Between the Lines with Akashic Books
Staying afloat in the publishing industry is not an easy task. Publishers have to compete against a deluge of new titles, and they are pitted against incumbents with established brands and massive resources. In the midst of such rigorous competition, several independent publishers are able to achieve international success. Media Context speaks to Johanna Ingalls, Managing Editor/Director of Foreign Rights at Akashic Books, who elaborates on her company’s path to success.
About Akashic Books
Akashic Books is a Brooklyn-based independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction by authors who are either ignored by the mainstream, or who have no interest in working within the ever-consolidating ranks of the major corporate publishers. Over the 20+ years that Akashic has been publishing, the company has received several awards, including: an Ellery Queen Award, the American Association of Publishers’ Miriam Bass Award for Creativity in Independent Publishing, the Jay and Deen Kogan Award for Excellence in Noir Literature, and the LitChat Reader’s Champion Award.
Akashic Books publishes a wide range of titles that caters to a diverse audience. Johanna states that Akashic Books “aim[s] to publicize and promote [their] books to all readers, and publish a diverse array of books to hopefully reach all lovers of books, of all ages, races, etc. We publish literary fiction, crime fiction, political nonfiction, young adult fiction, children’s picture books, music-related books, and art/photo books.”
Overcoming the Challenges of the Publishing Process
“We are still experiencing challenges. In 2020, we laid off two employees due to the economic impact of the pandemic on book sales. A third employee took a job at a large corporate publisher so we quickly went down from an 8 person staff with part-time interns to a 5 person remote staff with 1 virtual intern from time to time. And, in answer to the second part, I think we’re still overcoming them. We’re adjusting to a smaller staff and a smaller list of books. Luckily, we have all been working together for many years—the publisher and I for well over two decades—and we’ve had to adjust to other challenges, though nothing quite as remarkable as a global pandemic.” Johanna explains.
Forming Strong Connections
In order to cement its position in the market, Johanna states that Akashic must form strong connections in the publishing industry.
“[Akashic’s editorial team] thinks it’s important to participate and attend conferences, readings, book fairs.” Johanna explains.
“We think it’s important to be part of the book publishing community which is why it’s important to leave our office desks and interact with other publishers, booksellers, librarians, book reviewers, etc. These personal interactions can be much more effective than simply relying on emailing and phone calls.” She elaborates.
According to Johanna, Akashic Books builds sustainable relationships with its readers, as well as the following partners:
Marketing Books to a Target Audience
“In addition to general publicity (book reviews, author interviews, etc.), we’ve focused a lot on social media and have even started doing some advertising on Facebook and Amazon to target audiences for certain titles.” Johanna explains.
Aside from networking with its consumers and partners, Akashic remains competitive by building a quality list of titles. As such, Akashic’s editorial team vigilantly searches for new talent, meticulously revises the manuscripts it receives in hopes of finding its next bestseller.
“An editorial team of four of us meet on a weekly basis to discuss submissions. Typically, at least two of us need to feel enthusiastic about a title for us to publish. We do also discuss the books’ sales potential, but we will take a chance on a book if at least one of us feel passionate about it, even if we know it will likely be difficult to sell.” Johanna explains.
When asked about the challenges of Akashic Books’ editorial process, Johanna admits that “finding time to evaluate the numerous submissions [its editorial team] receives” is a pressing challenge.
Submitting Manuscripts to Akashic Books
“While we are signing on very few books while we adjust to our smaller staff and ongoing reduced book sales, at least in the US, we generally are looking for literary fiction, crime fiction, mysteries, etc. Submissions should just have a 2-3 paragraph book description and an author biography including any special connections the author may have that would potentially help with promoting the book.” Johanna suggests.
What kind of authors does Akashic Books work with?
“We’re honestly open to both and have had successes with both debut and established authors. We have a very diverse list in terms of where our authors are from. In addition to publishing authors from all across the United States, we’ve published several authors from Jamaica, Canada, Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti, Nigeria, Kenyan, Ireland, England, Australia, India, etc. Our Akashic Noir Series truly expands our list of authors since those anthologies are based across the globe, as are the authors in them.” Johanna concludes.
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