By Martha Kean
If you’ve had any time in between fervently reinventing yourselves as yoga gurus, bread bakers, fitness extraordinaires – or the whole host of other vocations the media recommends us adopting at the moment – you might have found yourselves turning to books for entertainment and comfort in these strange and challenging times.
Whilst many of you probably have a shelf full of books waiting to be read, it is well worth considering splashing out a few quid on a new read to support the small independent book presses that are currently suffering the brunt of the economic instability posed by the pandemic.
It goes without saying that corporate giants such as Amazon are reeling in the rewards of the Nation being relegated to their homes and reliant on delivery service. Yet, the majority of businesses are struggling even to stay afloat and are facing uncertain futures.
Right now, regional publishers need our help to survive. Rather than buying from large retailers, we should try and purchase from indie presses such as Dead Ink Books and Comma Press, who will need our help to survive the pandemic. Never heard of them? Based in Liverpool and Manchester respectively, here’s a round-up of what they’re all about and why they’ll be getting my support, and hopefully yours too.
Dead Ink prides itself for shedding light on the ‘underdogs’ of the literary world and supporting writers who might not otherwise be seen as commercially viable, in a somewhat parochial publishing landscape. The press serves as evidence that the only thing these authors lack is professional support, and their published books have thrice gone on to win prestigious awards.
One of their most awaited upcoming publications is Exit Management by Naomi Booth. Not only is Naomi Booth a rising author of fiction, having gained critical acclaim for her debut novel Sealed (also published by Dead Ink in 2017), but she may also be familiar to some of you as an Assistant Professor in the English Studies department at Durham. Exit Management is a bleak dissection of xenophobia and class disparity which promises a compelling plot-line and unique social commentary. It is certainly one to look out for and is due to be published in September, but can be pre-ordered now.
On a personal level, the Dead Ink publication that struck me as the most appealing, and now sits in my basket ready for purchase, is called Know Your Place. It is a collection of twenty-two essays about the working class, by the working class. The idea was sparked from a Twitter exchange between Nikesh Shukla (author of The Good Immigrant) and Dead Ink, and resulted in the press going on to gather and compile selected essays into a finished book within a year. This book serves as evidence of Dead Ink’s ethos being transformed into reality: it is creating a platform for marginalised people to re-write their narratives.
Comma Press, described as ‘unapologetically political’ by Huck Magazine, share a similar goal to Dead Ink but focus on publishing the short story and fiction in translation. They were shortlisted for The British Book Award’s ‘Small Press of the Year’ in both 2019 and 2020.
The press operates on the premise of ‘democratising literature’, and their focus on short stories is a central means through which they actualise this. In an anthology of short stories, there is not just one author, one voice, one truth, but a myriad of voices working together, or indeed against one another, to create a dialogue. They have since introduced their translation imprint with the aim of furthering their objectives and challenging dominant western-centric narratives.
Regional publishers like Comma Press and Dead Ink Books play a crucial role in our publishing industry. They publish work that represents the diversity of the human experience, work that is daring as opposed to cautious, truthful rather than palatable. Fundamentally, they care about supporting the authors they work with.
It’s not just these publishers that need our help, every business in your area will be worried about the financial impact of the pandemic; next time you’re shopping for books online, maybe consider redirecting yourself to the website of your local bookstore or publisher, because it will be those people who are really struggling. In these trying times, let’s pitch in a few pounds and help them stay on their feet, it’s not like we’ll be spending it at the Swan post-exams anyway.
Image: Calum McAuley via Unsplash