Thanksgiving is over and Black Friday has passed: the holiday season is in full swing. It’s been a year of ups and downs for publishers, and PW reached out to a selection of indie presses to see how the final sales push of 2023 is shaping up, and what titles they expect to be popular gift choices.
“Our November sales are already showing us as having a strong holiday season. The holidays will be led by two new releases by longtime Agate authors: How to Taste Coffee, Jessica Easto’s much-anticipated follow-up to 2017’s Craft Coffee, and a completely updated second edition of Ron Faiola’s Wisconsin Supper Clubs, one of our bestselling backlist titles, which first came out a decade ago and has spawned two follow-ups. In December we’ll be shipping the paperback edition of Under the Henfluence by Tove Danovich, which sold out two printings in hardcover earlier this year.”
—Doug Seibold, publisher
“Taras and Marjana Prokhasko’s Who Will Make the Snow, translated from the Ukrainian by Boris Dralyuk and Jennifer Croft, is a picture book that is also an interesting read for parents, grandparents, caretakers, and babysitters. Another book that I hope will reach a lot of people is Sara Gallardo’s January, translated from the Spanish by Maureen Shaughnessy and Frances Riddle. First published in 1958, it could start conversations within households and between friends about abortion and women’s agency. I also think works by Mahmoud Darwish, Elias Khoury, and Najla Jraissaty Khoury, writers who investigate the lives of Palestinians under occupation, will be read by many people in the U.S. and around the world this winter.”
—Sarah Gale, editor and director of publicity
Bellevue Literary Press
“Like with many other publishers, the backlist has a lot of momentum at the moment, and we’re hoping that we’ve made the right inventory predictions and are relieved that printers’ schedules have improved. We have high hopes for Paul Harding’s Pulitzer Prize–winning first novel, Tinkers, which has sold very well for us this year due, in part, to the extraordinary accolades he’s received for his new novel, This Other Eden. We are also excited that The Bear by Andrew Krivak, first published at the beginning of the pandemic, is reaching new audiences through the NEA’s Big Read program. We expect that book to sell well alongside Andrew’s newest novel, Like the Appearance of Horses, which published in May.”
—Erika Goldman, publisher and editorial director
Black Lawrence Press
“Of course, costs are rising everywhere, but from what I’ve read in the news and what I’m experiencing here at BLP, people haven’t cut back their spending. Here in the Night by Rebecca Turkewitz is currently flying off the shelves. So is Highwire Act & Other Tales of Survival by JoeAnn Hart. Horror and dystopian short story collections really seem to be having a moment right now. Also, Feast: Poems and Recipes for a Full Seating at Dinner is a perennial bestseller because it appeals to both poets and cooks and serves as a great host gift.”
—Diane Goettel, executive editor
“Sales are up this year after last year’s industrywide postpandemic slowdown, and that should set us up nicely for a strong holiday season, perhaps our best. For us, it’s the big movers in the fall that will launch us into a strong holiday season. American Ending by Mary Kay Zuravleff is an engrossing story of Russian Orthodox immigrants in coal mining Pennsylvania. Mary Kay has been drawing large crowds all over the place. Also, during this time of crisis in the Middle East, we’ve had a lot of interest in The House on Sun Street by Mogjan Gharizad. This is a gorgeous, highly autobiographical novel that follows a young girl and her family through the 1970s revolution in Iran. For nonfiction, we have high hopes for our anthology Key West Sketches: Writers at Mile Zero, edited by Carey Winfrey, and Time and Tide: The Vanishing Culture of the North Carolina Coast by Tim Hatcher—both beautiful full-color books. Also, the legal assaults on transgender kids and their families has made Letter to My Transgender Daughter by Carolyn Hays essential reading.
—Lynn York, publisher
“From my vantage point, the Covid-19 lockdown period led many new readers to discover poetry. And, while a plateau seems to have been reached, sales have stayed higher. Some of those new poetry readers, in particular, will be looking to fill out their collections, and BOA is fortunate to have some evergreen titles that are perfect for the holidays. I’d argue that our best ‘gift book’ is The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. It’s a beautiful hardcover book that spans the celebrated poet’s entire career and includes previously unpublished poems. To top it off, there’s a beautiful introduction by Toni Morrison; an informative and insightful concluding essay by Kevin Young, the book’s coeditor along with Michael S. Glaser; and a helpful bibliography and index at the end.
—Peter Conners, publisher and executive director
City Lights Publishing
“City Lights is closing out our 70th anniversary year, and we are grateful for the support from our fellow publishers and booksellers. The Delicacy of Embracing Spirals by mimi tempestt is a hit up and down California, and she’ll head to New York in December for a number of events. On a somber note, Mosab Abu Toha’s Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear: Poems from Gaza, published in April 2022, has found many new readers wanting to understand life for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Abu Toha’s new op-eds, essays, and poems published in the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic, among other places, have affected public perception of the war, as he writes from Gaza under unfathomable stress.”
—Stacey Lewis, v-p and director of publicity and marketing
“Things were down in 2022 compared to 2021, but not by much, so I’m thinking we’ll be in a similar ballpark. Genre trends seem to have continued, from what I can tell. It’s exciting to see more of a demand for nonfiction than I would have expected. We’re also seeing the same love from independent booksellers in previous years continue to grow, and I hope folks will continue to purchase their books from indie bookstores rather than buying online. I believe FP’s usual bestsellers—Tastes Like War by Grace M. Cho and It Came from the Closet, edited by Joe Valese—will remain our top-selling titles this holiday season, as they were in 2022 and throughout 2023. I also think we’re going to see a lot of preorders for our January 2024 book The Singularity by Balsam Karam, translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel.”
—Rachel Gilman, sales and marketing coordinator
Hub City Press
“This year has been really strong for us, and we’ve regained a lot of ground we lost in last year’s post-pandemic slump. Our 2023 list was deeply literary, and the coming year is even more chock-full of hybrid, genre-pushing work. That readers seem to be searching out these kinds of books pushes us to find and champion books that are truly surprising, instead of simply chasing trends. We’re expecting our lead title of the fall, the debut collection of short stories Good Women by Halle Hill, to continue to be a strong seller for the holidays after being named a best book of 2023 by Oprah Daily, Kirkus, and Book Riot. I’ll look to our backlist nonfiction to continue to sell well for us. In particular, our first illustrated memoir, Landings by Arwen Donahue, which we published in 2022, should do well. It received an incredible boost after Barbara Kingsolver, who penned the introduction, won the Pulitzer Prize this year. The hybrid poetry and nonfiction of writer and naturalist J. Drew Lanham is a perennial favorite, and his newest collection is Sparrow Envy.
—Meg Reid, executive director, Hub City Writers Project and publisher
Ice Cube Press
“The Holiday season is off and rolling, and three titles have us super excited. The Swine Republic: Struggles with the Truth About Agriculture and Water Quality by Chris Jones is one. People all over the Midwest are concerned about water quality. It’s not a small issue: Iowa is first in egg and pork production, and as a result the state’s tributaries to the Mississippi River have played an outsize role in creating the Gulf of Mexico’s oxygen-depleted ‘dead zone.’ A Widow’s Guide to Becoming a Handyman by Susan Huehn is a heartbreaking tale of transatlantic love and grief. Red, White, and Black. America’s Czech with Balance! Antonín Dvorák by Gary Kelley is a historical graphic novel exploring the role New York City and a small town in Iowa played in Dvorák’s musical career.”
—Steve Semken, publisher
“Tin House has great offerings for debut fiction this fall and winter, including E.J. Koh’s novel, the lyrical family saga The Liberators, and Ghassan Zeineddine’s knockout story collection Dearborn, a moving portrait of place and community. And we’re excited for the new year, when we’ll publish Andrés N. Ordorica’s How We Named the Stars, a tender story of first love set between the U.S. and Mexico.”
—Masie Cochran, editorial director and interim publisher
Two Dollar Radio
“I honestly have no clue how the holidays will play out. I think the industry is on unsteady ground right now, and I wish distributors were doing more to support indie bookstores. We’re out with a new story collection by Bennett Sims, Other Minds and Other Stories, and hoping that it will be a breakout book and earn Sims the recognition he deserves. It was just excerpted at LitHub and Bomb, received a glorious starred review from PW, and is an Indie Next pick for December, with Caitlin Luce Baker of Island Books in Mercer Island, Wash., calling it ‘a perfectly unsettling collection about memory, perception, self-doubt, Hegel, and amateur chicken butchering that goes horrifically wrong.’ ”
—Eric Obenauf, editorial director
“Our new bookstore, North Figueroa Bookshop, a joint venture of Unnamed Press and Rare Bird, celebrated its first birthday in November. Alongside our copublishing partnership, it represents a special relationship for two independent presses, and one that has empowered West Coast literary publishing even as it partners with publishers from around the country. In collaboration with Grove Atlantic, the store will be launching a three-part event series about Grove’s legendary publishing history, facilitated by Grove authors like Viet Thanh Nguyen and Mark Haskill Smith. Our copublishing program features the release this month of Shadows of Love, Shadows of Loneliness, a two-volume landmark retrospective of William T. Vollmann’s photography and artwork spanning 40 years. And going into the holidays, we are certainly excited about our two November books: an ambitious debut novel by celebrated art historian James Elkins, Weak in Comparison to Dream, about a city scientist who is yanked from his lab to go on a tour of world zoos, and Upcountry, a northern gothic page-turner by Chin-Sun Lee about country gentrification gone wrong.”
—Chris Heiser, publisher and cofounder