The Importance of Finding Your Niche: A Q&A with publishing veteran Richard E. Abel
Richard E. Abel is a publishing renaissance man. From establishing publishing companies and owning his own bookstore to founding a book marketing and distribution company and writing his own works, Abel has had his hand in nearly every area of publishing. At age 83, time has not put a dent in his passion for the industry, even after his cardiologist’s advice to slow down after his third heart attack led him to sell Timber Press, the Portland-based horticultural niche publishing house that he started 30 years ago.
Abel will receive the Publishers Association of the West’s Jack D. Rittenhouse Award at the organization’s National Publishing Conference and Book Industry Trade Show, which runs Nov. 13-15, for his outstanding contributions to the western book community. He recently spoke with Book Business Extra about his long and varied career.
Book Business Extra: What challenges do publishers on the West Coast face that their peers in the East do not?
Richard Abel: We don’t have access out here to the same kind of freelance whatever—editors, designers and so on …. That means we have to do a lot of [that work] in-house or develop that talent for our own house. … Another thing [is that] we just don’t have access to the market the way [East Coast publishers] do. It’s easy for [them] to get to a central purchasing office. It’s very difficult for us. …
Of course, none of us [on the West Coast] have been long established. [On the East Coast,] there are so many long-established outfits, or people who have [worked at] long-established publishing houses who have spun off to start their own imprint. Out here, there isn’t any of that. …
Extra: Did you ever think about relocating during your career? What has kept you on the West Coast?
Abel: … I grew up on a cattle ranch in Montana. I simply don’t like a lot of people around. … Secondly, there has always been something different in the West …. We are a self-reliant lot. … That leads to a spirit of innovation. I think that those publishers that have been really successful have been what I like to call niche publishers. They discovered a niche that needed to be served that the big publishers in the East might not even have known about. What East Coast publishers would want to look at max print runs of 5,000? Very few. They sneer at that kind of thing.