The name comes from Halkomelem, a Native American language that has no established relationship to any other. Sasquatch, which means "hairy man," was a fitting enough name, once upon a time, for a small Seattle press that published only regional titles and seldom sold books outside the Pacific Northwest. But in recent years, though the mythical forest beast hasn't been spotted, Sasquatch books are much in evidence far beyond the home region—thanks to the efforts of a New York—seasoned editor and a local librarian.
Gary Luke, a Seattle native, spent 15 years in book publishing, most of them in New York, where he worked with the likes of Susan Moldow at Dell/Delacorte, Arnold Dolin at NAL/Plume and Alice Mayhew at S&S. In 1994 he got a call from a friend at the Seattle Weekly, which owned a book publishing company. Sasquatch was principally formed to put out a regional travel guide and a local gardening book. "He asked me if I ever dreamed about moving back to Seattle. 'Ah... no' was my response. But I applied for the position"—as editorial director—"and my thinking began to change."
At the time (1994), Sasquatch was "completely regional," Luke said. "We had commissioned reps—in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California. That's it." Luke hastened to add that the regional market was very good for a small publishing company. "There's a market for books that run counter to the East Coast perspective." A "national" gardening book published in New York, he said, "may range as far as gardening in western Connecticut."
But Luke saw opportunities for Sasquatch to branch out itself, and he was gently encouraged to do so after signing on with PGW. "They said, 'You guys do great books, but only one of our reps gets to sell any of them.' "
Luke brought a lot of New York publishing practices to the Seattle office—regular launch meetings, better tip sheets, rigorous P&Ls. But he also began to look at local resources as something that could be leveraged to greater effect. "One of the first books  I did was Bruce Barcott's The Measure of a Mountain, a sort of biography of Mount Rainier. I wanted Bruce to look at this local icon in the way John McPhee might. He turned in a smart, funny, intelligent book—the same year Into Thin Air came out. We sold 12,000 copies in hardcover. I count that as a great success." Luke then turned to Seattle native Lynda Barry, whose comic strip was well-known nationally. Her One Hundred Demons, published by Sasquatch in 2002, was reviewed by Dave Eggers in the New York Timesand sold 25,000 copies.
But Luke had not yet tapped into what has turned out to be his deepest local resource.
"Nancy Pearl was a friend of mine. She was on the book scene in Seattle as a city librarian and director of the Center for the Book. She also had a spot on local radio, talking about books." When Luke's son was "between Harry Potters" and desperately in need of a book fix, Pearl offered a reading list to the boy. That's when Luke the publisher got an idea.
"We could have done our usual regional publishing number on it," he said. "I could build a very nice publishing P&L on that alone." And he did. But then Sasquatch lucked out, thanks to another local connection. Archie McPhee, a Seattle toy and gag company, added a librarian action figure to its successful nun and Jesus figures. They used Pearl as the model (push a button, and she shushes). "It caused a controversy in the librarian world, which objected to the stereotypical image of a dowdy, schoolmarmish librarian," Luke recalled. Fortunately, the dust-up drew the attention of the New York Times's Claire Dederer, who reported the story in the first month of publication of Pearl's debut book, Book Lust.
That was in October 2003. Nielsen BookScan has counted 68,000 copies sold since, and Luke said the total is over 100,000. A followup two years later, More Book Lust, has sold another 20,000 by BookScan's count. Now, a third Pearl book is on it way. "Book Crush," Luke said, "is for kids and teens. It features more than 1,000 recommended books, from easy readers to young adult." The first printing is set at 25,000, with publication planned for May.
PGW is certainly pleased with Sasquatch's evolution. Kim Wylie, executive v-p of sales at PGW, said, "A couple of year ago their national sales eclipsed their regional ones for us. They are smart, savvy and they know how to get things done on a limited budget. These are the kinds of people we work best with. And Nancy Pearl is just a star. Her backlist still pops."
Sasquatch revenues, according to Luke, have quadrupled since the mid-'90s. "We used to be 100% regional; a book sold in California was a big deal. Now we're 50% national." Asked about whether or not the very local name still fits a press that's no longer so local, he said, "We talk about it all the time. But for the time being, we take comfort in the fact that our books are sold on concept, not on imprint name. Plus, we have all this stationery printed!"