After unexpected sales increases in 2020 and 2021, the past two years have brought falling revenue and rising costs for many in the publishing industry. The eight indie presses that made PW’s fast-growing list for 2023 were not immune to those pressures, but they were able to find solutions to keep the sales momentum going.

As in previous years, independent publishers with annual net sales of $2 million to $10 million that showed growth in 2023 over 2021 were invited to participate in this annual report. Sales, title, and employee data were provided by the publishers.

Mad Cave Studios


Though Mad Cave Studios is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the graphic novel publisher only started hitting its stride recently. Between 2021 and 2023, sales jumped 477%, driven by a range of new initiatives, says spokeswoman Allison Marie Pond.

The biggest factor is the 2022 acquisition of Papercutz, the children’s graphic novel house founded in 2005 by Terry Nantier and Jim Salicrup. The purchase, completed in August of that year, brought a large middle grade backlist to Mad Cave, giving the company a higher profile and driving up sales by more than 300% last year over 2022.

The acquisition followed the 2021 launch of the young adult graphic novel imprint Maverick. According to Chris Sanchez, Mad Cave’s editor-in-chief, Maverick focuses on coming-of-age stories from diverse viewpoints. The imprint has had a few hits already, including World Class and Confetti Realms.

Among Mad Cave’s most consistent sellers has been its Nottingham series, as well as a Nottingham anthology. In addition to publishing books through a traditional program, Mad Cave is also now publishing creator-owned books and licensed works, Pond says. The entire list has received a boost from recent distribution deals, including agreements with Simon & Schuster to reach the trade market; Diamond Comic Distributors and Lunar Distribution to reach the direct market; and IPG Digital for digital distribution.

Rocky Nook

San Rafael, Calif.

Rocky Nook first landed on the PW fast-growing indies list in 2021, three years after it put a “strengthen and diversify” strategy in place, designed to lessen its dependence on the educational photography market. That move yielded two years of solid growth that ended in 2022, due in part to Amazon’s decision to cut orders across the industry. But a host of initiatives in 2023 resulted in an 18% sales increase over 2022 and an 8% gain over 2021.

While the “strengthen” portion of the strategy keeps Rocky Nook centered on producing high-quality books and maintaining long-term partnerships with authors, freelancers, and distributors, the “diversify” aspect has generated additional revenue. “We have diversified the types of books we make, topics we cover, authors we work with, sections of stores we sell in, price points, format—you name it,” publisher and CEO Scott Cowlin explains.

A list of drawing books that launched in 2018 now has more than 25 titles and sales topping $1 million, according to Cowlin. He has been particularly pleased with the results of the line’s Morpho series, which focuses on helping people draw the human anatomy. The first 10 titles have sold more than 300,000 copies. A second recent launch is a series of affordable, spiral-bound pocket guides that began with a focus on photography and has expanded to include titles on sewing, painting, and drawing. At the end of 2023 the series had more than 35 titles and had sold more than 90,000 copies.

To augment sales to trade accounts of what Cowlin acknowledges are niche lists, Rocky Nook built its own rep force to call on camera stores and arts and crafts stores around the country. As part of that effort, the publisher created merchandising materials and sales training tools to help books sell through, he adds.

The most recent step in Rocky Nook’s expansion was the 2022 launch of online events featuring authors of its photography books. Last year, the company produced 15 workshops, as well as a two-day online conference, all of which generated nearly $100,000. “2022 showed us how dependent we still were on Amazon,” Cowlin says, “and how important it is for the business’s long-term health to keep going down our current path.”

Media Lab Books

New York City

In spite of facing challenges last year, Media Lab posted an 11% sales gain in 2023 over 2021, helped by a strong 2022. Phil Sexton, v-p and publisher, says some evergreen categories had unexpected weakness during the year that the company was able to counter with the launch of several new series and new partnerships.

The most successful initiative, Sexton says, was Media Lab’s expansion of its Game Master series of tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) books. It increased the number of products it released in the line, including adding a boxed set, while also launching a trade paperback handbook series.

Sexton says results were strong enough to prompt Media Lab to branch out into the card deck field. The first deck will be the Game Master’s Deck of Boons and Banes, which will be released in October. In 2025, Media Lab will launch a new Game Masters Presents series with a book by actor and TTRPG influencer Deborah Ann Woll.

Harry Potter–themed books continued to sell briskly last year, led by The Ultimate Wizarding World Joke Book. Another Media Lab mainstay, pop-culture-related cookbooks, did well, including The Unofficial Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Cookbook!

Sexton is hoping a number of new releases will kickstart sales this year: Everything I Need to Know I Learned from RPGs by Jeff Ashworth; Primitive Camping & Bushcraft by Chris Speir; and This Book Is Dangerous, a banned book–themed reading journal by Nicole Lintemuth, owner of Bettie’s Pages in Lowell, Mich.

Microcosm Publishing

Portland, Ore.

After Microcosm saw sales climb 152% in 2022 over 2020, founder Joe Biel realized the company couldn’t maintain that pace without putting a strain on cash flow. Since it left PGW and took over its own distribution in 2018, Biel has been careful to balance cash flow and growth to keep the publisher on sound financial ground.

He says he chose to focus on stabilizing operations in 2023, when Microcosm still posted a 35% increase in revenue over 2022. Biel didn’t sit still though, buying a third warehouse and rebuilding back-office systems to accommodate the demands of a company that quintupled its sales over the past four years.

Last year also saw Microcosm focus on preparing to offer its WorkingLit software to other indie publishers. WorkingLit, which Microcosm has used for a number of years, allows publishers to streamline product databases, manage orders, complete accounting and invoicing tasks, and calculate royalties. An official rollout of WorkingLit began earlier this year.

In terms of book sales in 2023, Microcosm saw solid success with its Unf#ck series, with four of its top 10 bestsellers coming from that line, according to Biel, including its two top sellers, Unf#ck Your Brain and Unf#ck Your Boundaries. And How to Resist Amazon continued to be a solid seller, finishing fifth on Microcosm’s bestseller list.

Diversion Publishing

New York City

Diversion Publishing saw sales rise 30% in 2022 over 2021, one of the best gains in its history, and followed that up with more growth in 2023, resulting in a 45% increase over 2021. Diversion was founded by agent Scott Waxman in 2010 as an e-book publisher, but now publishes in a variety of formats. (The sales figures it provided exclude Diversion Audio, which Waxman formed in 2022 in a partnership with Gemini XIII to expand its podcast business.)

The addition of the health and wellness category to its nonfiction offerings, which also include titles on current events, music, history, and sports, helped to drive up sales in 2023. The company has also upped the number of frontlist hardcovers and trade paperbacks it publishes annually from 15 in 2021 to 20 in 2023. These are augmented by a steady increase in paperback reissues.

To help give more visibility to its entire backlist of more than 2,000 titles, Diversion is an active participant in Open Road Integrated Media’s Ignition program, which creates marketing campaigns for backlist e-books. Diversion’s backlist includes romance, mystery, and thriller titles, as well as contemporary nonfiction books like Pelé: My Story. In 2024, Diversion is expecting big things from I Curse You with Joy by comedian and actress Tiffany Haddish, set to launch in May with an initial print run of 150,000 copies.

The Radius Book Group, Diversion’s hybrid imprint, has published works by such well-known personalities as former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann and the three-time Olympic medalist twins Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux. In 2024, the imprint plans to release a line of what a Diversion spokesperson calls “provocative political titles that engage in cultural discourse.”

Forefront Books


Forefront Books hit the fast-growing list for the first time last year with a 216% increase in 2022 over 2020, and founder Jonathan Merkh was able to cement those gains in 2023 when the company posted a 37% sales increase, resulting in a 98% jump in the 2021–2023 period. Merkh credits the gains to a dramatic increase in Forefront’s title output, accompanied by a number of new hires, including former PRH executive editor and editorial director Becky Nesbitt, who was named associate publisher.

Forefront had three titles hit the PW bestseller list last year: Glenn Beck’s Dark Future, Turning Small Talk into Big Talk by Jan Janura, and Integrity by Glenn Stearns. Merkh emphasizes that the hybrid publisher’s books sell particularly well in nontraditional outlets, helping lift sales for such titles as Game Changer by oil tycoon Harold Hamm, and Ride Free, a memoir by Willie G. Davidson, a grandson of the founders of Harley Davidson who helped revive the motorcycle company after a brush with bankruptcy.

Books by successful businesspeople are also topping Forefront’s 2024 list and include those by Dave Liniger, founder of REMAX, and Bob Parsons, founder of GoDaddy and PXG golf equipment. Merkh says Forefront is also seeing lots of interest for next month’s By the Time You Read This, a posthumous memoir by Cheslie Kryst, a former Miss USA who died by suicide. Her mother, April Simpkins, finished the narrative.


Los Angeles

TokyoPop’s rebirth, which began in earnest in 2021, continued into 2023. The graphic novel publisher followed up huge sales increases in 2021 and 2022 with a 36% jump last year over 2022, giving it a 173% sales gain between 2021 and 2023.

One factor is the steady rise in TokyoPop’s title count, from 44 in 2021 to 61 in 2022 and 81 last year. The increase in output, which includes both books and single-issue comics, was accompanied by strong demand for TokyoPop’s Disney manga titles, according to COO and publisher Marc Visnick. Among the more than 50 Disney titles published by TokyoPop, The Night Before Christmas did particularly well, as did the Stitch books. In addition, a few Disney titles received boosts after being selected by Scholastic for its fairs and clubs.

Beyond the Disney line, TokyoPop had a bestseller with The Battle for Pumpkin King and saw sales climb in its LoveLove inclusive romance imprint after improving its packaging and branding.

As well, TokyoPop expanded its print and digital distribution channels. Key bricks-and-mortar additions included FYE, Hot Topic, Target, and Walmart, while a digital sales increase of 40% over 2022 was helped by agreements with new global retailers and subscription partnerships, Visnick says. Sales also received a lift from the launch of a redesigned website last year, which includes an online store.

Spiegel & Grau

New York City

Cindy Spiegel and Julie Grau started the independent press Spiegel & Grau in 2020, one year after Penguin Random House closed their eponymous imprint. They published only one print book in 2021—the critically acclaimed Fox & I by Catherine Raven—plus one original audiobook. The publication count rose to 10 in 2023: five hardcovers, four trade paperbacks, and one original audio. That increased output helped to drive 2023 sales up 292% over 2021, and 81% over 2022.

Building a backlist is a priority for Spiegel & Grau, and the founders have had a solid start with Codependent No More, which sold 69% more copies in 2023 than in 2022, says publicist Nicole Dewey. Fox & I, which sold more than 60,000 copies in 2021, had healthier sales in 2023 than the year before.

Spiegel & Grau also had strong sales for two new novels released at the opposite ends of 2023. Shelley Read’s Go as a River was published in February and, Dewey says, gained momentum due to continuous promotional efforts. Go as a River is now moving more copies per week than it did at launch, and has sold more than 110,000 copies. The Comfort of Crows by Margaret Renkl was published in October and has racked up more sales in its first four months than any Spiegel & Grau title to date, Dewey adds.

Spiegel & Grau titles have always been favorites of independent booksellers, and that continues. Dewey says that five of its 11 original titles were chosen as IndieNext picks.