Genre publishing has taken some hard hits in recent years — but a slew of independent publishers is still out there, charting the unknown regions of book publishing and keeping your reading lists weird. Here are our favorite indy presses.
This publisher, specializing in short fiction, has been around for close to 15 years. But it's expanded tremendously in recent years, growing to put out ten books per year. Authors in the Tachyon stable now include the late Thomas Disch, Cory Doctorow, Peter S. Beagle, Terry Bisson and Charles de Lint among many others. Known for single-author short story collections, Tachyon has started making more of a mark recently with anthologies like Steampunk, The Secret History Of Science Fiction, Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology and The New Weird. A lot of the most challenging and thrilling short fiction today is appearing in Tachyon's titles, one way or another. You can read our interview with Tachyon's Jacob Weisman here.
Night Shade Books
Another San Francisco press, Night Shade has been around for a dozen years. The company originally published only about four books a year, but now puts out 30-35 titles every year. And now Night Shade is putting out books from the likes of Iain M. Banks, Jay Lake, Neal Asher, Kage Baker, Paolo Bacigalupi, Walter Jon Williams and Greg Egan. And just like Tachyon, Night Shade has made huge inroads into the anthology market, with anthologies like The Living Dead, By Blood We Live and Wastelands. They've also put out Jonathan Strahan's "best of the year" anthologies and the Eclipse series, which we've been following with much excitement. Not to mention Ellen Datlow's Best Horror Of The Year anthologies. They've recently joined forces with the award-winning small press magazine Electric Velocipede. You can read our interview with Night Shade's Jeremy Lassen here.
ChiZine started out as a webzine called Chiaroscuro, publishing horror, dark fiction and weird-ass shit, a decade ago. They started putting out books in spring 2008, and already they're up to 12 titles a year. And judging from recent offerings, they seem to be upholding their proud tradition of freakgnosis and terror. Recent books include Katya From The Punk Band by Simon Logan, A Book Of Tongues by Gemma Files, Chimerascope by Douglas Smith and The World More Full Of Weeping by Robert J. Wiersema.
Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing (and Tesseract Books)
This indy has been around since 2000, and now includes Tesseract Books. They seem to put out a lot of horror, including the Tesseracts anthology series, but also a fair amount of regular science fiction and fantasy. One of their recent releases is the intriguingly titled Time Machines Repaired While U Wait by K.A. Benford. That seems to be a kid-friendly title, and some of their books, like A Petrified World, are labeled as aimed at children ages eight and up.
Specializing in the horror, suspense and dark mystery genres, this publisher puts out tons of books by Poppy Z. Brite, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Ray Bradbury and Kage Baker. Fans of Alastair Reynolds will need to track down their recent flipbook of two novellas: Thousandth Night (set in the same world as House Of Suns) and Minla's Flowers. Coming soon: The Best Of Peter S. Beagle, which looks amazing. They have a close relationship with Joe Lansdale, allowing them to put out limited editions of many of his books. Their limited editions, generally, are fantastic and often have great illustrations, recently including Dan Simmons' The Terror and John Scalzi's The Last Colony.
Founded in 1997, this small press survived the death of its founder, Jim Turner, in 1999, and is still putting out books — including The Empire Of Ice Cream and The Fantasy Writer's Assistant by the great Jeffrey Ford. They also put out Nancy Kress' Nano Comes To Clifford Falls And Other Stories and George Alec Effinger's Budayeen Nights, plus books by Mike Resnick and George Zebrowski. Their website looks a bit like it was last redesigned in 1997, but their books are fantastic.
I had not heard of this publisher until I started working on this feature, and now I'm utterly fascinated. Maybe it's the weird, off-beat nature of their books — like The One-Percenters, in which a society of serial killers goes around murdering those with weak genes, who are only being kept alive because of money and medicine. Or The Zombie Cookbook, a book of "stories, poems
and recipes" about cooking with zombies, or cooking zombies. (Eww?) Mostly, though, it's the way all of their books are rated (on a scale of one to five) for sex and violence, as well as reader response in some cases. Only one book has scored a "5" for both sex and violence: The Body Cartel by Alan Spencer. Other Damnation authors? Time to raise your game.
This British small press has put out tons of award-winning titles, especially in horror and fantasy but also in science fiction. New books are coming up by both Stephen King and his son Joe Hill. They've championed the underrated horror author Ramsey Campbell, and published great authors like Gwyneth Jones, Stephen Baxter, and Graham Joyce. They also put out Postscripts, a quarterly anthology/magazine series edited by founder Peter Crowther and Nick Gevers.
This indy press, started by Carlton Mellick III, keeps chugging along under the steady leadership of Rose O'Keefe and her gang. And they're keeping it weird: We saw a table of Eraserhead titles at World Fantasy Con, and were blown away by the sheer Dada-ness of it all. There's Mellick's The Faggiest Vampire, which is what it sounds like. There's Shatnerquake, in which the real-life William Shatner attends a convention and has to fight all the fictional characters he's ever played. (The cover blurb goes: "William Shatner? William Shatner. William Shatner!") But perhaps the best title actually is, Rampaging Fuckers of Everything on the Crazy Shitting Planet of the Vomit Atmosphere. How do you get any better than that? Like so many of the small presses on this list, they also put out a magazine, The Magazine Of Bizarro Fiction.
Like most of the small presses on this list, Apex also puts out a magazine — but the magazine, Apex Magazine, seems to be the biggest part of their publishing empire. They do also put out a number of horror/dark fantasy books, though, including B.J. Burrow's The Changed, which tells of a zombie outbreak from the zombie point of view. (The intriguing blurb goes, "It's not the end of the world. It's just zombies.")
This small press has been around since at least 2001, when they put out Catherynne M. Valente's The Labyrinth. Since then, they've put out books by KJ Bishop, Theodora Goss, Sarah Monette, Holly Phillips, Ekaterina Sedia, Jeff VanderMeer, and many more. And their books have made top ten lists from Amazon, Booklist and Publishers Weekly. Publisher Sean Wallace purchased the Prime Books imprint from Wildside Press, and relaunched it as a Recently, they've put out some great anthologies, like Federations and a forthcoming wizard-themed book (both edited by John Joseph Adams.) And they're putting out a new edition of Rudy Rucker's Ware tetralogy, with an introduction by William Gibson. A lot of the most interesting new books we've seen lately have come out from Prime. They also do their own annual Best Science Fiction & Fantasy anthology, edited by Rich Horton (full disclosure: I have a story in the new volume of this.) And they publish Fantasy magazine, which is now a webzine.
Cecilia Tan started out putting out chapbooks of erotic science fiction in the early 1990s, with Telepaths Don't Need Safewords, which I still think is the best title ever. This grew into an empire of science-fictional smut, including the gay erotic SF anthology series Wired Hard and many other futuristic collections like Fetish Fantastic and Best Fantastic Erotica. These days, a lot of their titles are available at low cost as PDFs and e-reader volumes. If you've ever wanted to know how aliens and demigods practice safe and consensual BDSM, then these are the books for you.
Small Beer Press
Gavin J. Grant and Kelly Link have been putting out quirky, wonderful and bizarre books, alongside their zine Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, for a decade now. I remember when the only places I used to see them were in the used bookstore on Newberry Street in Boston. Now Small Beer titles are among the most highly respected, and anticipated, out there. And they are constantly doing great good works: Like when Laurie J. Marks' elemental logic trilogy got canceled by its original publisher before the final volume came out, fans clamored to be able to read the conclusion — and Small Beer stepped in to save the day. Small Beer has also put out the great Interfictions anthologies of genre-defying stories, and books by Benjamin Rosenbaum, Elizabeth Hand, Joan Aiken, Greer Gilman and Poppy Z. Brite. And not to be shallow or anything, but their books are usually among the most beautifully designed out there, with arrestingly lovely covers.
Note: Before anybody pipes up in comments, we thought about including Pyr Books on this list — but they were launched as an imprint of Prometheus Books, a publisher that's been around since 1969. So through a painstaking process involving snake entrails, we deemed they weren't quite as much of an indy as the others on this list. If you disagree, blame the snake — but also, feel free to pipe up in comments. I also wound up leaving out Cemetery Dance, just becuase they've been around for 20+ years. Let us know if we missed your favorite indy press!
Top image: cover of Monstrous Affections by David Nickle, from Chizine Publications.