This post was originally published in 2016 and has since been updated.
This week while I’ve been on social media talking about the book box it’s come to my attention that a number of people are unsure of what I mean when I use the words ‘independent publisher’. I guess it doesn’t help that it can be used in a number of ways to describe a number of different things – for instance independently published can and often does mean self-published, so just to clear up any confusion I thought I’d write here about what I personally mean when I use the term.
I do read self-published books and there are lots that I’ve loved. I don’t feel that the often held assumption that self-published means lower quality is fair, and I’m absolutely not ruling out including them in the box in the future, but for me, most of the time when I talk about independent publishers (and independent bookshops for that matter) I just mean a company – often small but sometimes not – that owns itself (i.e isn’t owned by a giant corporation or an umbrella company). They are independent from outside control and in control of themselves.
It doesn’t have all that much to do with size, although a lot of independent publishers are small and publish relatively few titles a year. However there are several that are big and you will have heard of I’m sure. Faber & Faber for example, those great publishers of poetry, are an independent publisher, as are Granta and Canongate, among many others. I used to host a project on my personal blog which could be seen as where the Ninja Book Box project really began, called Make Mine an Indie. In the archives of it there are a whole load of brilliant independent publishers, many of whom will be making an appearance in future boxes!
Independent publishers are also often set up in response to a lack in the world of publishing. For example a lot of indies specialise in translated literature from various regions - Peirene Press publish European literature, Charco Press publish books from Latin America, Tilted Axis Press aims to publish more books from across Asia, and there are many more. There are also indies dedicated just to publishing books by women (Linen Press, Honno Press, Persephone Books and during 2018 And Other Stories only published books by women), indies that deal in certain genres (Orenda Books mainly specialise in crime fiction, Fox Spirit Books publish a lot of fantasy and science fiction, as do Unsung Stories, Farrago Press aim to make you laugh). We think that independent publishers really have something to offer us all when we're trying to expand both our reading horizons and our world view!
If you'd like to discover some great Indie Books to get you started, have a look through our past Ninja Book Club books here.