Emily Books, the independent publisher founded in 2011 and which became a Coffee House Press imprint in 2016, will shutdown operations in March in tandem with the March 3 release of Temporary, a novel by Hilary Leichter. The press’s closing was announced in an open letter posted online on February 4 by its cofounders, author and blogger Emily Gould and publishing industry veteran Ruth Curry.
When it debuted in 2011, as a hybrid book club/bookstore/e-publisher, Emily Books was intended, its cofounders wrote in their letter, “to create an alternative literary canon, counter to the one we’d been taught in school and had witnessed forming when we worked in corporate book publishing." For its first five years, during which the press's books were published exclusively in e-book editions, subscribers were sent either a novel or memoirs in e-book format each month from the Emily Books's online bookstore.
When Emily Books became a Coffee House imprint in 2016, it began publishing in both print and electronic formats. Since then, Emily Books, which is based in Brooklyn, has become renowned for original releases by women writing fiction or memoir from an iconoclastic feminist perspective. It is also known for reissuing books that have long been out of print with, its website declares, “an emphasis on the writing of women, trans and queer people, writing that blurs genre distinctions, and is funny, challenging, and provocative.”
To date, there are 65 Emily Books titles currently in print, seven of them under the Coffee House/Emily Books imprint. Bestsellers include Problems by Jade Sharma (2016), I'll Tell You in Person by Chloe Caldwell (2016), and Mean by Myriam Gurba (2017).
Gould and Curry explained in their letter that Emily Books is shutting down “most of our retail operations and will replace the ‘buy’ buttons on our storefront with links to independent bookstores (where possible). Titles that we alone stock will remain available for sale. Any e-books already purchased from our store will remain active and available in your account, and customer support will continue.” As for the seven books published in partnership with Coffee House, the Minneapolis-based literary nonprofit press will, Gould and Curry added, continue to “print, promote, and support the Emily Books titles on their list.”
In the letter, which frankly addressed the complicated financial nature of running a small press, Gould and Curry wrote that, despite their prior publishing experience—Curry worked at Oxford University Press, Sterling Lord, and at Hyperion—they faced significant challenges along the way. “We didn’t really know what we were doing, and we especially didn’t know how we would make money,” they wrote. “In retrospect, it seems clear that we should have raised capital (somehow) and become a publisher as soon as possible.”
The two pointed to the competition for acquisitions with larger houses that have deeper pockets and greater resources than Emily Books as playing a significant role in the decision. “While we still believe that our curatorial instincts and editorial skills are unique and influential, we also want authors to get paid real money, and to have their books reach the widest possible audience,” the two stated in their open letter. “It is now far more difficult for us to make the case to authors that accepting a small advance now might be good for their careers down the road.” Gould and Curry added that they are also "looking forward to being able to focus on the other parts of our own professional lives" as a result of stepping away from Emily Books.
In a small-world coincidence, Gurba is one of the central figures in the controversy concerning Jeanine Cummins's novel, American Dirt, and one of the criticisms being leveled against its publisher, Flatiron Books, involves the seven-figure advance it paid to Cummins, who identified as white up until recently, for American Dirt, a thriller telling the story of Latinx refugees seeking security in the United States. Comparing her experiences as a Latinx author with high-profile white authors bagging huge advances to tell stories that do not relate to their own experiences, Gurba has argued that an industry in which authors of color are not afforded the same opportunity to earn such advances—her own book received a $3,000 advance from Coffee House/Emily Books—was the unjust result of racism in corporate publishing.
Mean has sold 8,000 paperback copies since its publication in November 2017, Coffee House said. Of those, 600 copies have sold since the American Dirt controversy erupted. To meet increasing demand, Mean is going into another print run.
Correction: Ruth Curry's publishing background has been clarified and updated. She worked in Oxford University Press's legal department, at Sterling Lord Literistic, and as a junior editor for Hyperion. Coffee House Press reports that Myriam Gurba's memoir is not out of stock, as a previous version of this story indicated. In addition, several other details in this story have been updated for clarity.