For all the concern about rampant commercialism in the book world these days, there is a vibrant parallel universe out there, one that thrives against all odds, driven by individual labors of love. It’s not like the independent press heyday of the ’60s and ’70s, back when costs were low and arts funding was high. But the counterculture spirit still lives. And despite grim predictions, new presses keep appearing. It’s almost as if the media mergers were a good thing, creating a cultural void that smaller shops are eager to fill.
Whether they produce one title a year or 20, for profit or not, independent presses share a singular mission: to nurture new writers and promote diverse voices. With tiny budgets, tiny staffs, and little margin for error, they’ve weathered funding cuts and the near disappearance of a longtime ally, the independent bookstore. Yet they remain uncompromising about aesthetics and passionate about the authors they publish. We know because we called dozens of literary presses, looking for stories that encapsulated what it means to be part of that world today. We were especially interested in the serendipity that brings a manuscript—quirky, brilliant, maybe a bit dog-eared—into the right hands at the right time. Here’s what we discovered.