Strong year for small presses as British Book Awards unveils 44-strong shortlist

Strong year for small presses as British Book Awards unveils 44-strong shortlist

A 44-strong regional and country shortlist for the British Book Awards Small Press accolade shows that the grassroots publishing scene in the UK and Ireland is showing “strength, breadth and durability”, despite the considerable strains placed on presses by the pandemic.

The shortlists include past regional winners Comma Press, Firefly Press, September Publishing and Sandstone Press, alongside new publishers such as Magic Cat Publishing, The Wee Book Company and Vika Books.

Last year’s overall Small Press of the Year winner Jacaranda is also shortlisted for a third year in a row.

In total there are 44 small presses listed across eight different regions and countries, including 10 in London, seven in the North of England, three in Wales, five in Ireland and seven in Scotland. Many of those shortlisted managed to grow their businesses in 2020 despite the coronavirus restrictions that forced bookshops to close and the shut-down of author events—both vital pipelines to readers for smaller publishers.

The British Book Awards’ prize for small presses, sponsored by the CPI Group, 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. For some there was also targeted support from organisations such as Arts Council England, the Welsh Books Council, Creative Scotland and Arts Council Ireland—money well spent at a time of real threat to the sector.”

A number of those shortlisted also published break-out books in 2020 including Dara McAnulty’s multi-award winning Diary of a Young Naturalist (Little Toller), Not the Booker Prize winner Hello Friend We Missed You by Richard Owain Roberts (Parthian Books), Old Ireland in Colour (Merrion Press) and Slow Down — Bring Calm to a Busy World with 50 Nature Stories written by publisher and Magic Cat co-founder Rachel Williams and illustrated by Freya Hartas.

Others looked to new and emerging income streams from crowdfunding platforms, or direct-to-consumer sales while continuing to invest in their lists and brand-identities. As one small press commented: “We grafted like crazy people to keep our business intact during 2020.”

The regional and county 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.

The full shortlsts are:

Firefly Press
New Welsh Review
Parthian Books

East and South East
Guppy Books
Canbury Press
September Publishing
SRL Publishing

New Island Books
Merrion Press
Little island
The Lilliput Press
Banshee Press

South West
Vika Books
Little Toller Books
Really Decent Books
Ad Hoc Fiction
From You to Me

Sandstone Press
The Wee Book Company
Charco Press
Rymour Books
Scotland Street Press
Little Door Books

Otter-Barry Books
Dahlia Publishing
Sweet Cherry Publishing

North of England
And Other Stories
Vertebrate Publishing
Bluemoose Books
Carcanet Press
Comma Press
Fly on the Wall Press

Magic Cat Publishing
Jacaranda Books
Muswell Press
Out-Spoken Press
Boldwood Books
Orenda Books
Chelsea Green Publishing
Europa Editions
Scallywag Press
Fitzcarraldo Editions