Since the announcement in October that Random House and Penguin Publishers would merge there have been further rumours of other major publishers joining forces. Bucking this trend, are the smaller, independent presses who continue to publish exciting new authors or established names that the bigger conglomerates think are no longer financially viable. But publishing quality literature and non-fiction is an expensive venture and these smaller presses have had to think creatively and find innovative ways to survive.
Unbound Books offer readers the opportunity to participate in the publishing process. Authors pitch their book ideas on Unbound's website. Readers can then pledge an amount in order to support the book's publication. Effectively you become a patron of the book/s of your choice. If you back a project before it reaches its funding target, you get your name printed in the back of every copy and immediate behind-the-scenes access to the author's "shed" (This means you can read draft chapters and join discussions with the author. Essentially you get to comment on and contribute to a work in progress). If any project fails to reach its funding target, you are refunded in full. The higher your pledge, the greater the benefits including, in some cases, lunch with the author. If you introduce your friends to the site you earn "credits" when they support a project. Unbound has some big names on their list such as ex-Python Terry Jones and Peter Jukes', whose book The Fall of the House of Murdoch is particularly timely in the wake of Lord Leveson's report.
I am always amazed that we do not publish more literary fiction in translation in the UK. According to Literature Across Frontiers, translation makes up 2.5% of all publications; only 4.5% of fiction sales in the UK, compared with 30-40% in France or Spain. Publishing collective And Other Stories is subscription-based and most of its books so far have been translations. They publish four books a year and these are recommended by their network of readers, writers and translators. They have a diverse community of supporters and through online discussion subscribers can sway the choice of titles. Subscribers receive a limited-edition numbered copy and could find themselves backing a winner. In just two years, And Other Stories have seen Mexican Juan Pablo Villalobos' Down the Rabbit Hole - a nightmarish inversion of Alice in Wonderland - where absurd wishes are granted, giant cats are fed human corpses, and corrupt politicians come to lunch - nominated for the Guardian First Book Award 2011 and Deborah Levy's Swimming Home - a gem of a novel that confounds all expectations - shortlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize.
Then there is the wonderful Peirene Press who publish European literature of distinction in English translation. Their books are beautifully designed paperbacks and are always less than 200 pages "so you can read them in the same time it takes to watch a movie". Their books are all award-winners or best-sellers in their countries of origin and have enjoyed success over here too. Matthias Politicki's Next World Novella, an absorbing portrait of a marriage breakdown, made various literary editors' books of the year list and was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2012. Peirene curate their books according to themes and next year's series is entitled "Revolutionary Moments". In addition, they host a wide range of literary events for subscribers from informal coffee mornings to launches and literary salons.
Finally, another publisher of merit is Stork Press who specialise in translating exceptional new writing from Central and Eastern Europe. They are celebrating their first year of publishing this month. I was impressed with the two titles I've read: A.M. Bakalar's Madame Mephisto, a darkly-comic account of a Polish immigrant's experiences in London and Petra Procházková's assured debut, Freshta, a bitter-sweet hymn to Afghanistan told from an outsider's perspective.
Christmas is fast approaching and what better present could there be for book lovers than a subscription to one of these courageous publishing outfits or the gift of a pledge that helps get a book published? You'll be in for a treat and helping to support independent publishing. What's not to like?
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