In light of the recent lack of bookshops, I’ve started a new series in which I profile my favourite independent publishers. These are some of the most exciting addresses when it comes to finding original ideas, literature in translation and voices that are underrepresented in the mainstream. Each one is more than deserving of support – in times of crisis and beyond.
Third in the Independent Press Profile series is And Other Stories.
Let’s start with the basics: when, where and who.
And Other Stories was officially born in 2010, after translator Stefan Tobler got together with other translators and writers to brainstorm the idea of a new style of publishing. Frustrated by the commercial focus of larger houses, the idea was to establish an independent press that would champion truly literary literature, choosing books based on their merits alone and not any kind of commercial potential. A not-for-profit operation, And Other Stories was established on a subscription basis – call it crowdfunding for books – in which avid readers signed up and paid for their books in advance, thereby allowing them to be brought into the world. Ever since those first four books appeared in 2011, And Other Stories has been going from strength to strength, working with masterful writers and translators from across the world and always remaining a truly collaborative effort.
Where have I heard that name before?
And Other Stories has gained a bit of a reputation as being fearless and brilliant. Authors like Ali Smith and Max Porter have waxed lyrical about it, and you’ve quite possibly come across mentions in general or trade media like the Guardian or Publishing Perspectives. Back in 2012 Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, but in 2019 the press really stepped into the spotlight with prize nominations galore: the shortlists of the Man Booker International and Goldsmiths Prize among them. And in 2018 they launched the Northern Book Prize with partners New Writing North – just one of a host of initiatives that aim to make publishing less London-centric and more inclusive.
What’s the publishing philosophy?
Books that are ‘shamelessly literary’ and, not to put too fine a point on it, often a little bit out there – in a good way. With And Other Stories titles, you can expect to be challenged in ways you never expected, both conceptually and linguistically. The press is also always up for a challenge, for example embarking on a Year of Publishing Women in 2018. And finally, they’re a generous lot, helping to spread the word about brilliant writing and being genuinely supportive of their translators, editors, designers, readers . . . the works. This year, in response to the Covid crisis, they also started donating 20% of all new subscriptions to bookshops.
What can I expect to find in the catalogue?
Mainly contemporary fiction, though there’s a bit of non-fiction in there, too – see Now and at the Hour of our Death by Susana Moreira Marques. While fine authors such as Deborah Levy, Gerald Murnane, Amy Arnold and James Attlee represent the substantial English-language contingent, the heart of And Other Stories is really translation, which leads us on to . . .
What about literature in translation?
Absolutely. And Other Stories was founded as a response to the incredibly small proportion of the book market occupied by translations, which English-language publishers tended to take on only when they had guaranteed commercial appeal. Founder Stefan Tobler is a translator himself, as is sales, publicity and marketing manager Nicky Smalley. Ever since its inception, And Other Stories has aimed to bring some of the world’s greatest literature to English-speaking audiences – and boy, have they succeeded. As well as being shortlisted for or winning some of the biggest prizes, they have worked with some of the greatest names in translation. International reading groups allow subscribers to get in on the action too, reading books from different languages and putting forward new titles for the press to consider. The current catalogue includes translations from ten languages, among them Afrikaans, Catalan, German, Portuguese and Swedish.
Can I buy books directly from the publisher?
Yes, please do! Although available in selected bookshops across the world, And Other Stories has a solid online shop of their own, where you can not only buy digital and print copies of all their titles, but also book bundles with themes as various as ‘Europe’, ‘Women in Translation’ and ‘Yuri Herrera’. Books tend – at least in my experience – to come with an artistic postcard and handwritten note, and shipping can be arranged to anywhere in the world. One of the best ways to buy from the publisher directly, however, is to sign yourself up for an And Other Stories subscription to receive two, four or six new titles a year, generally a couple of months in advance of the release date and with your name listed in the back as a supporter. Subscriptions are the lifeblood of many independent presses, including And Other Stories, and I can’t recommend this particular one highly enough. As well as offering the publisher consistent support, an inevitably brilliant literary surprise will drop straight on to your doormat every once in a while – what’s not to love?
Any particular recommendations?
The fact is, you can’t really go wrong with And Other Stories – especially if you’re an adventurous reader who loves literary fiction and translation. There’s a reason that Sophie Hughes’ translation of Alia Trabucco Zerán’s The Remainder was shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize – it’s an inspired, fiercely literary novel you won’t forget in a hurry – and in recent months I’ve had the immense pleasure of reading subscription books such as Tim Etchells’ Endland and Luke Brown’s Theft, neither of which I might have picked up otherwise but both extraordinary in their own right. Other authors worth looking out for are Rita Indiana, Gerald Murnane and Yuri Herrera – all a safe bet if you’re after bold voices and uniquely brilliant writing.
What’s on the horizon?
And Other Stories only publishes a handful of books each year, each of which is worthy of attention. Just some of the titles still to come this year – to avoid a long list, I’m picking the ones I’m personally most excited about – are Three by largely forgotten post-war novelist Ann Quinn, Lina Wolff’s Many People Die Like you, translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel, and Slash and Burn by Salvadoran author Claudia Hernández, translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches. For all other news, we’ll have to wait and see – but I’d definitely keep an eye on the prize lists.
If you have a favourite independent press you’d like to see profiled, please let me know in the comments – the best recommendations always come by word of mouth!