According to the University of Wisconsin’s Office of the Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian, there are approximately 20 feminist presses in the U.S., and most of them are niche and/or micro presses. PW interviews with three of the largest of these presses found that their sales have surged in recent years and that they are feeling optimistic about the future.
Jisu Kim, who handles marketing, sales, and publicity for the Feminist Press, said that sales in 2017 were up 80% from 2015. The 48-year-old press is the oldest feminist publishing house in the U.S. and has had its offices on the CUNY campus in New York City since 1985. “Feminism as an idea has been on the rise even before the election,” Kim said, noting that while sales are up across the board, direct sales to individuals via its website, as well as at conferences, have done particularly well.
Kim attributed the sales increase to FP’s more aggressive marketing strategies, as well as to readers being more cognizant of its offerings. Its current bestsellers include The Crunk Feminist Collection by Brittney C. Cooper and a group of other African-American feminist bloggers, which has sold 5,500 copies since its publication in January 2017, and Radical Reproductive Justice by Loretta J. Ross et al., which was released last fall and has sold 2,000 copies to date. With the election, Kim said, debates over such issues as the intersections between feminism, class, race, and gender, have become more mainstream.
Another book that has sold well recently is The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza. FP released the title, which had originally been published in Mexico in Spanish, in October 2017. The book, Kim said, “really resonated because of the controversies concerning Mexico and Mexicans” that erupted during the last presidential campaign. The Iliac Crest has sold 1,500 copies to date, “which is good, especially for a translated novel,” she added.
Kim noted that FP has always focused on acquiring and publishing fiction and nonfiction with the potential for a long shelf life. She said that if there’s any tweaking of that philosophy, it’s that the press is “going to do more books that, five years ago, people would have asked, ‘Why are you publishing these books? No one is interested.’ ”
For instance, in April, FP is publishing Your Art Will Save Your Life by Beth Pickens, a handbook for artists navigating MFA programs, residencies, and applications for institutional funding. “Art making is more important than ever,” Kim said. “This guidebook, by the author of the pamphlet Making Art During Fascism, directly addresses Trump in giving artists advice about making their art in a sustainable way, despite any political swings.”
On the other side of the country, San Francisco’s Aunt Lute, which has published multicultural feminist books since 1982, reported that sales in 2017 were up 20% from 2015. The two top-selling titles are backlist, and both are regarded as classics: Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa (1987) and The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde (1980). Borderlands received renewed media attention and a boost in sales last year due to the 30th anniversary of its release, as well as the 75th anniversary of Anzaldúa’s birth in 1942.
These two anniversaries shone a spotlight on Borderlands/La Frontera, but marketing director Maya Sisneros noted that the Trump administration’s stances also account for Aunt Lute’s higher sales. Anzaldúa’s “work and identity represent almost everything the current administration is attacking right now: she was a queer Chicana woman who grew up in a migrant town in southern Texas,” she said, adding, “The language introduced by Borderlands has been an important foundation for the conversations and inquiry led today.”
Sisneros noted that the nonprofit press has always been committed to publishing books that “amplify underrepresented voices.” Its fall 2017 title ¡Cuentamelo! Oral Histories by LGBTQ Latino Immigrants by Juliana Delgado Lopera, which was released in a bilingual edition, has been, Sisneros said, “selling better within its first few months of release” than Aunt Lute frontlist releases typically do. Sisneros declined to provide sales figures but added that ¡Cuentamelo! was among Small Press Distribution’s top 10 nonfiction bestsellers in November and December.
Although Seal Press, which was founded as an indie press in 1976, was sold to Avalon Publishing Group in 2001 and in 2016 became a Hachette imprint, executive editor Laura Mazer said that the press, now headquartered in Berkeley, Calif., has always remained true to its feminist origins. “We are a truly feminist press: we give women who are underrepresented a voice to have their concerns addressed and men the tools to see the world through a feminist lens,” she noted. Mazer added that Seal had “a banner year” in 2017, although she declined to provide specifics. Though much of this has to do with a new sales force, Mazer believes that the aftermath of the 2016 election and the current attention to women’s issues is having an impact and will continue to do so.
Reporting that its current bestseller is So You Want to Talk About Race, Mazer said that it has been receiving “better projects” from agents, such as She Is Rising by the activist Brooke Axtell, a combination memoir/guidebook for survivors of sex crimes that is scheduled for release in May 2019. “There’s more excitement,” she noted. “That’s where I am seeing the direct influence of Trump and the #MeToo era. It’s a confluence of events. Trump is not the only catalyst, but he is a significant catalyst.”