Pete Ayrton founded Serpent’s Tail in 1986 with a mission to introduce British readers to risk-taking world literature no one else in the UK was publishing. The list established a reputation for its diversity of voice and fearlessness, publishing writers of colour from all over the world including Langston Hughes, Ernest J Gaines, Nella Larsen, Walter Mosley, Alain Mabanckou and Lola Shoneyin, and LGBT authors including Virginie Despentes, Jayne County and Neil Bartlett. Serpent’s Tail launched the careers of major authors such as David Peace, Michel Houellebecq and Colm Tóibín, and turned the transgressive books The Sexual Life of Catherine M by Catherine Millet and We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver into bestsellers.
After two decades of independence, in 2007 Serpent’s Tail joined Profile Books, also independent, where it continues as an imprint that celebrates originality. What makes a Serpent’s Tail book? A Serpent’s Tail book will challenge you, entertain you, tell you something about the world, provoke change and leave you hungry for more. We publish writers who dare to think originally and help us look at the world anew. Whether their books make the past feel immediate, or illuminate the present, are subtly devastating, politically urgent, or laugh out loud funny –they always have something important to say.
Over the years we have published winners of the Nobel and Orange prizes, and many Booker and Booker International Prize shortlisted novels. Our bestselling authors include Sarah Perry, whose novel The Essex Serpent won the Waterstones Book of the Year 2016, and the British Book Awards Book of the Year 2017, Esi Edugyan, who has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize twice for her novels Half Blood Blues and Washington Black, Karen Joy Fowler, whose novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and has sold over one million copies, as well as Mary Gaitskill, Susan Choi, Jami Attenberg, Attica Locke, Carmen Maria Machado, Saidiya Hartman, Ruby Tandoh and many more.
Our Serpent’s Tail Classics series is a growing selection of international literary and cult masterpieces and includes works by Langston Hughes, Eileen Myles, Chester Himes, Albertine Sarrazin, Elfriede Jelinek, Juan Rulfo, Robert Walser and Herve Guibert.
Since 2014, Serpent’s Tail has been the home of boutique list Tuskar Rock Press, editorially selected by Colm Tóibín and Peter Straus. In 2015, László Krasznahorkai won the Man Booker International Prize and in that same year Chris Kraus’ cult book I Love Dick became a bestseller almost twenty years after it was first published. In 2018, novels by Antonio Munoz Molina and László Krasnahorkhai were shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. Other Tuskar Rock Press authors include Joy Williams, Casey Gerald, Joanna Walsh and Kirstin Valdez Quade.
In 2019, we launched Viper, a new crime and thriller imprint. Its first title, A Famished Heart by Nicola White, was published in 2020. Its first publication of 2021, The Appeal by Janice Hallett, was an instant bestseller, and two 2021 publications, The Last House on Needless Street and The Last Thing He Told Me have been optioned by major TV/Film studios for adaptation.
More than three decades on, we hold true to our founding principles. We are passionate about finding and championing books that excite us creatively, by talented writers who don’t just break but smash the mould with work that opens up space for readers to think, and live, differently.