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Meet an Indie Publisher: Blair
Second in a series
I was thrilled when John invited me to resurrect “Meet an Indie Publisher”—a feature made more relevant than ever by last year’s big legal decision blocking the merger of two commercial publishing houses, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. The PRH trial drew new attention to questions of corporate consolidation in the publishing industry, and while people who care about books are right to scrutinize the powerful Big Five houses, it seems equally important to provide a platform to independent alternatives.
With that goal in mind, I was pleased that Robin Miura, senior editor and associate publisher at the North Carolina indie house Blair, was willing to respond to our small-press questionnaire. Blair is one of the independent presses, often operating outside New York, that help bring diversity of perspective to publishing, amplifying voices that might not otherwise be heard. As Blair phrases it in their mission statement: “We strive to publish quality writing, focusing on authors and subjects historically neglected by mainstream publishers, including women, people of color, authors with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ authors. True to our roots in North Carolina, we look to the many voices of the South—and beyond—as sources of work and inspiration.”
This is the second installment in a series that began with Meg Reid at Hub City Press.
Name/Location: Blair, Durham, North Carolina
Year Founded: Our nonprofit parent organization, Carolina Wren Press, was founded in 1976, and in 2018 the Carolina Wren Press board approved the acquisition of the backlist titles of John F. Blair, Publisher (another North Carolina publisher that had been around since 1954). In light of the legacy and reputation of John F. Blair, the press took on the name Blair.
Number of Books Published Per Year: 10–12
First Book Published: I’m not sure what the very first book published by Carolina Wren Press was, but among the early books were poetry collections by Jaki Shelton Green, North Carolina’s current and first Black poet laureate. The first book published by John F. Blair was a poetry collection, Whispering Pines by John Henry Boner. The first book published by the new consolidated Blair was Beaut, a novel by Donald Morrill.
Most Recent Book Published: American Ending, a novel by Mary Kay Zuravleff
“Mary Kay Zuravleff has given us a vivid, unforgettable portrait of an immigrant community and the wry, richly colored, and darkly enchanting stories it tells itself to survive.”—Margaret Talbot, New Yorker staff writer
Biggest Seller: North Carolina Waterfalls, by Kevin Adams
Book You Published You Wish More People Knew About: Mulberry, by Paulette Boudreaux
“A charmer and a heart-breaker, too. This soaring coming of age story proves what the old folks say: the truth really does set us free.”—Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and Leaving Atlanta
If people pick up a Blair book, what are they in for?
That all depends on which book they pick up since our list is so wide and varied. If it’s fiction, they’re in for thoughtful literary fiction with strong plots—some of which might surprise them with humor or even some elements of magical realism. If it’s a nonfiction book, it will more than likely be a book that explores the natural world or cultural history of the US Southeast. We also publish beautiful poetry collections.
What’s most challenging about being an independent publisher?
Making ends meet. Everyone at Blair is passionate about literature and publishing, but as with most publishing enterprises, we’re always in a race to sell enough books to balance the increasing costs of publishing and printing quality books (both the content and the physical product of the book itself) and adequately compensating our staff members.
What’s most exciting about being an independent publisher?
I’m most excited to discover new writing talent and to share books with the world that otherwise wouldn’t be published. I’m also excited about the trends we’re seeing of independent press books winning bigger and bigger national awards and being promoted by independent booksellers. Also, one of the wonderful perks of being an independent publisher is the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with authors and other folks in the literary community.
Insert a question of your own you wish people asked about independent publishing, and answer it.
What’s the difference between being published by a large New York publisher and a smaller independent publisher?
A smaller independent publisher is more likely to get to know its authors individually and to strongly invest in and promote their work, not only in the first few weeks following a book’s publication, but for years to come. At Blair we continue to support and promote our authors and their work as long as their books are in print, and we pride ourselves on keeping works in print for as long as possible.
Thanks to Robin, and if you have an independent press you’d like to see profiled, please leave their name in the comments.