As large houses merge and some writers turn to self-publishing, indie publishers and university presses have become even more important as they fill in the publishing gaps. Plus, notes Geoff Nichols, university presses buyer at University Book Store in Seattle, “University presses continue to publish some of the most interesting books around.” On his list, and that of other buyers, is what could well be one of the biggest books of the fall season, the second volume in Mark Twain’s autobiography from the University of California Press. Another anticipated university press title is Minnesota Press’s look at the beats through the lens of William S. Burroughs’s time in Mexico, The Stray Bullet, by Jorge Garcia-Robles.
Some small presses are thinking pretty large these days. Steerforth Press in Hanover, N.H., is laying out serious money, $100,000, for an exposé about the murder of Matthew Shepard, The Book of Matt, to be published in time for the 15th anniversary of his death. Other small press books range from a new novel by Lore Segal, who proves that 85-year-olds still have all the write stuff, to a new work based on Zelda Fitzgerald’s life by Lee Smith, Guests on Earth, and a picture book by Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Janis Ian, The Tiny Mouse. Indie presses are also responsible for some of this holiday season’s movie tie-ins, including one related to the surprise winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes, Blue Is the Warmest Color, as well as debut novels, such as poet Lindsay Hills’s Sea of Hooks.
Below is a sampling of the top indie press books published this fall, between August and January 2014. In addition to the review staff at PW, Julian Karhumaa and William Hastings at Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope, Pa.; Seija Emerson, Mary Shadoff, and Geoff Nichols at University Book Store in Seattle; and Mason Smith at Ingram Content Group offered their favorite selections.
Akashic (dist. by Consortium)
Simon’s Cat vs. the World by Simon Tofield (Oct., $15.95 paperback original)
YouTube video at publication, plus a Halloween-themed video for National Cat Day; tour; 20,000-copy first printing
This little kitty has garnered a whopping 360 million hits on YouTube. In the full-color follow-up to Simon’s Cat in Kitchen Chaos, he takes on the whole globe.
Guests on Earth by Lee Smith (Oct., $25.95)
Pianist Evalina Toussaint ends up in the same mental hospital as Zelda Fitzgerald in 1936, which gives her a privileged view of the events that transpire, culminating with the 1948 fire that killed Fitzgerald and nine others. “Smith’s novel takes a while to blossom, but really takes off once it does,” commented PW’s reviewer.
Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him by David and Joe Henry (Nov., $25.95)
David, a screenwriter, and Joe, a Grammy-winning blues and folk musician, write about the man they knew in this book, which is part memoir, part biography. “I’m really excited about this book,” said Seija Emerson of University Book Store in Seattle. “Comedy bios are huge right now, and just enough time has passed to turn comedians from the ’70s and ’80s into the stuff of legend.”
Arsenal Pulp (dist. by Consortium)
Blue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh (Sept., $19.95)
Promotion in conjunction with the film to be released Oct. 25; tour
The live-action French film based on this graphic novel about coming of age and coming out won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Originally published in French, the book traces what happens when Clementine’s best friend takes her to a lesbian bar and she meets blue-haired Emma.
Bellevue (dist. by Consortium)
Palmerino by Melissa Pritchard (Jan. 2014, $14.95)
Pritchard’s first novel in nine years comes on the heels of her 2012 story collection, The Oditorium. She retells the story of prodigy Violet Paget, aka Vernon Lee (1856–1935), who was born into a Victorian-era British-expat enclave just outside Florence and was a childhood friend of John Singer Sargent.
Black Dog & Leventhal
All the Songs: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Release by Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon (Oct., $50)
Regional holiday catalogue advertising; $50,000 marketing budget
Two musical historians explore the back stories and musical origins of every Beatles album from Please Please Me (1962) to Let It Be (1970). Preface by Patti Smith.
Curbside Splendor (dist. by Consortium)
Meaty by Samantha Irby (Sept., $15.95 paperback original)
A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection; tour; 6,000-copy first printing
This essay collection marks the literary debut of performer and blogger Irby, who writes bitchesgottaeat.com. She weighs in on touchy subjects ranging from sex to weight and Crohn’s disease.
Graywolf (dist. by FSG)
Duplex by Kathryn Davis (Sept., $24)
“Mary and Eddie are star-crossed high school sweethearts. Their teacher is having an affair with a sorcerer who has no soul and envies the ability of humans to fall in love. A family of robots who can shrink to the size of a pocket pal live next door with their hirsute human-like beast pet... With its pity and beauteous turns of phrase, this labyrinthine novel of adolescence and mythology is one of the most mesmerizing, hypnotic things I have ever read,” said Stacie M. Williams of Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, Wis.
Dark Lies the Island by Kevin Barry (Sept., $24)
A Powell’s Indiespensable; 5-city tour
Barry’s debut novel, City of Bohane, won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in June. This collection of stories has already received acclaim in Europe, where it was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award. In a starred review, PW wrote, “There are a lot of pleasures to be had.”
Lemniscaat (dist. by IPS)
The Tiny Mouse by Janis Ian, illus. by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert (Oct., $24.95 book & CD)
Author appearances; blog tour; launch at Parnassus Books; advertising
The Grammy Award–winner wrote this story for the Boat Project, a collaborative endeavor that created a 30-foot vessel, part of the Queen of England’s flotilla in honor of her Jubilee. It follows the adventures of a bored mouse who decided to go to sea.
McPherson & Co.
Sea of Hooks by Lindsay Hill (Nov., $25)
First serial to Conjunctions; book launch at Broadway Books in Portland, Ore.
This debut novel is made up of the shattered fragments of Christopher Westall’s world—his youth in San Francisco and his parallel quest in Bhutan. “I love it when poets write fiction, and this first novel from an accomplished poet reminds me why,” said Roberta Dyer of Broadway Books. “There is not a wasted word here.”
Half the Kingdom by Lore Segal (Oct., $23.95)
Appearances in New York
Eighty-five-year-old Segal was a Pulitzer finalist for her 2008 novel, Shakespeare’s Kitchen. Here some of those characters interact with others from Segals earlier works at Manhattan’s Cedars of Lebanon emergency room, where doctors have noticed a marked uptick in Alzheimer’s patients. People who seemed perfectly lucid one day exhibit signs of advanced dementia the next.
Let Him Go by Larry Watson (Sept., $24)
The author of Montana 1948 returns to the American West in this tale set in 1951. In a starred review PW wrote, “Known for crisp images, resonant backdrops, and sharp characterizations drawn without flashy or over-accessorizing, Watson’s latest traces the desperate length families will go to in order to protect their own.” Stan Hynds at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., said that he was “hooked from the first page.”
Breaking Out: An Indian Woman’s American Journey by Padma Desai (Oct., $24.95)
This memoir describes Desai’s upbringing in the provincial world of Surat, India, and a disastrous first marriage. A scholarship to America in 1955 launched a new life. She met and married economist Jagdish Bhagwati and rose to academic eminence at Harvard and Columbia. Amity Shlaes calls this “an extraordinary memoir.”
Madison Square Tragedy: The Murder of Stanford White (A Treasury of XXth Century Murder) by Rick Geary (Dec., $15.99)
Launch at Alternate Press Expo in San Francisco in Oct.
The 15th book in a series that has sold over 100,000 copies focuses on the murder of one of New York’s most famous architects, Stanford White, by a jealous husband. “His books about historical killings are really well researched, beautifully drawn, and fun to read,” said PW’s comics editor Calvin Reid.
1914 by Jean Echenoz (Jan. 2014, $14.95 paperback original)
Launch at the 92nd Street Y in New York City
The latest novel from the winner of France’s Prix Goncourt chronicles five young men who go to war and the woman who waits at home. The Washington Post calls him “the most distinctive voice of his generation.”
Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Aremis Cooper (Oct., $30)
This biography was critically acclaimed when it was published in the U.K. late last year, and was named one of the Independent’s 50 Best Winter Reads and short-listed for the inaugural Waterstones’ Book of the Year. Cooper draws on years of interviews with “Paddy” Fermor—cherished in Britain for his wartime heroics and venturesome travel writing—who died in 2011.
The Salinger Contract by Adam Langer (Sept., $16.99 paperback original)
Narrator Adam Langer, a stay-at-home dad, is drawn into a friendship with a charismatic thriller writer. When a stranger approaches the writer with an odd, potentially lucrative proposal, events spiral out of control. “[Langer’s] vision of the publishing world, which ranges from a half-empty Midwestern Borders to a young adult fantasy author who comes on like a foul-mouthed cross between J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, is a wittily spooky creation,” said PW.
The Facades by Eric Lundgren (Sept., $25.95)
A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection; 8-city tour
“In this fascinating, complex debut novel, a famous mezzo-soprano vanishes from rehearsal, leaving behind her husband, Sven, to care for their disaffected son and search for her in the labyrinthine streets of fictional Midwestern city Trude.... Lundgren’s debut is a fierce, funny examination of loss, set against one of the most creative worlds in recent memory, and it’s not to be missed,” said PW in a starred review.
What W.H. Auden Can Do for You by Alexander McCall Smith (Oct., $19.95)
In this slim volume in the Writers on Writers series, the bestselling author of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series describes how he has been inspired by Auden’s poetry. He talks about teaching law in the divided city of Belfast, where Auden’s “September 1, 1939” resonated with him.
Quale Press (dist. by Small Press Distribution)
The Rainy Season Diaries by Jennifer A. Reimer (Nov., $15 paperback original)
Playing loosely with the diary form, each page can be read like a journal entry that doesn’t narrate or map locations as much as it examines the manner in which the stories we tell and the titles we give each other are forms of treachery. Reimer reveals what ideas like “story,” “poet,” and “history” cover over or leave out.
Red Wheel Weiser/Conari
Meatonomics by David Robinson Simon (Oct., $19.95 paperback original)
Simon’s book explores the rigged economics of the American meat and dairy industries and the tolls they take on our health, the environment, and the health of farm animals. PW called it “provocative and persuasive.”
Fire Year by Jason K. Friedman (Nov., $15.95 paperback original)
Tour sponsored by the Jewish Book Council; co-op; advertising
“These seven funny, fearless outsiders’ tales set in Savannah and Atlanta—some depicting bygone Orthodox Jewish communities, others the rife-with-irony ‘New South’—gravitate toward taboo.... Strengthened by the diversity in subject matter, the through-line of sexual coming of age and temptation gives this value a satisfying coherence,” wrote PW in a starred review. Winner of the 2012 Mary McCarthy Prize in short fiction.
Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson (Sept., $15.99 paperback original)
Tour; 100-blog tour; launch party at the King’s English in Salt Lake City
This regency romance, with hints of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters, tells the story of a young woman struggling to listen to her heart. “Readers will be absolutely captivated by the beautiful imagery, sizzling tension (which never manifests explicitly, earning the book its designation of ‘proper’), and mesmerizing plot,” wrote PW in a starred review.
Sugar by Jenna Jameson, with Hope Tarr (Oct., $22.95)
Launch with an Oprah interview; 75,000-copy first printing
The fiction debut of the adult-entertainment star, whose memoir, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, was a bestseller, follows a former porn star who returns to her New York City roots from L.A.
Small Beer (dist. by Consortium)
Spider in a Tree by Susan Stinson (Oct., $16 paperback original)
Northeast tour, including NEIBA and the Boston Book Festival
Small Beer cofounder Gavin Grant calls this historical novel different from anything the press has published to date. In retelling the story of theologian and slave owner Jonathan Edwards and his role in the Great Awakening, it touches on religion and slavery and the friction between the roughness of everyday 18th-century life and the life of the spirit.
A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam (Sept., $25.95)
5,000 galleys; print and digital advertising; tour
From the author of Some Great Thing, winner of the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award, comes a meditation on ape-kind with twinning plots—Vermonters who adopt a chimpanzee as a surrogate son and a troop of chimpanzees that are part of a language experiment in Florida. “Weighty themes underlie McAdam’s spartan prose depicting the inner lives of research chimps.... Brimming with ambition, McAdam delivers a thought-provoking foray into the not-so-dissimilar minds of our ape relatives,” wrote PW.
Steerforth (dist. by Random House)
The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard by Stephen Jimenez (Oct., $26)
900 ARCs; 30-city tour; $100,000 marketing and publicity budget
Jimenez spent years investigating what has been billed in the media as the country’s most famous “hate crime,” only to find something very different—a tragic tale of drug trafficking and addiction to methamphetamine. “A sympathetic but fearless account of what happened on that terrible night outside Laramie, The Book of Matt provides us for the first time with the real story of an American tragedy,” said Kevin Baker.
Torrey House (dist. by Consortium)
Monument Road by Charlie Quimby (Nov., $16.95 paperback original)
Tour; one of 12 ABA Fall Indies Introduce Debut Authors selections
While taking his wife’s ashes to her favorite overlook, where he plans to step off the cliff, Leonard learns that life has other plans for him. “This is a novel that will stay with you for a long time—it’s the best book I’ve read in eons!” said Betsy Burton, owner of the King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City.
Two Dollar Radio (dist. by Consortium)
Mira Corpora by Jeff Jackson (Sept., $16 paperback original)
Excerpted in Guernica Magazine and the Collagist; prepub feature in Poets & Writers
The debut novel from playwright Jeff Jackson charts the journey of a young runaway.
“Jeff Jackson is one of the most extraordinarily gifted young writers I’ve read in a very long time. His strangely serene yet gripping, unsettling, and beautifully rendered novel has within it all the earmarks of an important new literary voice,” said Dennis Cooper.
University of California
Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2 by Mark Twain (Oct., $45)
Events; advertising; This Is Mark Twain app; 100,000 first printing
“I’m excited about the second volume of Mark Twain’s Autobiography. It’s always a pleasure to jump in and explore the active and entertaining mind of Mark Twain. What’s not to like about that?” asks Geoff Nichols, university presses buyer at University Book Store in Seattle. Mason Smith, lead content manager for Christian and university presses at Ingram Content Group, predicts, “[It] should be a great performer.”
University of Minnesota Press
The Stray Bullet: William S. Burroughs in Mexico by Jorge García-Robles, trans. by Daniel C. Schechter (Oct., $17.95 paperback original)
Originally published in Mexico in 1995, this is the first English-language edition of the only Beat book to focus exclusively on Burroughs’s life in Mexico, where he embarked on his “fatal vocation as a writer.” The author interviewed those who knew Burroughs and collaborated with him while writing the book. It includes Burroughs’s “My Most Unforgettable Character,” as well as previously unpublished letters he wrote from Mexico. Minnesota will publish García-Robles’s follow-up book next fall, on Jack Kerouac in Mexico.
University of Texas Press
The Big Book by W. Eugene Smith (Oct., $185 3 vols. slipcased)
This is the first in a new photography series based on rare primary source material, copublished with the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. It is also one of the fall releases that the owners of Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope, Pa., said, “make us excited to be booksellers and... keep us excited about reading.” It includes a facsimile edition of a never-before-published two-volume photo essay completed 50 years ago by the iconic photographer. A third book contains essays on Smith’s work.
University of Wisconsin
It’s All a Kind of Magic: The Young Ken Kesey by Rick Dodgson (Oct., $26.95)
Mason Smith at Ingram Content Group, noted that despite the success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and other works by Kesey, there haven’t been any biographies. “The absence of this story on the biography shelves is made more surprising by Kesey’s rich background studying with some of the greatest writers of the middle 20th century,” said Smith. “It also carefully places Kesey in his context as a nurturing figure in the development of a ‘hippie’ culture.”
American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom by Katrina Fried (Oct., $45)
25,000-copy first printing
For this heavily illustrated book, Fried interviewed 50 innovative, award-winning teachers. Among those featured are Rafe Esquith, whose fifth-grade Hobart Shakespeareans performed at the 2012 TED conference, and Jason Chuong, an itinerant music teacher who used the $100 budget allotted to him by the Philadelphia School District to create a bucket-drumming sensation.