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If you’re an author, in some ways it’s never been easier to make your work accessible. While mainstream publishing remains gated and agents are harder to get than ever, the last decade has seen a blossoming of independent publishing, and the uptake on self-publishing has skyrocketed. Of course, the publicity challenges in a saturated market are real, but that matters less than you might think. The more books there are, the more essential our core work becomes. People turn to small presses because they want guides. Much of mainstream publishing is about manufacturing appetite for digestible entertainment, and that’s OK and it’s fun, but it will never encourage an art form to grow. So long as there’s an appetite for literature as an art form, something to push the boundaries of what’s expressible and how expression happens, then small presses will be here, nudging readers in directions they didn’t know they needed to go. — Stefan and Tara Tobler, founder and editor, And Other Stories

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To an extent, publishing in 2023 looks like it always has: an industry supplying some of humanity’s greatest needs and pleasures, from the truth and beauty of literary art to the daft laughs of the books we read on the toilet. We need books, and enough of us love them to ensure that publishing will prevail. Somehow. Although the industry also looks like it always has, it’s tough out there. There are huge challenges: tight to vanishing profit margins; Amazon; endless cycles of controversy and absurdity, which have been particularly difficult in the past few years. There has been too much social-media bullying of too many authors. There has been widespread fear about tackling important controversial subjects. There have been laughable and ridiculous attempts to bowdlerise classic books. We have succumbed to the malignant attentions of “sensitivity readers” and other self-appointed moral authorities. Then there have been actual book bans in the USA. But there’s reason for optimism there, too. The waves of puritanism and censorship from the right and the left have surely crested. They can still do plenty of damage, but there are enough people fighting back to give me hope. Good books are still being published – and are still worth putting out there. I hope that as a small independent press – that exists to honour individual works of art rather than bow down to trends – Galley Beggar can play its part. — Sam Jordison, co-director, Galley Beggar Press

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Etel Adnan writes, “Narration is an outdated form. It’s prehistoric. This exercise in futility is close to dying, though it may go on for years. This smoke screen for anguish takes us nowhere, save to misguided publishers. So we flip-flop toward that core of reality we call silence by talking and writing, illustrating the degree of incoherence our humanity has reached.” Perhaps she’s right – while at the same time independent publishing is alive and well! — Jill Schoolman, publisher, Archipelago Books

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Here in the United States, it feels irresponsible to talk about the state of publishing in 2023 – whatever hopes and visions one might have – without addressing the menace of our current political climate. Beyond the attacks on libraries and librarians, which have already gone beyond anything we’ve seen in the past, those who are determined to enshrine ignorance and bigotry as the law of the land are now going directly after those who produce and provide the “objectionable” material itself. Faced with the courageous defiance of the libraries, they’re going further and trying to cut off the supply at its source, hoping to make publishers and distributors liable for any claim of “harm”. I don’t believe they’ll succeed, ultimately, but meanwhile the threat of having to devote already scant resources to fighting off a lawsuit or possible jail sentence could be enough to cause a chilling effect for many publishers or distributors. I suppose that’s their actual goal. So, most important for all of us in publishing, now and in the immediate future, is a network of mutual support and active defiance, among ourselves and in alliance with the communities directly under threat. — Elaine Katzenberger, president, City Lights Foundation

For Tilted Axis Press, publishing in 2023 is about community, recovery and fair labour conditions. We’re all managing the post-traumatic stress of a pandemic and must deal with mental health issues, a cost of living crisis and exorbitant inflation rates. As publishers of translated literature, we often work with authors and translators that live with the generational trauma of colonialism. Our work is inextricably linked to recovery. And as the readership of translated literature grows, our work as publishers increases. It doesn’t stop when a book is published, the work continues with community building, conversation and activism. — Kristen Vida Alfaro, director, Tilted Axis Press

Literary fiction in translation is booming. Literary publishing has espoused the diktats of the “society of the spectacle”, while making a meaningful contribution to human, social and political issues, by fostering freedom of expression. Small indie literary publishers are at the forefront of this action. Some of us are thriving, some of us are struggling, all of us are looking in the same direction. Our diversity is our strength. Our struggle is our strength. — Cécile Menon, founder and director, Les Fugitives

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I’ve never been a believer in the grumpy line about the death of the novel/book, and that belief has been vindicated by the last few years. If anything was going to kill off books then the arrival of Covid-19 on the one hand and streaming on the other would have done it. Instead, in lockdown we saw people returning to classic backlist work to try to understand the present, as well as turning to new fiction and non-fiction. It has been fascinating to see how books have had a major influence on culture and politics – from Sathnam Sanghera’s Empireland and David Olusoga’s Black and British changing our conversation about British history to the remarkable effect of Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain on institutions around the world. In recent months it feels as if writers are emerging once more from the strangeness of the past few years and we are seeing terrific new projects in both fiction and in non-fiction proposals. Costs are a huge challenge to every part of the publishing process – from materials to the cost of living. There are huge pressures on the UK economy and so it is vital for publishers to be ever-more mindful of publishing for as international an audience as possible. Publishers are also looking deeply into AI and how it will affect every aspect of publishing. It is also fascinating to see how books are finding their way to audiences. Marketing and publicity changed enormously in 2020 and is changing again as TikTok sells books and people commute less often. It is an exhilarating time to be in publishing, and it’s pretty clear that 2023 will be a year that proves that books are still well and truly alive and kicking. — Mary Mount, publisher, Picador

It’s 2023 and we, to our astonishment, are about to enter our second decade as an entirely independent publisher. Our experience has changed dramatically in that time: from our early days hand-stamping, hand-posting and hand-delivering books to readers and a few small bookshops, to now seeing our titles available worldwide via the largest book distributor in the world. It’s incredible, and yet we’re still just two people in a semi-derelict East London warehouse studio working alongside a couple of trusted freelance designers and our long-suffering proofreader, who pores over our texts in his evenings after work. While an immensely enjoyable and satisfying profession in so many ways, book publishing is also arduous, admin-heavy and impressively unrewarding financially, which means we’ve been unable to expand our team beyond our core of two, much as we’d love to bring others into the fold.

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Working with a large distributor means that the logistics of what we do have become many times more complex and consume a great deal of time and money, while also opening up possibilities that would have been impossible a decade ago. Some of the logistical complexities are now being experienced by all publishers, large and small. Warehouse fees punish those of us who like to imagine our titles existing in warm, dry perpetuity – almost all of our titles are intended to have glacial shelf lives – but this financial disincentive to publish books for the ages is offset by the gradual improvement in the quality of print-on-demand technologies, which are no longer such an affront to book lovers, though still have some way to go to becoming desirable objects. Over the next couple of years we’re planning to tread a balanced path between producing high-end, short-run collectibles, quality trade paperbacks and POD editions that can extend our titles’ lives without inducing further financial penance. Huge improvements in digital printing are creating a new generation of elegant zines and books for specialist audiences, for instance, in the world of independently published tabletop role-playing games (TTRPG), which we both find continuously thrilling and inspiring. For years we have encouraged our readers to pre-order titles to raise money towards print costs, but last year we ran our first crowdfunding campaign for the Austin Osman Spare tarot deck with considerable success, and this is something we hope to do more regularly. If you know your audience and can reach them, it’s a largely risk-free way to fund what might otherwise be impossible. Again, this is something we’ve seen happening routinely in TTRPG, but less so in traditional publishing, though of course Unbound have used a similar model for some time now. We are certainly in a new golden age for independent publishing, thanks to improvements in both layout software and digital printing – and the large number of small and specialist book fairs is testament to this. — Mark Pilkington and Jamie Sutcliffe, founders, Strange Attractor Press

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In general, things still feel chaotic coming out of the shakeup of the pandemic. There’s volatility in corporate conglomeration, media turnover, workplace norms, industry norms, book formats, available channels of promotion, social-media ownership, paper costs, distribution options, censorship, advocacy. Some of it is good and promising, some of it is just change, and a lot of it is potentially detrimental to books and reading. But how you feel about the book culture is still largely a factor of where you look. Independent publishers are still publishing great work. Independent booksellers are still championing them. If anything, there’s a kind of Renaissance moment happening in indie publishing on both sides of the Atlantic, with presses of different sizes and aesthetics doing equally excellent work, like NYRBooks, Siglio, Two Dollar Radio, Coffee House, Wakefield, Coach House, Galley Beggar, New Directions, Fitzcarraldo, Charco, and very many others. People talk about competition between publishers but at the end of the day “competition” is nothing compared to the happiness of having other presses around whose work you care about. — Martin Riker and Danielle Dutton, founders, Dorothy, A Publishing Project

Remarkable books are coming out from lots of independent publishers, new and old, big(gish) to stoutly small: Wakefield, World Poetry, Archipelago, Deep Vellum, New Directions among others. This is great. What bothers me is the absence of any comparable development in criticism. Major papers hardly feature reviews at all anymore, and the listicles they do regularly produce are actively corrupting of taste. (“Fifteen Books to Read Now!”) The reviews that remain are a stew of epithets, apologetics, adjectives and overcooked similes. A small plea: can we let the word “gorgeous” – free of any attachment to authors and books – go its own good way once and for all? — Edwin Frank, editorial director, NYRB Classics ◉

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