Started as an indie record label, Akashic Books is now a powerhouse indie press. Committed to publishing under-represented authors and non-mainstream work, Akashic Books has built a name for themselves both in the indie and mainstream worlds. On November 3, Entropy magazine interviewed Johanna Ingalls, the managing editor at Akashic Books. They talked about the press’ history since its creation in 1996 and how they’ve managed their mainstream success with Go the F**k to Sleep.
“A lot of our early influences come from the indie music scene of the 1980s and 90s,” said Ingalls, as all three cofounders of Akashic Books were musicians. Though still connected to their indie music roots, Akashic Books is reaching for some international flair with their recent titles: “we focus a lot on the Caribbean—Cuba Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago. . . as well as African-American authors and authors from the greater African Diaspora.” With their successful Noir series, Akashic Books brings Middle Eastern authors to English-language readers as well.
For Ingalls, one of the most appealing things about indie publishing is the ability to take risks: “we have much more flexibility to try new things and experiment than it seems possible in corporate publishing. We can be more adventurous.” This mentality paid off with their 2011 smash hit Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortés. Dealing with the title’s success was exciting and stressful according to Ingalls, and it couldn’t have been done without everyone at the press working together and with the authors to manage the demands. Editor Ibrahim Ahmad spearheaded the effort, but because the press only had four full-time staff members, everyone had to pull together.
Though other small presses might have collapsed due to the overwhelming amount of work, Akashic Books persevered and used the success to further establish their name: “we learned a ton along the way and it has made the company stronger and more stable,” said Ingalls, affirming that Akashic Books is built on a foundation of teamwork—both among the staff and between the press and authors. Go the F**k to Sleep is currently on the extended New York Times best seller list, cementing Akashic Books’ place in both indie and mainstream markets and opening doors for future titles, such as the forthcoming Chasing Water by Anthony Ervin.