One of my biggest frustrations in repping some really interesting (to me) titles with a western bent, is finding a regional bias with New York publishers.
I have one book in particular that would have huge appeal to Californians. The state has an estimated population upwards of 35 million as of 2003, which looks to me like a substantial potential readership, but the biggest trade houses see this as a “regional” title with little national appeal, and have begged off so far. The proposal is great, the author is a very well known journalist and he’s one of the most qualified people to write this story, but so far no go.
California (and the West) has plenty of publishers, but they’re mostly category publishers: computer book, travel, gift book, spirituality, business, novelty and how-to publishers. We have few publishers who do serious narrative non-fiction: I don’t mean to slight U.C. Press or Berrett Koehler, they’re both great houses, but I’m looking for someone with more range.
When a California publisher does rise to prominence, they’re often sold to the bigger houses back east, editors are let go, and the entrepreneurs who founded the companies retire comfortably to their own pursuits.
Nothing against that. I’m happy that Ted Nace (Peachpit, sold to Pearson), Ben Dominitz (Prima, sold to Random House) and Jeremy Tarcher (Tarcher, sold to Putnam) were able to found thriving companies and succeed here. But I do miss having a publisher like Prima that had such a wide range of interests and was not afraid to tackle serious non-fiction, especially for topics that were important to residents here.
I figured I’d share my list of California publishers of note, with the explicit invitation for comments. Anyone can add to this list and/or especially point me to someone who is publishing serious non-fiction on current affairs. This list is in no way exhaustive. Here are the California publishers of note as I see them:
Gift books, novelty, and reference:
Chronicle Books, though to be fair they also publish many artsy titles and some literary fiction. They’ve done a great job with the Worst Case Scenario Handbooks.
Ten Speed Press, is the home of such classics as What Color is Your Parachute and great gift titles like Why Cats Paint. Ten Speed has a phenomenal grasp of alternative distribution and sold books in places like National Parks and Health Food stores long before other publishers saw these markets clearly. They also own Tricycle Press, Crossing Press and Celestial Arts.
Big Corporate Houses:
Okay, Harper San Francisco does still have an office in San Francisco and does a very good job with religion, philosophy, and spirituality.
And Harcourt has a presence in San Diego but I think the California group focuses mostly on the children’s book market, and houses sales and marketing activities.
Inspiration and Health:
The grandmother of the category, Hay House Press, which publishes Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay, is based in Southern California. Hay House is a great innovator, and they’re also doing some interesting things these days with their own internet radio network.
New age heavyweight New World Library, based in Novato, has published Eckhardt Tolle, among others. (Note, I originally included Deepak Chopra here but he was actually published by Amber-Allen, another Northern California publisher).
Travel and Recreation:
Originally a travel publisher, Ulysses Press now publishes much more general reference as well, covering topics such as yoga, health and money-matters.
Computer book publisher Tim O’Reilly co-founded Traveler’s Tales with his brother James, and they’ve published a distinguished list of travel oriented narrative non-fiction for the past ten years.
Former Peachpit ed, Rosalyn Bullas, heads acquisitions at Wilderness Press, which has been in business publishing books for backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds for over thirty years.
Houses that Used to Call California Home:
I’m pleased that we still have the old beat house City Lights Books. A few literary houses that used to call California home: Ecco Press (now w/Harper), Black Sparrow Press (now w/David Godine, a great place to be), and North Point Press (now w/FSG). It’s sad, or maybe it’s telling somehow, that these more literary houses have all moved elsewhere.
I’ll leave off without going into the computer book publishers for now. I have enough to say about them for an entirely new entry. Suffice it to say that companies like O’Reilly, Sybex, IDG, Osborne, No Starch, A Press, the Waite Group and Peachpit were all founded in California. It’s proven that there’s a wealth of talent here when we talk about high tech and business. I wish we had the same richness of experience and talent working on serious, mainstream non-fiction. And, although I didn’t always get along with him or agree with him, I wish we had someone with the energy of Prima’s Ben Dominitz publishing in California again.