The festive season is almost upon us, and while Christmas will no doubt be very different for most of us this year, perhaps we can use gift giving for a final boost of positivity. The last few months have proved again and again how much joy, solace and human connection literature can provide in times of distress: reading really is a gift without compare.
For me, there’s also nothing quite like a gift that’s spread out throughout the year, not to mention one that helps support one of the many independent publishers doing such amazing work on tight, often precarious budgets. As the uncertainty of a new year looms, I’ve put together a list of some of my favourite independent publisher subscriptions (UK- and US-based) for gift inspiration that’s supportive, inspiring and guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of any book lover. Many of these publishers specialise in translated literature, offering the added bonus of still being able to travel the world – if only from the armchair.
And Other Stories
Sheffield-based publisher And Other Stories was my introduction to the world of independent presses and is one to which I still subscribe. You’ll find my profile of the ‘shamelessly literary’ publisher here, but the catalogue includes plenty of translated fiction as well as original English-language fiction and the occasional non-fiction title. Annual subscriptions of two, four or six books are available; subscribers receive their titles around two months before publication date and have their name printed as a supporter in the back of the book. Prices start from £22.00/€27.00/$28.66 including shipping, and you can choose either annual billing or a one-off subscription.
Archipelago Books is a not-for-profit publisher based in Brooklyn, so perfect for any US-based readers. Their focus is on translated world literature, both classic and contemporary, with a catalogue comprising more than two hundred books from over thirty languages, including more unusual suspects such as Kurdish, Tamil and Basque. So-called memberships can be paid monthly or annually, starting from $15/month or $150/year, and include a copy of each new title – roughly one a month – as well as a 25% discount on the bookshop, exclusive event invitations and members-only content. International memberships are also available if you email the press for details.
I can’t do justice to the love I feel for Charco Press, Edinburgh-based publisher of translated Latin American literature. Six beautifully designed books appear each year, comprising novels, short stories and non-fiction, and showcasing some of the boldest, most perceptive and lyrical writing by contemporary Latin American authors. Among my favourite titles of late have been Resistance, Dead Girls and The Adventures of China Iron, which was shortlisted for this year’s International Booker Prize. As a publisher, Charco Press is extremely innovative and engaged; their recently started Zoom launches are a genuine delight to attend. The annual book bundle offers a saving on all six titles, with books shipped in advance of the official release date. The 2021 offer isn’t available yet, but the 2020 bundle cost £55.00 with free postage within the UK and half price shipping to everywhere else.
One of the mightiest names on the independent publishing scene, London-based Fitzcarraldo Editions was founded in 2014 and specialises in fiction (much of it translated) and long-form essays. Their striking minimalist covers – blue for fiction, white for non – have been seen gracing many a prize list in recent years, with authors including Annie Ernaux, Adam Mars-Jones, Adania Shibli and Nobel laureates Olga Tokarczuk and Svetlana Alexievich. Publishing twelve titles a year, subscriptions are available in numerous permutations: choose from fiction only, essays only or mixed; and then from four, eight or twelve titles. Prices start at £35, including free UK shipping and invitations to exclusive member events. Shipping costs to the rest of the world are very reasonable and subscribers receive their books roughly a month in advance of publication.
Galley Beggar Press
Norwich-based Galley Beggar Press is the rebel of the indie scene: they do everything a little bit differently, and they do it extremely well. Like many small presses, they’re always tapped in to the world around them, which results in efforts like the current initiative to donate 15% of all purchases made by the end of 2020 to UK food-equality charity Fareshare. I’m proud to be a Galley Beggar subscriber and the recipient of books such as Lucy Ellmann’s magnificent Ducks, Newburyport (easily one of the best books I’ve read this year), and Alex Pheby’s Mordew, the first part of an ambitious new fantasy trilogy. While the ‘limited edition’ subscription list is currently full, you can still sign up for a scheme that includes first edition paperbacks, your name in the back of each book, a discount code for the online shop and much more. Prices start at £2.50 a month or £40 for a four-book subscription, with international shipping also available.
Prize-winning North London-based Influx Press draws praise from just about every quarter for its inspired catalogue of fiction and non-fiction that brings us ‘stories from the margins of culture and sites of resistance that remain under-explored in mainstream publishing’. The list has a distinctly radical bent and includes novels, short stories, anthologies, poetry and creative non-fiction, with titles ranging from Eliza Clark’s much talked about Boy Parts to Eley Williams’s Attrib. and Other Stories. The twelve-strong 2021 list looks pretty darn brilliant, and a flexible subscription model means you can pick and choose: three-, six-, nine- or twelve-book packages are available, with the option of enjoying your books in print (starting from £25) or digital (starting from £12). Shipping is available worldwide.
Based at the University of Rochester in New York, Open Letter is a non-profit dedicated to publishing literature in translation. Their list comprises authors writing in a fantastic array of languages and takes in mainly fiction with some poetry and non-fiction thrown in as well. Ten new titles appear each year – 2020 introduced us to Sara Mesa’s Four by Four, translated by Katie Whittemore, and Juan José Saer’s The Regal Lemon Tree in translation by Sergio Waisman – and you can subscribe to receive them via a six- or twelve-month package. Each book will be sent out ahead of publication, along with a letter from the publisher explaining why it was chosen, and occasional goodies put in an appearance too. Prices start from $60, with shipping available within the USA and internationally.
Another independent publisher specialising in literary translation, Peirene Press is based in the UK and is dedicated to the short form: each novel it publishes is 200 pages or less, and can be read in the length of time it takes to watch a film. Socially engaged, Peirene donates 50p to a refugee charity with every book sold, and also commissions the occasional title to respond to a political or social development. Three new titles are published each year, all linked by a theme: 2020’s was ‘Closed Universe’, while 2021’s will be ‘Metamorphoses’. Priced at £35 annually, subscription books are sent out six to eight weeks before publication with free shipping to UK addresses.
Persephone Books is well known as both publisher and London bookshop, and occupies the niche of reprinting ‘neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers’. The catalogue includes short stories, novels, memoir and even cookery books, all bound in the distinctive grey jacket with unique fabric-inspired endpapers accompanied by matching bookmarks. If you can’t get to the beautiful shop, a Persephone Books subscription is well worth it: running for six or twelve months, the recipient gets one book every month and can even choose their own titles from the 139-strong catalogue. Prices start at £66 for six months, with international shipping and gift-wrapping available.
Tilted Axis Press
Flying the flag for Asian literature, translation specialist Tilted Axis Press was founded in 2015 by Deborah Smith. Extremely conscious of the role translation has to play in breaking down barriers and stereotypes, Tilted Axis adopts a bit of an activist approach and is committed to working with underrepresented voices as both writers and translators. Their list is continually evolving with bold, dynamic new voices – recent titles include Arid Dreams, a collection of short stories by Thai author Duanwad Pimwana, translated by Mui Poopoksakul, and Jayant Kaikini’s Mumbai-based No Presents Please in translation by Tejaswini Niranjana. Annual subscriptions are available in print or digital form and include roughly six new titles, delivered on or before publication date to anywhere in the world. Prices for 2020 began at £28 for digital and £60 for paperback.
And for a little bit of everything . . .
Republic of Consciousness Book of the Month
If it’s all proving a bit too much, the Republic of Consciousness Prize has got you. Awarded each year to the best fiction from small presses (this year’s winner was Jean-Baptiste del Amo’s Animalia, translated by Frank Wynne and published by the aforementioned Fitzcarraldo Editions), the prize supports publishers with fewer than five full-time employees and is largely funded by the UEA Publishing Project. Funds are also raised through donations and the subscription-only book club, which sees members receive one new small press title each month, along with an invitation to join the monthly Zoom-hosted book club meeting. This is a fantastic way of being introduced to a range of new authors and presses, as well as helping to support innovative publishing. The standard subscription is £13 a month for UK subscribers (slightly more for international) and there are bi- and tri-monthly options available as well.
There are many other brilliant independent publishers out there, many of whom don’t currently offer subscriptions. Most do, however, offer the option of buying direct – a great way of supporting small presses, especially if you don’t have an independent bookshop to hand – and I’ll be providing another rundown soon to include some of those that have escaped this list. As ever, if you have any recommendations, please feel free to share!
All prices and schemes were correct at the time of writing (31 October 2020). This post does not contain affiliate links or paid advertising.