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Indie Publishing in the UK: The Truth

Indie publishing has been changing a lol over the past decade. The larger publishers have started monopolising the market and consumers have started turning to indie presses as a result.

What is the difference between large and indie publishers?

The UK publishing industry is largely dominated by the big five: Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster. You could say that independent presses sit in the middle of the line between the big presses and self-publishing. We have all heard of the large presses, but why are indie presses just as important to the publishing industry? The biggest publishing companies prioritise profits for shareholders, indie presses do not belong to a large or multinational corporation, better supporting originality and creativity.

indie publishing books

They enter and succeed in the market by specialising and finding their niche, whether that be through concentrating on fiction, short stories, poetry, or even non-fiction. Additionally, indie presses publish fewer than ten titles a year. In SmashBear’s case we concentrate on the fantasy, horror, urban fantasy, and paranormal romance genres which are popular, but often neglected by large publishers or not diverse enough, therefore filling a gap in the market.

Why do we need indie publishers?

Indie publishers undoubtedly are a huge part of the literary landscape. Big presses invest in making money through franchises, sequels, and reboots, largely playing it safe in terms of originality. Large presses are more risk averse, and for that reason small presses take the risks that large presses do not, e.g. publishing titles that may not be 'on trend'. While the risks do not always pay off, without small presses taking on challenges the same boring mainstream literature would flood the market, and wouldn’t that be awfully boring?

books piled high

Indie presses allow for innovation and experimentation, resulting in many titles winning literary prizes, signing film contracts, and going viral. Recently the big five acknowledged that there needs to be more done to address racial inequalities in books, demonstrating the dangers of oligopolies in the market through playing it safe. Indie publishers take more risks and may have more inclination to tackle problems which may not be viewed as saleable by the big five.

Despite the profit margins of indie publishers being relatively low in comparison to mainstream publishers, plenty of small presses put their energy into publishing titles that challenge conventions and convey messages instead of satisfying mainstream tastes to help diffuse the publishing industry.

What is the editing process like with an indie publisher?

Every small press is different, but they usually emphasize the importance of a close relationship between author and publishing team with an intense editorial process. Alternatively, some indie presses give their authors lots of freedom, taking a hands-off approach.

author signing a contract with an indie press

Here at SmashBear, we're very informal, preferring a hands-on approach to editing and publishing our manuscripts. We may be biased, but we believe that by allowing authors to keep some creative control of the project and have input into the marketing campaigns it generates the environment to produce a successful text.

We are in an era where conventional publishing is less common. Indie publishers do not aspire to obliterate the big five. Instead, they exist to give authors choice and different routes depending on factors like genre, editing and so on.

How has Covid-19 impacted the industry?

The current pandemic, like it has in various industries, hit indie publishers hard with the knock-on effect of the closure of bookstores. As much as it is nice to sit in a quaint book shop reading, the pandemic highlighted to publishers that digital marketing and eBooks is the future of publishing and gains higher profit margins.

A handpicked list of our favourite UK based indie publishers:

  • Against the Grain Poetry Press - An innovative small independent poetry publisher dedicated to publishing challenging, well-crafted poetry.

  • Biteback publishing - One of Britain’s leading independent publishers of political and current affairs titles.

  • Burning Eye Books – Specialise in spoken word, slam, and performance poetry.

  • Dahlia Books - A small press supporting regional and diverse voices in literature.

  • Damaged Goods Press – Specialize in poetry and creative non-fiction by queer and trans writers.

  • Eyrie Press - Focused on speculative and historical fiction, particularly featuring underrepresented groups from regional writers.

  • Europa Editions - Publish fresh international voices to help create dialogue between nations and cultures through literature.

  • Guppy Books - Publisher of children’s books from writers with agents and who have been previously published.

  • Greenteeth Press - Greenteeth Press is an independent publishing house, founded in 2018, committed to publishing poetry and prose from writers from all backgrounds.

  • Heroic Books - Passionate about all thing’s science fiction and fantasy, producing novels, anthologies, and audiobooks.

  • Herself Press – Focused on reviving the work of woman writers from the North of Ireland.

  • Hoperoad publishing - Champions inclusive literature with a focus on African, Asian, and Caribbean settings that deal with issues such as cultural stereotypes and identity.

  • Notting Hill Editions – A family-run press which brings to print the most surprising thinkers of past and present.

  • Panther Publishing - Publisher of crime, mystery, thriller, paranormal and horror novels.

  • Peepal Tree Press - Publish Caribbean and Black British Fiction, poetry, literary criticisms, memoirs, and historical studies.

  • Penned in the Margins – Creates publications and performances for people who are not afraid to take risks.

  • Salt publishing – Arrived on the UK indie publishing scene at the end of the 20th century, dedicated to the publication of contemporary British Literature.

It’s amazing to see the breadth of indie publishers based in the UK and SmashBear are super proud to be a part of this community.

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