This month – February* – has been designated #ReadIndies month by two British bloggers, Karen (kaggsysbookishramblings) and Lizzy (Lizzy’s Literary Life). The rules are simple: “read anything you like, in any language you like, as long as it was published by an independent publisher”. This is not a difficult reading month for me to take part in, as the majority of my reading comes from independent publishers.
However, the question is, what is an independent publisher? Karen and Lizzy admit that it’s not easy to define, but they mean smaller outfits that print and issue their own works, and aren’t part of a larger conglomerate. In Australia, the Small Press Network (about which I’ve written before) is a good place to start. In the end, Karen and Lizzy suggest “going with your gut”. They also say, quite rightly, that most independent publisher websites will proclaim their independence. I have written a few times about independent publishers. You can find most of these on my Small Publishers tag. In those posts, I’ve named many small and independent publishers. In this post I’m adding two very new publishers which launched during the pandemic: Ultimo Press and Upswell. What a funny coincidence that both start with U!
“to be distinctive, a little bit different, to disrupt and to have fun.”
Launched in 2020, Ultimo Press is an independent publisher with the simple ambition of becoming “home to Australia’s best storytellers”. They say they are part of Hardie Grant Publishing (which is now a reasonably large, diverse business with offices worldwide), making me wonder what they mean by “independent”. However, Hardie Grant describes itself as “independent” and “Australian-owned”, so I’m going with it.
Most Australians will assume, rightly, that Ultimo’s name comes from the Sydney suburb, but here is how they describe it:
Named for the Sydney suburb that houses Hardie Grant’s Sydney office, Ultimo references our home – an historic and colourful part of Sydney. The Italian translates roughly to ‘the latest’, and that will be our ambition: to provide a platform for the latest trends and newest voices.
The staff has some extensive industry cred, as the Who We Are page shows.
They “want to excite readers of general and literary fiction (especially the sweet spot in between), and discover non-fiction that inspires and ignites”. Their “hallmarks will be editorial excellence, arresting design, dynamic marketing and publicity, respect and loyalty to our authors, and publishing compelling new voices and original perspectives that reflect the full spectrum of Australian life”.
They have certainly started with a bang, with some of their books already making a splash, like Diana Reid’s Love and virtue (which I gave Daughter Gums for Christmas and she loved) and Shankari Chandran’s Chai time at Cinnamon Gardens. They’ve published Claire G. Coleman, and coming up is Yumna Kassab’s Australiana (March 2022), and local writer Nigel Featherstone’s latest novel, My heart is is a little wild thing (May 2022). Regular readers here will be familiar with Featherstone’s warm, expressive writing.
Ultimo certainly looks like a new indie to watch, as does …
“where have all the adventurous readers gone?”**
Launched in 2021, Upswell is, you could probably say, a passion project, but it’s the passion project of someone with significant cred too. Director Terri-ann White ran UWA Publishing from 2006 until mid-2020. During that time she was responsible for significant publishing output across the genres, but, for litbloggers like me, especially for some great literary fiction and creative non-fiction. Josephine Wilson’s Miles Franklin Award winning Extinctions (Amanda’s review) and Jessica White’s hybrid biography-memoir, Hearing Maud (my review) are just two examples of too many to name.
Like Ultimo Press, White wants to publish distinctive works, but puts it this way. She will publish
a small number of distinctive books each year in, broadly, the areas of narrative nonfiction, fiction and poetry. I am interested in books that elude easy categorising and work somewhat against the grain of current trends. They are books that may have trouble finding a home in the contemporary Australian publishing sector.
She’s shown, with her early list, not to be afraid of forms that often scare off the big publishers, like novellas, essays and poetry. And, like Ultimo, Upswell has started well with one of its first books, John Hughes’ The dogs (Lisa’s review) being shortlisted for last year’s Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards (not that awards are the only – or main – marker of excellence.)
Upswell is also distributing a bit differently. Of course, individual books can be bought from them directly or from booksellers, but they also have a subscription program, which Lisa and I took part in last year, receiving their first three books: John Hughes’ The dogs, Belinda Probert’s Imaginative possession and Vietnamese-American author Monique Truong’s The sweetest fruit. This year they are offering several subscription packages, which is a great option. You get to support an excellent publisher by providing them some certainty and you get little surprises during the year.
This isn’t the only different thing, however. Upswell also has DGR status, which means that (Australian) donations to them are tax-deductible. Donations will support their Regional Writing and Publishing Workshops, Mentorships with White, a strong poetry list, and their Noongar Voices program.
So, two new indies to add to the ever-growing list of wonderful indie publishers in Australia. Do support them when you can – and, the bookshops which stock (and feature) them. If you don’t see them at your local bookshop, talk to the bookseller. A personal touch is a powerful thing.
Finally, a little aside just in case you are interested, Marcie (Buried in Print) is running a Read Indies series on her blog, in which she is devoting posts to individual Canadian indies.
* The “month” has been extended to 15 March.
** From an article by Terri-ann White in SeeSaw magazine