Letter from the Publisher: Martian

Posted by – October 19, 2022
Categories: Society & Politics Letter from the Publisher

If the book market were a highway, it would be teeming with cars and accessed by only a few major onramps.

Such has been our experience as an independent nonprofit book publisher with entry to the marketplace through our distributor Penguin Random House (PRH). Our books receive attention from one of the world’s largest publishers, which means they are expertly mainlined onto the world’s literary thoroughfares. Without attention from the various sentries along the way—from booksellers to reviewers to librarians—the chances of a book resonating in a very saturated market are slim; for every independently published and self-published book catching fire in the zeitgeist, there are tens of thousands idling on the highway but rarely seen, let alone read.  

As the poet James Cagney asks in his award-winning 2022 book, Martian: The Saint of Loneliness:


What pushes the simplest song into a hymn?

     What triggers desire to go viral

            What vein sustains it?


It is this question that prompted our racial equity committee to recommend that North Atlantic Books use its positionality within book publishing to create a vein for essential books from smaller publishers that might otherwise face structural impediments to entry. This is an acknowledgement of the corporate systems that still prevail under American racial capitalism where toll roads lead to the beautiful bridges that are bookstores—roads that can be difficult to penetrate for those without very specific means, identities, and relationships.

And so we were delighted when our neighbor in the Bay Area, Nomadic Press, suggested that North Atlantic Books distribute Cagney’s Martian. From our first reading of the text, it was clear that Cagney’s perspective was urgent, kinetic, revolutionary, and necessary—a voice that wonders: 


Has it ever occurred that YOU might be the savage,

  the terrorist,

the outside threat you’re most afraid of?


We felt that Cagney’s verses needed to careen down the passing lane of the American highway and knock loose the pylons guarding our nation’s true brutal history and social reality. Nomadic Press asked us not because they needed our wisdom—after eleven years of publishing hundreds of books, they have that—but because their founder, J. K. Fowler, sensed that a partnership with us would create more opportunities for Cagney’s work to ripple through the landscape. Even with the prestigious Academy of American Poets James Laughlin Award under its hood, Martian might never reach the fast track.


And so we have worked with Nomadic over the last fourteen months to bring the book to readers. Martian is now speeding down the interstate, earning praise from Publishers Weekly as one of its Top 10 Poetry Books and described by Poets and Writers as a “cri de coeur that probes feelings of alienation and rage in the face of systemic corruption and state-sanctioned violence.” May Martian: The Saint of Loneliness cross every town.


We are proud to publish Martian and have been inspired by Nomadic Press, from the way it builds book covers to the way it creates a beautiful physical object to the way it collaborates with its writers to honor their idiom. For Nomadic Press, as J.K. Fowler notes, “Partnering with North Atlantic Books has offered us unique insights into an extremely opaque industry. This knowledge is essential to understanding how we, as small publishers, can dismantle that which no longer serves us and continue to foster a more humanistic, heart-centered web of book-related relationships.“ 


I wish that book publishing in America was more equitable—that there was not, as Cagney puts it, “such complex algebra / just to land in welcoming arms.” We will be dogged in leveraging our experience and positionality to hammer at the foundation of inequity in our industry, knowing we as a press will grow, learn, and flourish in the process. 


Tim McKee