist, described his experience of working with a big-name mainstream publisher as, in a word, horrible, notwithstanding the advantages of a rich company’s advertising and marketing capacities. He also became aware that the limitations imposed by such publishers were condemning many excellent works of literary fiction to the slush pile. Instead of bemoaning the situation, as many of us have been doing for some time, he decided to do something about it. To see what he did, look up The Republic of Consciousness online. The Republic of Consciousness awards an annual prize to any small press, operationally defined as having five or fewer full-time employees, that has published an outstanding work of literary prose fiction during the previous year. The competition is open only to small independent publishing houses in the UK and Ireland; mainstream houses and authors of self-published novels are not eligible. What the eight judges sought for the 2018 prize is summed up on one sentence on the website: We weren’t just looking for great novels but ‘hardcore literary fiction and gorgeous prose’.

If you have fiction manuscript that you want to publish but can’t secure an agent or a big publisher, try one of the small independents. The list of such companies below is the 2018 long-list for the Republic of Conscious Prize, with two additions: the eventual winner, and my own favourite publisher, who plans to enter the competition for the first time in 2019.

My experience of working with a small independent publisher has been as positive as Neil Griffiths’s experience of the mainstream was negative. I’ve developed a warm, friendly relationship with the CEO, the promotions and marketing director and the chief editor, and I’ve been made to feel – as the cliché has it – part of the family; which doesn’t say anything special about me, but rather about the way small indie publishers treat their authors.

Here’s the list:

Tramp Press
Tangerine Press
Peirene Press
Peepal Tree press
New Island
Influx Press
Holland House
Galley Beggar
Fitzcarraldo Editions
Fantastic Books Publishing
Dodo Ink
Daunt Books
CB Editions
Cassava Repuplic
And Other Stories


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