Launched in 2013 as a for-profit publisher of e-books, Restless Books has since added print production and, in 2016, switched to nonprofit status. The independent literary publisher is focused on bringing a wide variety of international literature to the American book market. Restless’s mission is “to bring the voices of the rest of the world into the literary diet of American readers,” said founder and publisher Ilan Stavans, who is also the Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities, Latin American and Latin Culture at Amherst College in Massachusetts.
Based in an arts-focused Brooklyn incubator in a renovated factory space, Restless has a staff of five, which includes Stavans, editor and marketing director Nathan Rostron, chief financial officer Arielle Kane, managing editor Ben Samuel, and editor-at-large Annette Hochtein.
The switch to nonprofit status “was purely for financial reasons,” Rostron said, adding that it’s paying off. “We needed to broaden our support. We couldn’t make it on book sales alone.”
Since its launch, Restless has published about 60 books by authors from around the world, including writers from China, Eastern Europe, Iran, Mexico, and Nigeria, including 18 English-language debuts. Restless Books publishes about 20 books per year, with a mix of fiction, narrative nonfiction, memoir, and travel titles.
In addition to having its titles distributed to the trade by Simon Schuster, Restless sells books via its website and through the Restless Readers Club, a $10-per-month subscription service that delivers a new Restless title (along with an elaborate note about the book’s background) to subscribers every other month. To date, the program has attracted 50 subscribers.
The house has also selectively used crowdfunding to fund additions to its list. In 2015, Restless raised $20,000 on Kickstarter for the publication of a 1,000-page 400th-anniversary edition of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (with a new introduction by Stavans), the first title in its Restless Books Classics line. Although the publisher doesn’t crowdfund every RB Classics title, the house has since published a total of six classics, among them, W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk (with an intro by Vann R. Newkirk II) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (with an essay by Francine Prose). And coming in October is Passing by Nella Larsen (introduced by Darryl Pinckney), a classic novel from the Harlem Renaissance that offers a portrait of a light-skinned black woman who drops out of the black community to live as white woman.
The RB Classics imprint is designed “to introduce the books to a contemporary reader and shake off the dust from these classics,” Stavans said. Indeed some of Restless’s bestselling titles are from the classics line, among them Frankenstein and Don Quixote, both of which have sold about 6,000 copies.
A newer initiative at the press was the 2017 launch of Yonder, a children’s books imprint focused on titles from other cultures. Restless plans a Kickstarter later in September to fund the publication of a multilingual children’s book titled Daniel and Ishmail, the story of a Jewish child and a Muslim child who become friends over a shared interest in soccer. Originally published in Spanish, the Restless edition will be translated into English, Arabic, and Hebrew, with all three languages on the same page.
Restless also acts as an advocate for immigrants and immigration via its publishing. In 2016, the house initiated the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant writing, which awards $10,000 and a Restless publishing deal for a new work of fiction or nonfiction. The 2017 winner was Grace Talusan, for her memoir, The Body Papers.
Five finalists for this year’s prize have been announced, and the winner will be named in later this month. “We see our mission as looking at people on the move, on restlessness,” Stavans said. “We want our books to explore how societies change when outsiders come in, to what extent those societies are improved, and, in turn, how those outsiders also become different.”
New titles coming in the fall include Checkpoint, by Serbian novelist David Albahari, the story of a military unit sent to guard a mysterious checkpoint but without any idea of who the enemy might be, and The Son of Black Thursday, by renowned Chilean-French filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, a memoir of growing up in 1930s Chile under the oppression of a corrupt local government and in indentured servitude to a brutal American-backed mining industry.
Stavans said to look for continued selective use of crowdfunding (“It’s like public radio: you get support from your audience, and they stay with you”), the addition of graphic novels (“They connect you with young people”), and an expansion of the Restless list to 25 books per year.
Stavans is a full-time professor at Amherst as well as an author, but he said that he manages to be a “very hands-on” publisher—though he relies on his staff in Brooklyn. “I’m present and guiding the ship,” he added. “I love bringing books to a new generation of readers, but I don’t want to stop teaching.”