Written by: Mike Shymanski
It’s fairly easy to buy books from big publishing houses or their lesser-known imprints. It’s certainly harder to find titles not from the behemoths of publishing (known as the Big 5), and while buying from indie presses may feel difficult or hipstery, these small presses are pushing conventions, taking risks, and playing larger roles in your immediate communities.
Being an independent press ourselves, we know the playing field and its publishing parties. Here are a few of our staff favorites who comprise our competitors, colleagues, and our friends.
Forest Avenue Press
A fairly young press, Forest Avenue was founded in 2012 in Portland, OR by Laura Stanfill. Forest Avenue is coming off publishing their first memoir, This Particular Happiness, by Jackie Shannon Hollis. Forest Avenue tends to focus on literary fiction and have published a well-known regional title, City of Weird: 30 Otherworldly Portland Tales, that consists of 30 short stories, by Portland-based authors including Rene Denfeld and Kevin Sampsell, dealing with pop culture, dark tones, and, obviously, strange vibes.
Our recommendation: The Alehouse at the End of the World by Stevan Allred. Magical and raucous, this book is a great read for the upcoming winter season.
Big Lucks Press
Publishing books, an annual journal, and chapbooks, Big Lucks, out of Washington, DC, makes “lit for you.” They strive to have no editorial hierarchy and aim to upend norms and other power structures under clean design.
Our recommendation: Their titles are great, but their journal is online for free, which is a great place to start to learn about their editorial curation. Then, pick up a copy of one of their books or chapbooks and settle in to a longer read.
Fantagraphics has been around for over 40 years, making it a mainstay in independent presses. Unlike other presses on this list, this press publishes graphic novels and comics; they call themselves the “publisher of the world’s greatest cartoonists.”
Our recommendation: Love and Rockets by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. The Hernandez brothers are amazing and this classic comic is always high on our list.
Perfect Day Publishing
Another small press out of Portland, Ore. - Perfect Day curates a small catalog, but to several awards and finalist mentions for their titles, including the Lamda Literary Awards and the Oregon Book Awards.
Our recommendation: Martha Grover details moving in with her parents in her late thirties, being hired as a private investigator, and fighting her own disability court case in the dark comedy, The End of My Career.
Maybe better known for their Internet Tendency or their self-titled magazine, McSweeney’s has their own book division dedicated to fiction and nonfiction titles. But this nonprofit based out of San Francisco, according to them, “exists to champion ambitious and inspired writing” finding titles and shorter pieces that push boundaries.
Our recommendation: Black Imagination: Black Voices on Black Futures curated by Natasha Marin is in its third printing for good reason: high quality prose and enticing stories under urgent storytelling breeds a classic collection.
Hidden in their name, C&R Press intends to curate and publish conscious and responsible works. They know books have the power to shape minds and illuminate truths, and their titles push into new and old medias, including chapbooks.
Our recommendation: Selling the Farm by Debra Di Blasi, their newest nonfiction title, showcases a Midwest childhood riddled with contradictions as family farms recede into extinction.
A student-run press out of Portland State University, Ooligan Press publishes four titles a year under fiction, nonfiction, and young adult. They publish Pacific Northwest regional works that align with progressive values of the area, but are expanding beyond state boundaries for inclusivity and diverse authorships.
Our recommendation: Matt Tompkins’s Odsburg sets quirky and light stories in the fictional Pacific Northwest town of Odsburg that exaggerates the human ordinary into something much stranger than that.
Based in Minnesota, Milkweed Editions aims to curate convention-pushing and topical fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. This nonprofit strives to have conversation around their publications to build community from literature.
Our recommendation: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer teaches indigenous approaches not only to plants, but how to ask questions about the surrounding nature with our current scientific tools.
Bonus: Overcup Press
A bonus press we appreciate is our own, Overcup Press. Publishing beautiful books for curious people, our recent frontlist showcases diverse nonfiction, such as memoir and field guides, all under sharp aesthetics.
Our recommendation: Ground Truth: A Geological Survey of a Life by Ruby McConnell, our most recent title, blends personal essay with physical science. Bookended with essays about the eruption and recovery of Mt. St. Helens, McConnell writes beautifully about the environment and her own life experiences.
How To Get Your Hands On These Books!
If you’re looking to round up any of these independent press books, be sure to buy them from your local independent bookstore to support your communities. If you’re having trouble finding an independent bookstore near you, check out our blog post here.
Or visit our Books From Small Presses We Love! list on Bookshop to support independent bookstores.