City Spotlight: Publishing in Chicago
Although it is true that Chicago is no longer home to major trade publishing houses, the city has a rich field of independent publishers, from the very small to the very large.
"My aim in starting Agate," says Seibold, who launched the indie press from his basement in 2003, "was to create a company that would be successful enough in business terms to endure and to contribute to the strengthening of the publishing scene in Chicago not only by publishing good and worthwhile books, but also by furnishing opportunity for more writers, editors, designers and other publishing professionals." Agate, which counts six imprints under its umbrella, publishes on topics ranging from dining and nutrition to business to the African-American experience. The indie house is known for its innovative publishing, which includes an exclusive arrangement with The Tribune Company to publish ebooks based on content from the Chicago Tribune.
Another local indie, Sourcebooks, got its start in a similar fashion—from founder Dominique Raccah's upstairs bedroom in Naperville, about 30 miles west of Chicago's Loop. Sourcebooks, which now has about 100 employees and is seen as an important industry innovator, has been able to tap into that pool of publishing professionals. The house celebrated its 25-year anniversary in 2012. Its location has not been an issue in attracting talent, connecting with readers, or publishing bestsellers. "It has its challenging aspects, but I think we managed—long ago—to get over any inferiority complex we might have had," says Editorial Director Todd Stocke. "When you're outside of Manhattan—even outside of Chicago proper—there are a lot of different things that you're not supposed to be able to do. But there are a lot of opportunities now to connect publisher and reader."
Indie publisher Emily Clark Victorson, who heads Allium Press in Forest Park, about eight miles west of Chicago, agrees that connecting with readers is crucial. "Chicago is critical to our success," she says. "It's important to be able to connect to the Chicagoland community."
Allium, which will publish its tenth book this year, focuses on Chicago-based fiction. But that doesn't make getting local media attention any easier. Discoverability remains a challenge, but being in Chicago has its benefits. "Part of it is that here in Chicago we still have that second-city attitude," which makes local publishers work a little harder, Victorson says.