One of my favorite parts of working at Kirkus is the opportunity to meet small press representatives from around the country—and occasionally from around the world—who come to the office to introduce themselves and their books. They’re invariably passionate about what they do, and I love learning how they started out and how their presses work. Do they have an office, or do they work from home? (Or maybe from a garage?) Do they specialize in a particular kind of book? I like to hear the nitty-gritty, and another way I sate my hunger for details is through Anne Trubek’s newsletter.
Anne is the founder of Belt Publishing, which focuses on books from the Rust Belt, and her newsletter covers issues like whether printing galleys is worth the money; how much money an author can make from publishing a book; and the eternal question of why books are published on Tuesdays. (Spoiler alert: “No one really knows.”) Belt will be putting out a compilation of these essays in the spring under the title So You Want To Publish a Book.
Belt is still fairly new on the small press scene. There are also bigger small presses like Graywolf and Coffee House, of course, both of which have been around for decades and regularly publish a full list of innovative and high-quality books. Some small presses have banded together into larger groups, like Counterpoint, Soft Skull, and Catapult, giving them extra heft in the marketplace. There are several distinctive presses that specialize in works in translation, including Open Letter, Archipelago, and Europa—I wrote about these and others last year.
Archipelago, Bellevue Literary Press, Biblioasis, Counterpoint, Dorothy, Dzanc, Europa, Felony & Mayhem, Graywolf, New Directions, Open Letter, Restless Books, Sarabande, Soho Press, Transit Books, Two Dollar Radio, and Unbridled Books all had entries on our list of the 100 Best Fiction Books of 2018. (Tune in for the best of 2019 in our next issue.) We’ve also recently run great reviews of books from Akashic, & Other Stories, Bitter Lemon, City Lights, Dalkey Archive, Feminist Press, Fomite, Godine, Melville House, Milkweed, New York Review Books, Red Hen, Subterranean, Tin House, Torrey House, Two Lines, World Editions, and many university presses, among others.
For a sampling of this year’s small press books, let’s start with Bloomland by John Englehardt, published by Dzanc. Exploring the reverberations of a mass shooting on a college campus, the book is “a culturally diagnostic achievement in the same way that Don DeLillo’s White Noise and Libra are culturally diagnostic achievements,” according to our review, which concludes: “Hugely important, hauntingly brutal—Englehardt has just announced himself as one of America’s most talented emerging writers.”
Or take Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage by Bette Howland, the very first book from the literary journal A Public Space’s new publishing arm, which our review calls “a remarkable literary voice rediscovered….This achingly beautiful book throbs with life, compassion, warmth, and humor; hums with an undercurrent of existential despair; and creeps into your soul like the slushy-gray-yellow light of a wintry Chicago morning.” And don’t forget Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett, from Tin House, about a woman who takes over her father’s struggling taxidermy shop after his suicide. Our review says, “Arnett brings all of Florida's strangeness to life through the lens of a family snowed under with grief.” Or Degrees of Difficulty by Julie E. Justicz, from Fomite Press, about the way “caring for a profoundly disabled child 24/7 is both exhausting and tension-producing for every member of a family…. A stunning, heartfelt, and poignant debut.” I can’t wait to see what small-press surprises next year will bring.
Laurie Muchnick is the fiction editor.