Independent Together

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Indie booksellers have long led debut authors and independent presses to the spotlight. In its six years of existence, Unbridled Books, an independent publisher of literary works, has seen independent booksellers select its titles more than 20 times for the monthly Indie Next List, with four of those titles having the distinction of being a number-one pick. The latest is Emily St. John Mandel's new novel, The Singer's Gun, the number-one Indie Next Great Read for May.

"Indie booksellers are passionate handsellers who are willing to champion new/newer voices, and that is key to our books and our press," said Unbridled Marketing Director Caitlin Hamilton Summie. "Indie booksellers recognize their role as tastemakers, in shaping the next literary greats, and they make it a point to take what we press in their hands and press those same titles in the hands of appropriate customers."

Unbridled Books was founded in 2004 by Greg Michalson and Fred Ramey, who have worked together since the early 1990s and who consider their publishing an "extended conversation about what makes a great book great," said Hamilton Summie. Previously, they founded and ran MacMurray & Beck and then BlueHen/Penguin Putnam.Unbridled is best known for publishing new and emerging voices in fiction and in personal nonfiction.

Unbridled's three other number-one indie picks have been In Hovering Flight: A Novel by Joyce Hinnefeld; The Pirate's Daughter, by Margaret Cezair-Thompson; and The Green Age of Asher Witherow, by M. Allen Cunningham.

The press has had its run of hits by "building and maintaining close relationships with booksellers … and through consistently publishing powerful stories, beautifully told," said Hamilton Summie. "It's that combination of putting out a consistently good list and closely partnering with the handsellers that works best. I imagine we're known as being 'politely persistent' as well!"

About the symbiosis between the indies, she added, "In this economic climate especially, but long before as well, indie stores have been most willing to give newer voices a chance, to let us press a book in their hands and say, 'This one is a must.' The indie booksellers are also most open to indie houses. There is a natural alliance between an indie press and indie booksellers, a shared sensibility, and a shared battle."

Unbridled continually works to maintain that shared sensibility and relationship. "We partner with indie booksellers in every viable way: through tours, specialized events, media efforts, co-op, and marketing through the regional book associations as well as ABA," said Hamilton Summie. Unbridled has sponsored Emerging Leaders events, and works closely with individual ABA members. The publisher also posts Indie Next List nominations on its website, with links back to the nominating stores. "In this way, we hope we drive sales to those stores and also help to build their profiles."

Unbridled is grateful to indie booksellers for making its entire spring list either an Indie Next Great Read or a Notable title, and particularly for choosing The Singer's Gun for May, said Hamilton Summie. "This is [Emily St. John Mandel's] second novel, and her first, Last Night In Montreal, was a pick as well. To see the indie booksellers get behind her and push her new novel to number one is so gratifying -- to see them be a part of building her career with us." --Karen Schechner

For more on indie booksellers' influence on debut authors and independent presses, see last week's BTW feature on Tinkers, published by Bellevue Literary Press.