City Spotlight: Exploring Seattle's Book Ecosystem
Last September, author Junot Diaz spoke to a standing-room-only audience at Town Hall in Seattle. Within the first few minutes, he gave the city props for approving a $122 million library levy the previous month. That’s how Seattle rolls.
It’s a book town and proud of it. Seattle always ranks at the top of the list of the most literary cities, dueling with Minneapolis and Washington, DC. Amazon and Costco are headquartered here. We thought we’d head to the Pacific Northwest and see what the publishing scene is all about. And what we found was a vibrant literary community with a lot of publishing options. It just doesn’t look like what you’d expect.
“I think there’s less of a publishing scene and more of a book ecosystem in Seattle,” says Gary Luke, Sasquatch Books’ President and Publisher. Rather than just editors and agents comingling, the publishing landscape in Seattle is more of a literary pastiche, and the result is a vibrant, active community of people and businesses coming together around books in all their various forms. “There are publishers here,” Luke said. “But along with that, I’d include bookstores, the Richard Hugo House, food bloggers, 826 Seattle, the libraries, Hedgebrook, Town Hall and, of course, Amazon.”
We’ll get to the others, but let’s start with the publishers. As the publishing industry as a whole transforms itself, so too is publishing in Seattle changing. Luke says Sasquatch, which was founded to publish the Best Places guidebooks, has found that there’s a lot more content and great ideas out there than just travel guidebooks. “We remain a regional publishing company. That’s our mark in the entire national book scene.” And those great ideas are print driven. Ebooks only account for a tiny percentage of Sasquatch’s book sales.
The Mountaineers Books is another regional publisher; it has launched Skipstone Books — a lifestyle imprint with titles like Urban Pantry by Amy Pennington — to appeal to a national market. The University of Washington Press has a robust publishing program as well; it’s been around since 1915 and has become the leading publisher of scholarly books and regional nonfiction in the Pacific Northwest.