The Big Five. That’s what we call the five largest publishing companies in the US: Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Macmillan Publishers, and Penguin Random House.
All five of them have a New York, New York address. All five of them have ample shelf space in bookstores, ads in literary magazines, and funds to market. And, truth be told, big publishers regularly produce flawlessly edited, award-winning fiction. Top tier books deserve to be read, no question, but there are more choices beyond what gets put on the most prominent retail shelves.
Publishers that aren’t attached to one of The Big Five are labeled “small press.” And compared to the giants they are rather slight, with just a handful of staff, but these little guys are often the real ground-breakers. Big publishers are risk averse, which means they won’t take a chance on something that might not sell—in other words, something that doesn’t fit current trends. Small presses are the ones who take leaps on brand new authors and innovative ideas. Small presses are the ones more likely to employ a staff of all women or publish books specifically written by members of the LGTBQ community.
Small presses are the start-ups of the book world. They’re less about “what’s going to sell 100,000 copies,” and more about, “what does the reader of dark fantasy actually want?”
The trouble here is that The Big Five have locked down major retailers like Barnes & Noble, and small bookstores kind of have to follow suit if they’re going to pay the rent. This makes it hard for small presses to get noticed unless a reader specifically seeks them out. So, we’ve compiled a list of some of the finest independent publishers of various speculative fiction fields in order to bring new options to our readers.
What you won’t find on this list are presses such as Angry Robot, Baen, and Tor. While these publishers print awesome books, they are imprints of The Big Five and don’t qualify as small presses. Graphic designer and author, Ali Almossawi, put together a chart that lists The Big Five and all their branches. There are so many imprints within these conglomerates that it’s no surprise they rule the landscape.
Think of small presses as the underdogs. They’re the mom and pop shop down the street that survives on loyalty. And, best of all, they are undoubtedly harboring the gem that will become your next obsession.
If you want more indie publishers focusing on our genre, we’ve added a Part Two to this list, with 12 new names.
Cemetery Dance Publications
Cemetery Dance launched in 1988 and quickly nailed down a readership. They aimed to print suspenseful horror similar to The Twilight Zone, but that which would also not be found on a bestseller’s list. By issue #5, Cemetery Dance was “operating a full speed.” With the help of famous authors like Bentley Little, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King, the small press is now considered one of the best horror publications available. Check them out at CemeteryDance.com.
Located in Portland, Oregon, Eraserhead has been publishing bizarro fiction since 1999. The term ‘bizarro’ was first used by publishers of surrealist stories that made use of absurdism, satire, and the grotesque. Now, Eraserhead has developed an international cult following and employs four of its own imprints. They are the largest and oldest publishers of bizarro and have a fully devoted community of fans. Visit EraserheadPress.com to see the team and read about their newest releases.
Montag Press Collective
A marvelously unique publisher, Montag Press seeks the very best in experimental, weird, subversive, speculative, science, historical, and horror fiction. The list of their genre interests goes something like this: urban fantasy, existential horror, altered states, paranoid fiction, counterfactual histories, retro-futurism, and more. With a tagline like “Books Worth Burning,” you know Montag Press has something to chew on. See their outlandish collection at MontagPress.com.
Apex Book Company
Apex Magazine, a monthly short story publication founded in 2004, is a multi-award winning eZine. In 2006, the company decided to get into novels and Apex Book Company was founded. Publishing books that beyond the known world, Apex will not let readers down. Their stories are high quality, original works of art. See ApexBookCompany.com for their book list.
Future House Publishing
Future House issues science fiction, fantasy, young adult, middle grade, and children’s books. Founded in 2014 off of one author’s bestseller that turned into a multi-state distribution process, Future House was already winning awards in 2016. The stories they choose have roots in Hollywood cinematic storytelling. Take a look at all their books at FutureHousePublishing.com.
Blind Eye Books
Blind Eye Books is dedicated to publishing science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and some romance with LGBTQ protagonists. Blind Eye puts out a monthly newsletter that details their new publications but also that follows their active dedication to the LGTBQ community. Episode One of their new podcast is now available. Check them out at BlindEyeBooks.com.
Night Shade Books
An imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, Night Shade Books has been aggressively publishing debut authors in science fiction, fantasy, and horror for over two decades. Their parent company, Skyhorse, has been doing very well for itself while remaining independent from The Big Five. Night Shade books puts out some exceptional titles, see them on their website: NightShadeBooks.com.
Yet another imprint of Skyhorse, Talos Press publishes science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Talos publishes the best genre fiction they can find while also staying committed to the classics. Talos Press put out “Tomorrow Factory” which we did a vlog review on. See books from Talos Press at: SkyhorsePublishing.com/Talos-Press.
World Weaver Press
World Weaver Press publishes fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction. Created in 2011, the New Mexico-based publisher believes in challenging genre boundaries and engaging in the fundamental human drive to tell stories. Even more incredible, they’re an all-female team. They sometimes publish romance and young adult, and more as long as they have elements of the speculative. Visit them at WorldWeaverPress.com.
Subterranean is a small press located in Michigan that publishes science fiction, fantasy, horror, and dark mystery. They publish 30-50 books per year, including some exclusive editions by famous authors, and they released their first imprint in 2008. Find them at SubterraneanPress.com.
The Parliament House
The Parliament House’s goal is to be the Guillermo Del Toro of the indie publishing world. They have a preference for fantasy, especially if it’s dark, quirky, or magical. They’re new to the publishing scene but have taken off with twenty novels already published in 2018. Working out of Florida, they strive to produce stories that are brilliantly bizarre, original, and moving… but with an edge. Their website is ParliamentHousePress.com.
The JournalStone Network is a collection of various horror sites. Hellnotes is a news resource for horror lovers featuring fiction, movies, and art dedicated to the horror genre. BuyZombie is (you’ve likely guessed) all things zombies. Dark Discoveries Magazine is a monthly publication that spotlights horror authors. HorrorWorld is a horror community. And The Horror Review evaluates the best of the genre. JournalStone itself, however, publishes horror but also reaches into science fiction and fantasy. Find all of these on JournalStone.com.
Based out of the UK, Grimbold Books publishes science fiction, fantasy, and dark fiction. They have two imprints: Kristell Ink (science fiction and fantasy) and Tenebris Books (dark fiction and fairy tales). Grimbold is committed to their authors because they strive to get writers that won’t be found anywhere else. See their book selections or listen to their podcast at GrimboldBooks.com.
This list is only hinting at the enormous number of independent presses that are out there. Small presses encourage diversity, give new authors a chance, and prevent a sea of information from being distributed by only five media companies.
If you found a neat book to read by one of these publishers, let us know. If you liked this post, check out Part Two, where we name 12 more publishers focusing on our genre.