(This post was updated February 2024).
For far too long, The Big Five publishing houses (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster) have maintained a strangehold over what appears on bookshelves, both real and virtual. If you're not already well established, famous (or infamous) then you stand little hope of swelling their numbers. Even if you do, their speed of getting your book to market is glacially slow, we're talking worse than continental drift.
As explained here, from the point where an agent offers representation and takes your book to a publisher - to the point where it finishes up on a bookshelf can take two years. Two years! Of course this can vary, but it is frustratingly slow.
For this reason alone, a number of publishing businesses have used modern technology to establish a smarter, more agile, process to get books published. True, many focus on e-books. But, regardless of your preferences, these are environmentally more friendly than hardbacks and paperbacks.
I've listed a bunch of these independent, digital publishers so readers (and potential authors) can identify which ones may be worth approaching. Links are in the company titles. I've given a brief profile taken from their site. Where possible, I've avoided those companies which demand payment from the author, I consider these vanity publishers (though some renounce that term).
Here we go, I hope you find this resource helpful.
They say, "404 Ink was founded by Heather McDaid & Laura Jones in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2016 with the view that publishing could be a little louder and a little more fun. We still feel that way today. Our goal is to support new and emerging writers’ careers and we believe in quality over quantity. That is, not publishing to fill a schedule but publishing because that book truly needs to be read. We strive to provide better-than-average royalty rates and to always punch above our weight in all areas to get our authors in front of as many people as possible." Their authors are all young (make of that what you will). You can submit whole books or ideas for "Inklings" - a brand new non-fiction series of books that capture big ideas in a compact way. You submit your pitch of an idea, not the the book.
They say, "The team at Birlinn are proud of the company’s reputation and prominence in Scottish publishing. We constantly challenge and nurture the talent of our authors and we push the boundaries of the imagination. We never rest in our search for what comes next." They are made up of several imprints: Polygon (literary fiction, poetry, music journalism), BC Books (for kids), Arena Sport (sporting non-fiction), John Donald (academic), Birlinn (generic non-fiction).
They say, "Boldwood Books is an award-winning independent, global fiction publishing house. Over the past 12 months the company has published 59 titles, signed 42 authors and sold over one million books across the world. Based on the principles of a true partnership with authors, consumers and team members Boldwood is seeking out the best stories from around the world, from both new and established writers, and bringing them, in all formats, to readers everywhere. Founded by a team with over 50 years success in fiction publishing it promises to be innovative but experienced, fearless but responsible, and lots of fun!" A cursory check of their authors suggest preferences for romantic and historical fiction, crime and psychological thrillers.
They say, "We believe that the best publishing happens with great care, creativity and attention to detail.
That means a clear vision for an author supported by the best editing, cover design, marketing and publicity. We publish a small number of very talented authors so that we can focus on the detail and create brilliant books that sell. We aim to add value every step of the way." In 5 years they've gone from selling 2.5 million to 9 million books per year. Their author profile is entirely crime/psychological thriller, romance/chick lit with one SFF author!
They say, "We founded Burning Chair because we want to get great books out to the world, and make sure authors get the rewards they deserve. From first class editing to cutting edge marketing and promotion, we provide authors with the support they need to make sure their book fulfils its potential. We’re bringing together a community of authors who support each other, because as writers ourselves we know how valuable that can be." Their author profile reflects a diverse range of genres, including speculative!
They say, "We are a small independent publisher specialising in Speculative Fiction. Our Earth-based operations are headquartered in the UK, in the South East of England, whence we publish titles in English in print and electronic editions." My good friend Simon Kewin is published by these guys so that speaks to their quality as far as I'm concerned. (You can read my reviews of Simon's books here.)
A digital imprint of Bonnier Books, is family owned and based in Sweden but with a UK division. They say, "The imprint is named after the first woman in Norse mythology, who was carved from a tree trunk by the gods – an image of the kind of crafting that writers do, and a symbol of how stories continue to shape our lives." They have an exciting commitment to the environment too.
They say, "Epoque Press is an independent publisher based between Brighton, Dublin and New York. Established to promote and represent the very best in new literary talent." Their focus appears to be mainly on literary fiction but they also publish in their regular ezine as well (which gets your name out there at the very least!). The ezine has a different theme for each issue.
They say, "Our mission is to promote contemporary literary fiction and quality writing. We aim to bring together a community with a shared passion – a love of beautiful books and great writing." They thoughtfully define what they mean by 'literary fiction' too - "For us, it’s about the quality of the writing. We don’t mind if that story contains an alien, or a ghost or two, if it is a mystery, if someone is murdered and someone else has to figure out who dun’ it, so long as your writing is of a good standard, the plot makes sense, your characters have some depth and are not two dimensional." Their author profiles show a diverse range of genres and types.
They say, "We are an independent publisher committed to publishing daring, innovative fiction and narrative non-fiction. Founded in 2012, we are particularly keen to support writers of great literary talent writing outside the norm, who push the boundaries of form and language. We have been called a “small-but-mighty institution” (The Desmond Elliott Prize), a “tiny publisher… with a cartload of guts” (The Guardian), and “revolutionary” (The Telegraph)." Apart from publishing, they run a short story competition and a school offering classes, reading groups and mentorships. They sound like an ambitious outfit. A quick profile check of authors suggest a preference for writers with prior experience in writing and a high level of education. But don't me put you off. I could be wrong.
They say, "Our nimble attitude towards the social reading era has allowed us to be playful with format as never before and create digital bestsellers. Our spirit of entertainment thrives in a world where direct communication means we can talk to readers, booksellers and reviewers to show and spread our love for books, at the touch of a button. Headline will always represent a modern mindset and an energetic outlook. And always stand for best-in-class publishing." They are a huge business with several imprints focusing on different genres and non-fiction. They have celebrity names in their catalogue. Just sayin'!
They say, "Head of Zeus is an award-winning independent publisher of genre fiction, narrative nonfiction and children’s books. In 2017 we won Independent Publisher of the Year. We specialise in subjects and categories where we know we can excel and earn recognition as a market leader -- whether medieval history or historical adventure, saga or SF, children's fiction or nature writing." They proclaim having helped 4 authors reach one million readers and sold 25 million books. They launched a SFF imprint - Ad Astra in August 2020, you can read more about it in this article here. I shall be approaching them!!
They say, "Hera is a brand new, female-led, independent digital publisher, founded in 2018. We’re on a mission to publish the very best in commercial fiction. We're looking for crime and thriller, romance, saga and general fiction." They are unashamedly about commercial fiction, the two women who lead the company having been named Bookseller Rising Stars.
They say, "We have one thing on our minds at HQ… to seek out and bring you brilliant books. We have something for everyone – from women’s fiction to crime, thrillers to memoirs, cookbooks to poetry, from paperback to audiobooks, from debut authors to household names, we’ve got them all." Their digital division has a wide range of genres (not SFF!), a writer friend of mine has a book published with them and had a positive experience.
They say, "Founded in 2014 by Jasper Joffe, we at Joffe Books pride ourselves on our history of innovative publishing. We are deeply invested in creating and maintaining our authors’ careers as writers. We have signed debut novelists and well-established authors, launching them into the book-reading world with genuine enthusiasm for seeing them succeed. As a result, our authors have become some of the most read in the UK, consistently topping the Amazon Kindle and Audible charts for weeks at a time with every new release." They consider most genres and recent expansions have led to new imprints which focus on specific genres (like ChocLit). Submission details here. A quick check of their authors and you find a higher than average number of older authors, if that is relevant to you.
They say, "Dash is a boutique imprint that aims to create bestsellers by giving every one of our titles the focus and carefully crafted strategy they need. Moreover, we believe in building author brands, rather than one-off wins, an ambition we express with our multi-book contracts. We want to see all our authors succeed, and we do this with passion, digital know-how and unbeatable market knowledge. The beauty of being digital-first is that it allows us to give readers exactly what they want when they want it. The advantage of being part of Orion is the agility with which we can move into other formats should there be demand, with the very best in the business working across all of our teams." Financially they offer a flat 40% net receipts eBook royalty in lieu of an advance. They do not consider non-fiction, novellas, poetry, children’s, YA, essays, or short stories. They are looking for women’s fiction, romance, saga, historical, crime and thrillers. A useful and recent (May 2023) review of Hachette from a self publishing perspective can be found here.
A digital publishing house focused only on speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror). They say, "We put out our first four books in 1999 and we have published over 400 titles since. In between, we've had novels, collections, non-fiction - including a collaboration with Tartarus Press - a brand new short fiction magazine (Postscripts), an innovative new grandstand for up-and-coming talents (PS Showcase) and lots more novellas. We've also won six British Fantasy Awards for the Best Small Press and have received similar recognition from the Horror Writers Association and have won the World Fantasy Award and the International Horror Guild Award." They're based in Hornsea, East Yorkshire. However, they are not accepting submissions until the end of 2024.
They say, "Salt is one of UK’s foremost independent publishers, committed to the discovery and publication of contemporary British literature. We are advocates for writers at all stages of their careers and ensure that diverse voices can be heard in an abundant, global marketplace." They have hundreds of authors (24 with A surnames!) so this is a big organisation. They cover the major fiction categories (not SFF that I could find) along with poetry, kids books and non-fiction.
They say, "Serpentine Books are a new and innovative publishing house building our first list. We are unashamedly selective on the books we publish. We want unique fiction, full of great characters, action, and a flawless plot." Their website is quite basic but they do state that they're interested in all the things the industry can be stuffy and judgemental about and focus on crime, cross-genre, speculative fiction, thrillers, sci-fi, horror and mash-ups of all these things. They're currently pushing their SF authors. You definitely get the impression they are a new publisher.
They say, "Tangent is a purposefully radical publisher: both in the content we publish but also in the authors and writers we choose to publish. We publish books whose stories, thoughts, images and writing will not be published elsewhere; whether because of location, economy or content. Radical, witty and irreverent by nature, we hope you find something to enjoy, and make you think a little too." They're based in Bristol and if you know the profile of that city, their eccentric nature fits in there. As illustrated by their refusal to 'work with Tories' or anyone supporting Bristol City FC. Their books are a weird collection but certainly worth checking out.
They say, "Wavesback aims to combine what have become the hallmarks of quality modern digital publishing by working with the best editors and on bespoke marketing campaigns. Wavesback's ambition is to innovate in all aspects of the publishing process and, in particular, to discover new audiences for the authors they work with. We’ll bring experience and structure combined with innovation and agility.” says founder, Nick Bates. “But more than anything, we want to deliver on the ambition of our authors to reach lots of readers and make every engagement we have, with readers, authors and everyone who interacts with Wavesback an open and positive one.” Their first book was the first in the Mal & Jackie series by RJ Dark (non de plume of the fantasy writer RJ Barker. These stories are brilliant, exciting and funny!)
Here is a helpful article, written by author Louise Mangos, about why you might want to go down the digital imprint route with your book.
Here you can find advice about self publishing versus vanity press publishing plus a helpful list of those publishers to avoid.
I've tried to screen out those who look dodgy but if you've had bad experiences, let me know.
I hope you find this post helpful. If so, please share it on social media, making sure to reference The Speculative Faction in the process. Thanks.