Serpent's Tail

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Serpent's Tail
Parent companyProfile Books
Founded1986; 36 years ago (1986)
FounderPete Ayrton
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Headquarters locationLondon
DistributionThe Book Service (UK)
Consortium Book Sales & Distribution (USA)
Publication typesBooks

Serpent's Tail is a British independent publishing firm founded in 1986 by Pete Ayrton. It is known for publishing works in translation, particularly European crime fiction, and is the British publisher of Elfriede Jelinek and Lionel Shriver. In January 2007 it was bought out by British publisher Profile Books.

The publisher's list is predominantly fiction, leaning towards edgy, left-of-centre writing. Its non-fiction output tends to focus on popular culture, film and music, and left-field politics. It publishes the current output of authors such as Nicholas Royle and Stella Duffy and the back catalogues of Derek Raymond and Kathy Acker. As characterised by Boyd Tonkin writing in The Independent on the imprint's 25th anniversary: "It still issues a list of fiction and non-fiction that – from hard-boiled noir to gems in translation and left-field cultural reportage – often defines the meaning of 'cool'."[1]

In 2001, Serpent's Tail published the collected journalism of the late Elizabeth Young, having previously published her study of American "blank generation" fiction in 1992 (Shopping in Space).

The imprint is known for publishing debuts, by among others Colm Toibin's The South, Michel Houellebecq's Whatever and David Peace's Nineteen Seventy-Four.

Prizes won by its authors include the Nobel Prize for Literature (Kenzaburō Ōe, Elfriede Jelinek and Herta Müller), the Orange Prize for Fiction (Lionel Shriver for We Need to Talk About Kevin, in 2005) and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize (Jonathan Trigell for Boy A, in 2004).

High Risk Books[edit]

From 1993 to 1997, Serpent's Tail had a New York firm called High Risk Books under Ira Silverberg and Amy Scholder. The imprint specialized, as its name suggests, in risk-taking progressive and transgressive fiction (such as Kathy Acker and William S. Burroughs), poetry (including Jayne Cortez), and non-fiction (including the collected journalism of Cookie Mueller).


  1. ^ Tonkin, Boyd (20 May 2011). "Hot books for cool readers: Serpent's Tail at 25 is still the publisher with bite". The Independent.

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