In the same way that blogs and YouTube have democratized writing and film, indie publishers democratize the literary scene. I'll tell you why that's a good thing.
Major publishing houses---affectionately called the Big 5: Penguin Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Macmillan---specialize in marketing. They know what will sell, regardless of whether the work is objectively good. A work that is enjoyable to read may not necessarily get picked up if the publishing house doesn't anticipate there being a market for it.
But they're often wrong. Author Amy Bickers talks openly about the process of trying to get her memoir, The Geography of You and Me, traditionally published. She was told by publishers that her writing is superb, but no one wants to read a memoir about suicide from the surviving spouse's perspective, thus she's "unmarketable." Those of us who've had the pleasure of hearing Amy speak know just how wrong they were---her Kickstarter was fully funded within 24 hours of its launch and the book garnered nearly triple its funding goal. Sounds like there's an audience for the book to me!
This is where indie publishers come in. They publish well-written works by authors who might otherwise be ignored by major publishing houses. I read somewhere that there are 1800+ publishing houses in the U.S., but one in particular caught my eye.
Meet Two Dollar Radio.
1. Stellar titles + critical acclaim = the golden bookish ticket
Take a scroll through Two Dollar Radio's website and it won't be hard to find a title you like. They publish a little bit of everything---essays, poetry, and novels in enticing genres, like Acid Western. Their books have been recognized by Vanity Fair, BuzzFeed, The Wall Street Journal, O: The Oprah Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Nylon, The Village Voice, and more.
It goes without saying that the titles they publish are marketable. My guess is that either the authors liked what Two Dollar Radio was doing and didn't want to go the traditional publishing route or traditional publishers just weren't creative enough to bring these books to the world. Either way, it's traditional publishing's loss and readers' gain.
2. Diversity in genre and author ethnicity
It's no secret that the majority of what's traditionally published falls within neat genre categories and that the majority of traditionally published authors are white. Indie publishers have the power to break down these barriers. You want a memoir about what it's like to work in a labor camp in China? There's a book for that. You want a novel about grappling with death and HIV that's written by a South African author? There's a book for that too. You want an Acid Western that's not Cormac McCarthy? They've got you covered.
It's clear that Two Dollar Radio is dedicated to publishing works that aren't your average run-of-the-mill books. Three cheers for genre-bending and diversity!
3. Showing they really understand their audience
For all my bashing of traditional publishers calling things "unmarketable," marketing is pretty important for indie publishers. After all, the goal of publishing these books is to share them with the world, so you have to get the word out. Though Two Dollar Radio does their marketing in a way that shows they really understand their audience and knows what it takes to resonate with the people they serve.
You've probably heard of street teams for musicians---they're the ones who go around putting up posters and slapping stickers on street signs and speakers in their favorite venues. Two Dollar Radio has a street team too. You put up posters and ask your favorite booksellers to carry Two Dollar Radio titles. For your good work, you get paid in the best way possible: books. That saves you the step of having to cash your paycheck to go buy books.
There's also the tattoo club. Two Dollar Radio started right about the time the Great Recession hit in a major way. Amid all the shouts of "print is dead," Two Dollar Radio continued to follow their dream, and now they're on the other side of the madness, proud they survived. The founders got the company logo tattooed on their wrist and several of their biggest fans have followed suit.
4. They also produce films!
I think they're the only indie publishing house that also produces films. And I'm not talking BookTubing and book trailers---actual films. Two Dollar Radio understands that readers don't exist in a vacuum. People who like innovative books probably also like off the beaten path films. They get it.
5. Right in my own back yard
"Proudly based in Columbus, Ohio" is practically emblazoned in every corner of their website. So many people think they have to go to NYC or LA to be a successful creative and that's just not true. I appreciate that Two Dollar Radio is based in Columbus, one of the smaller major cities in the U.S. but one that has a thriving literary scene and some of the best libraries in the country. (In case you took a blog break during the holidays and didn't hear, I moved to Columbus about two months ago.)
Additionally, they're not too big to show the folks at home some love. I actually found out about Two Dollar Radio because one of the founders is set to speak to the local chapter of the Nonfiction Authors Association and I'm planning to attend. I'm sure I'll have a write up on that for a future post.
I'm already starting to regret my 2016 Reading Resolution because there are several Two Dollar Radio titles I really want to buy. But I've got a running list of all the books I want this year and on January 1st, 2017, I'm buying them ALL.
Do you have a favorite indie publisher? If so, which one is it and what are your favorite titles from there?