The Pacific Northwest (PNW), also referred to as Cascadia, is flanked by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Rockies to the east. While there are different definitions of what the PNW comprises, this report on the region will focus on Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. PNW residents tend to be shaped by their surroundings, informed by and in touch with the natural world, and invested in preserving indigenous culture and wildlife. They also tend to be imbued with a sense of individualism—a legacy of the frontier spirit. That attitude is reflected in the books that are released by the area’s publishers. While many houses focus on regional topics, others publish books on a wide range of subjects.
Becker & Mayer
Becker & Mayer is a packager and publisher located in Bellevue, Wash., that was acquired by the Quarto Group in August, giving the U.K.-based publisher its fifth location in the U.S. Ken Fund, COO of the Quarto Group, observes that the acquisition includes the assets of Becker & Mayer’s book group as well as its SmartLab toy division.
Fund says that Becker & Mayer is roughly a $20 million business, with $13 million on the book side and $7 million from the toy division.
Fund notes that plans are in place for Becker & Mayer to start publishing under its own brand. Another plan is for the SmartLab toy division to be more of a book-plus business with a science and math line, rather than being a pure toy line. He says Becker & Mayer will remain in Bellevue: “We like to leave the creative people where they are. It encourages them to be independent.”
Beyond Words Publishing in Hillsboro, Ore., publishes in the mind-body-spirit category. It also releases self-help and inspirational books. It has about 400 titles on its backlist and publishes about 15 titles each year.
Beyond Words has a partnership with Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which allows it to focus its distribution efforts on reaching out to mind-body-spirit stores. Some of Beyond Words’ bestsellers include The Secret by Rhonda Byrne and Masaru Emoto’s The Hidden Messages in Water.
Beyond Words is “really looking to publish things that shift something in people,” says senior marketing coordinator Whitney Diffenderfer. “The intention for us is to publish books that will make a difference in people’s lives.”
With almost 30 years in the business and 200 employees, Blackstone Audio, based in Ashland, Ore., has roughly 12,000 titles and is one of the largest independent audiobook publishers in the country. Blackstone publishes about 150 titles per month and manufactures, markets, and distributes audiobooks for Hachette and HarperCollins. Among the many publishers Blackstone licenses audio rights from is Disney.
Blackstone also works with several major author estates, including those of Ian Fleming, Gabriel García Márquez, and George Orwell. In some cases Blackstone produces the audiobooks and retains the audio rights, while in a few cases it is the distributor. Blackstone has a studio in New York City and an office in the downtown Portland area, next to Powell’s Books.
CEO Josh Stanton says that half of Blackstone’s business is digital, “but we’re quite pleased that 50% is still physical sales.” Blackstone has seen strong growth in the past decade, partly thanks, he says, to the proliferation of smartphones and MP3 players. “Audio used to be everyone’s second thought and now it’s really in the forefront,” he notes. “It’s been really fun to see that reversal happen.”
Blackstone is also getting into the print game. In 2016, it formed Blackstone Publishing, releasing titles in hardcover and e-book formats. “It’s a bit of a reversal,” Stanton says. “Most houses do print, then audiobook. We did it the opposite direction, because of all the opportunity we’ve had [to take advantage of our connections].”
Phil Bevis, owner of Arundel Books in Seattle, a store that also releases fine-press art and poetry titles, founded Chatwin Books, a trade imprint, with partner Annie Brulé. Chatwin’s first title came out in 2015, and it has released 13 books to date, with three more slated for the rest of 2016.
Bevis’s impetus for starting a trade line was coming across titles that wouldn’t fit under the Arundel Press umbrella, such as the 19-volume series by Greg Perkins, Darkness Before Mourning, which took over 40 years to complete.
Having a press and a store in the same location has several advantages, and, according to Bevis, if nothing else, “we don’t have to look to venues for our publication parties.”
Coffeetown Press was founded in 2005 in Seattle and publishes fiction and nonfiction. It has two imprints: Camel Press, which focuses on genre fiction, and Fanny Press, which specializes in erotica. Coffeetown releases 24–36 titles per year and associate publisher Jennifer McCord says, “Mystery forms the core of what we do.”
Initially, Coffeetown was focused on POD and e-books, but it got into print titles in 2015. Its books are distributed by Epicenter/Aftershocks Media.
Publisher Catherine Treadgold says that memoirs, especially from people who have media platforms, have been a strong suit for the press, including Chef Interrupted: Discovering Life’s Second Course in Ireland with Multiple Sclerosis by Trevis Gleason, and Beauty and the Breast: A Tale of Breast Cancer, Love, and Friendship by Merrill Joan Gerber.
Focusing on regional titles is the guiding light of Epicenter Press, the largest trade publisher of nonfiction books about Alaska. Since it was founded in 1988, Epicenter has published more than 175 books covering topics such as history, memoir, biography, adventure, and Native American culture. The press has an office in Washington to help offset the expense and added time of shipping books to and from Alaska and to reduce warehousing costs.
Phil Garrett, sales and marketing director at Epicenter Press, says that when the company started, there were around 30 publishers in Alaska. Now Epicenter is one of the few remaining. He credits Two Old Women by Velma Wallis, which has sold more than a million copies worldwide and has been translated into 18 languages, with helping the company stick around.
In addition to Alaskan bookstores, Epicenter’s titles do well in tourist hot spots such as airport stores and cruise ships. Garrett notes that Alaskan publishers sell more books in spring and summer, “when the tourists come on the cruises,” than during the holiday season.
Garrett says that because of Alaska’s remote location, Epicenter often receives submissions through the “social connection of the grapevine,” noting that there’s “not a whole lot of cold calling from someone living in the lower 48.” He adds, “In Alaska, everyone knows everybody else.”
This month, Epicenter released the 40th anniversary edition of Iditarod Memories, a collection of Iditarod posters by musher-artist Jon Van Zyle, including limited-edition lithographs.
Brian Juenemann, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, says that there are “some new smaller players” on the publishing scene that “are really energetic and smart.” He singles out Laura Stanfill of Forest Avenue Press: “She has so much energy and is connecting people not just for herself. She’s just one of those mavens.”
Stanfill founded Forest Avenue in 2012. “I don’t think I would have ever started a publishing company if I weren’t here in Portland,” she says. She started by publishing Oregon writers, a choice that she says “quickly earned me the respect of local writers, but also bookstores and local media.” Two years after releasing its first title, Forest Avenue landed national distribution with Legato Publishers Group.
Stanfill is also on the board of directors for PubWest and is affiliated with Women in Portland Publishing. As an author herself, Stanfill says she realizes what it’s like to be “on the other side of the desk.” Putting out two to four titles per year allows her to spend quality time with authors, walking them through every step of the process.
In addition to having books published by Tin House and Harper Perennial and being a veteran employee of Powell’s Books, Kevin Sampsell runs his own small Portland-based press, Future Tense Books. Founded in 1990 as a way to publish Sampsell’s own zines, Future Tense now releases two to three titles per year, with many of its authors going on to big houses.
Being a springboard for authors to go on to bigger presses is one of Sampsell’s goals, and he cites Wendy C. Ortiz’s memoir Excavation, for example, as one of the press’s bestsellers that has garnered its author a large following. Chloe Caldwell and Chelsea Martin are among Future Tense debut authors who have gone on to larger houses.
Harvest House, which was founded in Eugene, Ore., in 1974, is one of the top publishers of Christian titles in the U.S. More than 100 million Harvest House books have been sold worldwide, and the press publishes roughly 135 titles each year, with a backlist of more than 1,200 titles.
Harvest House releases mostly nonfiction titles, with a wide range that includes cookbooks, and though it has published fiction in the past, it has decided to stop acquiring fiction titles. Additionally, the company has had a presence in the gift book market since 1994, working with fine art illustrators and Christian authors.
Some of Harvest House’s biggest titles include those in Stormie Omartian’s Power of a Praying series, which has sold more than 35 million copies, according to Bob Hawkins Jr., president of Harvest House Publishers and son of founder Bob Hawkins Sr. Other big titles include The Bondage Breaker, The Daily Bible, and Before You Say I Do.
Hawkins Jr. says that its sales channels have shifted, noting that the “indies used to be the dominant player, but now it’s the chains,” citing the company’s move into stores such as Hobby Lobby and Michael’s in an effort to “broaden our base of accounts.”
Rhonda Hughes started PrintVision, a book print-production company, in 1992, and while working on high-quality titles for Chronicle, McGraw-Hill, and Sasquatch, she realized that she wanted to form a press. “I wanted to be an editor, and I did not want to move to New York to get a job,” says Hughes, who still lives in Portland.
PrintVision, whose main clients are Fantagraphics and Gibbs Smith, was lucrative enough to permit Hughes to found Hawthorne Books in 2001. Her background in printing has allowed Hawthorne to build a reputation for high-quality books, featuring archival paper, sewn bindings, matte lamination that is nonscuffable, and double-scored flaps that can be used as bookmarks.
Hawthorne puts out four titles of literary fiction and nonfiction per year but has some heavy hitters on its list, including Clown Girl by Monika Drake, Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch (which was just optioned for film), and all of Po Ballantine’s books. Hughes built her list by reaching out to writers she liked as well as writers in the community. Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead, one of Hawthorne’s bestselling books, was blurbed by Cornel West, and The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips sold 40,000 copies, and Hawthorne sold paperback rights to Penguin.
Hughes is excited about the debut memoir Narrow River, Wide Sky by Jenny Forester, pubbing in May 2017. “We’re putting a lot behind this title because it has the ability to break out,” she says.
Seattle’s family-run Laughing Elephant was founded in 1969 by Harold and Sandra Darling. The publisher focuses on vintage children’s books, illustrated books, and related gift items. Publisher Benjamin Darling, one of Harold and Sandra’s two sons, says that almost all of the pictures used in the company’s books and gift products are of collectible antiques that his father amassed over the years. Aside from books, Laughing Elephant produces a wide variety of paper products, including greeting cards and vintage luggage labels.
Most of Laughing Elephant’s sales are through indie bookstores and retail gift shops, but it also looks for alternative spaces where gift items might be sold. “Gas stations are a fantastic market,” Benjamin says. The press does about 20% of its business on Amazon. “If I had to make the bulk or a good deal of my money off Amazon I’d be scared,” he notes. “As we saw with Hachette, they squeeze you and squeeze you until... They hope not to kill you but they might accidentally.”
Microcosm Publishing, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has a history that founder/publisher Joe Biel calls “pretty unique in about every way.” Biel started the company when he was a teenager upon discovering punk rock. He felt that it was his calling to be the “publishing arm of punk rock.” Over the years, he grew the business, and it now has a staff of 11 and 350 titles in print, with 34 titles for 2016.
Microcosm’s list focuses on nonfiction, including but not limited to DIY skills, food, bicycling, gender, self-care, and social justice. Biel says that the theme of his list is that “the book has to make the reader feel good” and to “create resources for people to make their own ideal lives and change the world around them in positive ways.”
Microcosm’s bestselling title is Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs, and other popular books include Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz and This Is Portland: The City You’ve Heard You Should Like by Alexander Barrett.
Microcosm’s sales channels are as unique as its titles. Indie bookstores comprise only 3% of the press’s sell-through. The company focuses on alternative retail outlets such as gift shops, boutiques, record stores, and even indie groceries. Its biggest customer? A taco shop in Tokyo. “We really strategize around anywhere that isn’t selling books. Those places are our best customers,” Biel says.
Seattle-based Mountaineers Books is the publishing division of the Mountaineers, a 106-year-old outdoor and conservation nonprofit. With 700 active titles, the list focuses on outdoor sports, how-tos, travel, mountaineering literature, adventure, lifestyle guides, conservation photography, history, and biographies about those who have contributed to the world of mountaineering. Its first title, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, published in 1960, remains a top seller for the press.
The press’s Skipstone imprint features guides to sustainable living and its Braided River conservation photography books. Publisher Helen Cherullo says she is very proud of Braided River because it has allowed the publisher to print groundbreaking photographically driven conservation books that help inspire people to become involved in the greater efforts to protect North America’s wild places from development and other threats.
Cherullo says almost half the company’s sales come from the outdoors market and half through the book trade, noting that the publisher is seeing new growth in the indie stores. She adds: “I’ve talked with other publishers and Amazon is the part of our business that’s growing. There’s no doubt about it. We’re grateful for that, but we’re concerned because we see what it’s done to the landscape of indie bookstores.”
Though associated with Portland State University, Ooligan Press is not a university press in the traditional sense. It is run by the university’s publishing program and puts out three trade titles per year, which are distributed nationally and internationally by Ingram.
PSU’s graduates end up all over the world, according to Per Henningsgaard, assistant professor at PSU and director of publishing at Ooligan, but he says the biggest contingent stays in the PNW. The challenge for these graduates is that most PNW houses are small, with low turnover. “If you have 20 people on your staff in Portland, you’re a major publishing house here,” he notes.
Pomegranate Communications, a leading publisher in art books and gift products, made the move to Portland in 2013 after being based in the Bay Area since 1968. The family-owned publisher has 30 people in its Portland location and five in its U.K. office, which handles sales for Europe.
Publisher Katie Burke, who started with Pomegranate in 1975 and became publisher in 1996, says that one of the advantages of having a large gift list as well as a large book list is that the company can “try out imagery and text” in its gift line and then develop that property into books. “We’ve always done that,” Burke says. “There was a period in the ’90s where we were doing a lot more books than we are doing now,” she adds, noting that changes in the marketplace have made Pomegranate more judicious about book titles.
The product mix of Pomegranate’s gift line has changed somewhat over the years. “When we started out, we were a poster publisher, and we don’t do posters anymore,” Burke says. Pomegranate has done calendars since the mid-1970s, and calendars are still a strong category for it.
Leslie Davisson, sales and marketing director at Pomegranate, says puzzles have been huge for Pomegranate, and she notes that puzzles have “reinvigorated the bookstore channel for us.” One of the challenges of being in Portland, she adds, is “getting out of the New York mind-set” and “getting reviewers to pay attention to the books that we publish.”
With two great children’s specialty bookstores and a thriving literary community, Portland seems like the perfect place for a small children’s press. That’s exactly what husband-and-wife team Rob and Amanda Broder thought when they moved there in March 2013 and started Ripple Grove with a focus on picture books for children ages 2–6.
The press has been “doing great” since then, Rob says. “It’s been terrific. We receive submissions daily to our in-box, and we are aggressively looking for stories for 2018 and beyond.”
Ripple Grove has three titles in 2016 and three slated for 2017, and Rob says he hopes to grow that title count, but that at the moment he and Amanda “aren’t receiving titles that are resonating with us.” Recently, the press acquired the rights to a Harry Chapin song, “Mr. Tanner,” which is being turned into a picture book. The press is also changing distribution to Small Press United.
Seattle’s Sasquatch Books celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Together with its new children’s imprint, Little Bigfoot, Sasquatch is one of the region’s leading indie publishers. Sasquatch senior publicist Corinna Scott says that all of the company’s titles are “tied to the Pacific Northwest in some way.”
With roughly 1,000 titles published to date, Sasquatch has seen its best sales in the Northwest Best Places series; other top sellers for the press include Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery, Book Lust by Nancy Pearl, The 52 Lists Project by Moorea Seal, O Is for Orca by Andrea Helman and Art Wolfe, and A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Renee Erickson. Hannah Viano’s S Is for Salmon: A Pacific Northwest Alphabet is the first title published under Little Bigfoot.
In 2012, Sasquatch partnered with Penguin Random House Publisher Services, broadening its distribution reach and giving the company room to focus more on publishing and marketing. Sasquatch sales last year were up 35% compared to 2012.
Portland-based Timber Press’s early focus was on publishing gardening books, but Kathryn Juergens, director of marketing and publicity, says that the press has expanded to include regional field guides, general-interest books about the PNW, and natural history titles, as well as a very successful line of foraging guides. Gardening is still the dominant category for the publisher, but its field guides have been so successful that the company has done titles for regions outside of the PNW, including a field guide to the wildflowers of New England.
Workman Publishing has owned Timber Press since 2006, giving it the advantage of Workman’s strong gift-sales team, according to Juergens. The press puts out 30–35 titles per year, and long-standing bestsellers include Bringing Nature Home and Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs.
“The work that we do is very much defined by the region that we live in,” Juergens says. “We spend a lot of time outdoors. The natural world that surrounds us definitely informs our publishing program. We value the environment, conservation—the importance of the natural world and honoring it.”
On the topic of rising concern about the natural world and climate change, Juergens says, “The area that we’ve always published in is now growing in terms of popularity and awareness.” The press has published environmental titles for decades; it’s not the press that is meeting the market, but the market that is meeting the press.
Another major player in Portland’s indie press scene is Tin House Books, which was formed by Tin House magazine about 10 years ago. With a backlist of more than 100 titles, the press puts out around 18–20 books per year, many of which are based on articles from the magazine, or by authors who have taught at the Tin House Writer’s Workshop, such as Joy Williams and Charles D’Ambrosio.
Tin House editor Tony Perez echoes the sentiments of many PNW publishers when he talks about the pool of talented authors in the region, highlighting the fact that Tin House has published two books by Powell’s Books employees: Alexis Smith’s Glaciers and Kevin Sampsell’s This Is Between Us. Perez says that Tin House has access to writers “who are outside of the gaze of the New York literary world.”
Perez says that fiction is Tin House’s “bread and butter” but notes that he hopes to add more nonfiction titles. One recent nonfiction book from the press is The Coyote’s Bicycle by Kimball Taylor, which Perez calls “a deep dive investigation into a particular form of border crossing.”
Tin House has a satellite office in New York City. “It’s incredibly valuable,” Perez says. “It’d be naive to think we’d have the same sort of cachet with agents [without the satellite office]. I do think it’s really important to have a presence there, but I feel lucky that I get to live here and work in publishing.”
Univ. of Washington
Based in Seattle, University of Washington Press is the PNW’s largest and oldest university publisher. It has published more than 4,000 titles since it was founded in 1920, and it currently publishes 50–60 new titles per year.
Editor-in-chief Larin McLaughlin says University of Washington Press releases trade and academic books that focus on topics related to social justice, race and gender, and environmental issues, as well as Native American and Asian-American titles. McLaughlin notes, “We acquired some of the first Asian-American literature,” citing No-No Boy by John Okada as one of the press’s bestsellers in this category. The press has also launched a number of new series in the past several years, including two feminist series, a Global South Asia series and an Indigenous Confluences series, which McLaughlin says prominently features PNW tribal communities.
Director Nicole Mitchell says that the PNW “has been at the forefront of social justice issues and civil rights issues concerning race and gender, and our publishing program is fully aligned with those areas.” In addition, Mitchell notes, University of Washington Press was a pioneer in publishing books on the environment when the field was just emerging.
Mitchell says that University of Washington Press has received two grants from the Mellon foundation this year: one for the Indigenous Digital Publishing Initiative (in partnership with the University of British Columbia Press) and the other for a diversity fellowship in publishing, in partnership with three other university presses (Duke, MIT, and the University of Georgia) to “diversify the pipeline in publishing.”