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.