The Indie Presses of Portland

In Portland, there’s an independent press for every sort of project you can imagine. More importantly, each press has a unique mission statement that will help you, the writer, find the best match for your personal and creative goals. Let this guide to local indie publishing houses help you decide where to submit your next piece.

  1. Tin House: Although they were part of the literary world for years beforehand, Tin House officially became an independent press in 2005. Tin House publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, as well as out-of-print and underappreciated books. Titles include Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing by David Naimon and Ursula K. Le Guin, Pretend We Are Lovely by Noley Reid, and Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett.
  2. Overcup Press: Overcup specializes in nonfiction books with a strong design element, including books on travel, art, literary nonfiction, and design, as well as epicurean titles. Their titles include Volcanoes, Palm Trees & Privilege: Essays on Hawai’i by Liz Prato, 99 Ways to Make a Pipe: Problem Solving for Pot Smokers by Brett Stern, and The Tall Trees of Portland by Matt Wagner.
  3. Perfect Day Publishing: Perfect Day Publishing has been an indie press in Portland since 2011. They focus on emotional stories in the form of literary nonfiction, essay collections, and memoir. Titles include Stranger in the Pen by Mohamed Asem, What About the Rest of Your Life by sŭng, and Yeah. No. Totally. by Lisa Wells.
  4. Microcosm Publishing: Microcosm Publishing began as a record label in 1996 and has transformed into a press that focuses on building skills, exposing hidden stories, and fostering creativity through nonfiction books and zines about self-improvement, gender, and social justice. Recent titles include Chainbreaker Bike Book: An Illustrated Manual of Radical Bicycle Maintenance, Culture, and History by Ethan Clark and Shelley Lynn Jackson, Coping Skills: Tools & Techniques for Every Stressful Situation by Faith G. Harper, and The Practical Witch’s Almanac 2019: Expanding Horizons by Friday Gladheart.
  5. Forest Avenue Press: Forest Avenue Press was founded in Portland in 2012 and largely publishes adult literary fiction related to Oregon and the surrounding area, focusing on works that involve activism or that put new twists on fairy tales and folktales. Titles include Parts Per Million by Julia Stoops, Queen of Spades by Michael Shou-Yung Shum, and The Hour of Daydreams by Renee Macalino Rutledge.
  6. Future Tense Books: Future Tense Books began in Spokane, Washington, in 1990, briefly moved to Arkansas, and settled in Portland in 1992. This press focuses on publishing the work of groundbreaking authors in the form of novellas, story collections, and novels that go in unexpected directions. Titles include I Don’t Think of You (Until I Do) by Tatiana Ryckman, Liar: A Memoir by Rob Roberge, and Pretend We Live Here by Genevieve Hudson.
  7. Burnside Review: Burnside Review, formed in 2004, puts out a journal issue every 9–12 months in addition to publishing full-length books of poetry and chapbooks through their contests. When their submissions are open, they accept fiction and poetry to be published in their journal. Titles include Such a Thing as America by Sarah Blackman, The Volunteer by Andrew McAlpine, and MEOW by Mark Baumer.

And, of course, there’s our very own student-run Ooligan Press.

Inspired yet?

Small Presses and Local Niches

In the world of publishing, the big houses have a reputation of attracting as large and general a readership as possible. Large publishers often exclude books that are primarily of local interest, books that recount some quirk of local history or the current trends in the region. Some writers have resorted to the difficult and oft-derided path of self-publishing in order to get their local-interest books out into the world; other writers have found a good match with one of the small presses in their native region. Indie publishers are usually better suited to concentrate marketing and sales efforts on smaller and more specific target markets.

Here at Ooligan Press, for example, our mission is to produce books that honor the cultural and natural diversity of the Pacific Northwest. Under this umbrella, Ooligan has published various works of fiction, nonfiction, young adult novels, and even poetry, all speaking to some facet of the complex Northwest ethos. One such book is Brew to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy, by Portland State Associate Professor Charles Heying. In Brew to Bikes, Heying takes readers on a whirlwind tour of the many independent artisanal industries that have sprung up in Portland in recent decades, and muses on the factors that have made this particular city the ideal environment for such enterprises. For more books exploring the history and character of the Pacific Northwest, just visit our website.

Santa Fe, New Mexico. Image by user "Camerafiend" from Wikimedia Commons, resized under Creative Commons.

Santa Fe, New Mexico. Image by user “Camerafiend” from Wikimedia Commons, resized, under Creative Commons.

As proudly individualistic as Portland and the rest of the Pacific Northwest are, these are by no means the only places where small presses specializing in local-interest topics can thrive. Santa Fe, New Mexico, is home to an especially interesting example: The Palace Print Shop and Bindery, alternatively known as The Press of the Palace of the Governors. The Palace Print Shop and Bindery is an old-school press, living museum, and historical archive all rolled into one. It produces hand-bound, limited-edition works that focus on prominent events and personalities in the history of New Mexico, all while using genuine historical letterpress machinery.

The Hill Country of Texas. Image by David from Flickr, resized, under Creative Commons.

The Hill Country of Texas. Image by David from Flickr, resized, under Creative Commons.

Local presses need not be associated exclusively with major metropolises—west of San Antonio, in the aptly named Hill Country of Texas, the independent publisher known as Mockingbird Books can be found in a small town called Boerne. Mockingbird Books produces a few trade paperbacks and a whole passel of ebooks dedicated to the history and development of the state of Texas, and of the Hill Country in particular. Mockingbird Books also publishes a legal treatise on oil and gas titles, presumably of great interest in an oil-rich state. Despite being located a good thirty miles outside of San Antonio, Mockingbird Books is still able to call upon a rich regional history in its lineup of local-interest titles.

These three publishers are by no means the only presses dedicated to local topics. There are many such indie presses scattered throughout the United States, for every region, state, and city has its own unique character and history just waiting for native writers and readers to explore. Do you know of a small publisher in your area that focuses on local-interest titles? We at Ooligan Press encourage you to explore and find out—you may be surprised at what you find!

Finding a Niche for Poetry

In the world of publishing, poetry is one of those areas where bigger is not better. Poems rarely excite the interest of the general readership, and as such, the major publishing houses will usually decide that any given book in the genre is simply not worth their time, effort, or money. After all, when was the last time a volume of poetry made the bestseller list? When was the last time you saw one prominently displayed at Barnes & Noble?

Small presses, on the other hand, often prove more enthusiastic about printing and marketing poetic works. Whether they are dedicated exclusively to the genre or simply inclusive of poetry that falls under their area of expertise, niche publishers currently offer one of the best venues for poets seeking to introduce their work to the world.

Take, for example, our own Ooligan Press. Ooligan’s specialty is books from the Pacific Northwest for the Pacific Northwest, and we have published several poetry titles under that umbrella in past years, all of which can be found on our website. Ooligan’s flagship poetry title is Alive at the Center, an anthology featuring hundreds of contemporary Northwest poets. Nominated for the 2014 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award, Alive at the Center is available as a single volume, or divided into three smaller books according to the three major cities that the writers call home: Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver.

Then there’s Copper Canyon Press, also located here in the Northwest. Copper Canyon is a nonprofit indie publisher that dedicates itself solely to the poetry genre, operating under the motto, “Poetry is vital to language and living.” (“All poetry, all the time” was presumably deemed too cliché.) The press prints and distributes paperback collections from an international array of talented poets in over fifteen different languages. Forty-three of its titles so far have won various awards, prizes, and other literary honors.

Another small not-for-profit publisher offering a notable selection of poetry is Graywolf Press. Originally founded in Washington State with a focus on printing volumes of hand-bound, letterpressed poems, Graywolf has since moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, and branched out to include novels, memoirs, short story collections, and essays. A significant chunk of their bestsellers and award-winners, however, still come from their poetry list. Most recently, two of Graywolf’s titles have been named as finalists for the 2014 National Book Award in poetry.

This is, of course, hardly an exhaustive list—there are many more small presses in the world of anglophone publishing with an interest in poetry. These indie publishers go above and beyond merely accepting more submissions from this genre than the big houses; they aggressively market their poetry titles, constantly strive to win awards and accolades, and exploit every opportunity to promote and nurture interest in the art of poetry. Thanks to the efforts of niche publishers, the poetry genre will quietly continue to survive, and even thrive, at the margins of today’s overcrowded, cutthroat market.