Small Press of the Year

Introduction

This award, presented for the third time, has already celebrated 44 small presses in eight regional categories— the winners of which make up this shortlist. They demonstrate the huge range of small publishers up and down the UK and Ireland, and the creativity and energy that stood them in such good stead in a challenging 2020.

Winner

Sweet Cherry

The companies on this shortlist show the remarkable agility and resilience of small presses amid the pandemic, and all are winners in their own right at the regional and country round of the award.

Midlands winner Sweet Cherry scoops the overall prize for a record year of sales and commitment to children’s reading through its blend of education and entertainment. Its sales topped £1m for the first time, thanks to the appeal of its books to home-learning children and parents. Exports more than doubled as it pushed into new territories, and its brand licensing programme gathered pace. A range of standout books included children’s TV brands such as NumberBlocks and AlphaBlocks, a new fiction series from Angie Lake, and easy-to-read versions of Sherlock Holmes stories that have been very popular in Asia.

Sweet Cherry also shows the small press sector at its most diverse, in terms of output and staffing: more than half of its management are from minority ethnic backgrounds. In a region with some of Britain’s lowest literacy rates, it has worked hard to increase equal access to books and raise the confidence of young readers.

“Sweet Cherry is entrepreneurial, focused and dynamic,” said the judges. “It knows its market very well and goes after it brilliantly… it’s a properly diverse business that is absolutely genuine in its desire to get books in the hands of every child.”

HIGHLY COMMENDED in this category is Magic Cat Publishing. Founded by former Templar and Quarto duo Rachel Williams and Jenny Broom, the list made a splash in the children’s market with ideas-led publishing, beautiful production and a keen eye for licensing. “It’s hit the ground running… Magic Cat is going to be a very big deal in children’s books,” said the judges.

Regional and Country Winners

  • Boldwood
    Joint Winner: London
    Boldwood Books has hit the ground running, some may even say sprinting, with its commercial fiction list. In its first full year it recorded £1.6m of sales and an output of 78 titles, and it is already achieving impressive international reach.
  • Magic Cat Publishing
    Joint Winner: London
    Like fellow London winner and newcomer Boldwood Books, Magic Cat has made a huge impact in a relatively short space of time. The 11 titles on its launch list have been superbly developed with rights and spin-off products in mind, and it is set to be a major force in children’s publishing.
  • And Other Stories
    Winner: North England
    And Other Stories used its subscription model to great effect when shops closed, while also growing its US publishing. A social enter- prise, diverse in its output and working towards carbon neutrality, it is one of the most ethical indies around.
  • Charco Press
    Winner: Scotland
    The Scotland category winner shows how indies so often lead the way in translations—in this case, of Latin American literature. It had a book on the International Booker Prize shortlist, it’s second finalist in the past three years, and also grew direct sales to its dedicated followers.
  • Firefly Press
    Winner: Wales
    The Wales winner for the second year in a row, Firefly bounced back from a tough spring to grow sales by more than 50% year on year. Jennifer Killick’s Crater Lake has been its most successful book to date, and its tiny team produced powerful trade and consumer marketing.
  • Little Toller Books
    Winner: South-West England
    The winner of the South-west England category had phenomenal success with Dara McAnulty’s Diary of a Young Naturalist, which added the Wainwright Prize to 40,000-plus sales. Flourishing direct sales in lockdown led it to open its own bookshop towards the end of the year.
  • Sweet Cherry
    Winner: Midlands
    Leicester-based Sweet Cherry—also shortlisted for Children’s Publisher of the Year—is the Midlands winner. Export sales doubled in 2020, and UK and e-book revenue rose nearly as much. With half of its management from BAME backgrounds, it is well ahead of the game on diversity.
  • September Publishing
    Winner: East & South-East England
    September is the winner of the East and South-east England category for the second year in a row. It flexed to reach readers digitally and directly, raced out Joanne Harris’ Ten Things About Writing for those who were writing in lockdown, and had its best year yet in the US.
  • Merrion Press
    Winner: Island of Ireland
    Ireland winner Merrion Press, the trade imprint of the Irish Academic Press, had by far the best year in its history, thanks in large part to a remarkable €1m of sales of John Breslin and Sarah Anne Buckley's Old Ireland in Colour. It published its first children’s and audio titles too.

Highly Commended

  • Cranachan
    Scotland
  • The Wee Book Company
    Scotland
  • From You To Me
    South-West England
  • Europa Editions
    London
  • Vertebrate Publishing
    North England

Congratulations to all our Regional and Country Finalists!

In a strong showing for the United Kingdom and Ireland’s grassroots publishing scene, more than 40 publishers have been listed in the regional and country shortlists of The British Book Awards’ prize for Small Presses, sponsored by the CPI Group, which celebrates the innovative and nimble publishers making names for themselves outside the mainstream.

Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller and chair of the judges for the British Book Awards, said: “After a year like no other, the shortlist shows the strength, breadth and durability of small press publishing across the United Kingdom and Ireland. These businesses, all of them with sales under £2m and many much smaller, fended off bookshops closures, the loss of author events, and the national lockdowns to deliver an incredible set of results with book sales up, diverse publishing on the rise, and new business opportunities taken. The shortlist speaks to how driven and agile these businesses are, but also how well supported they are by readers, booksellers, and their authors and illustrators.”

The regional and country winners of the Small Press of the Year award will be announced on 17th March; the overall winner will be revealed during the online British Book Awards ceremony which this year will take place on 13th May.