April 18, 2018
Los Angeles’s independent publishing scene is great, which is completely outrageous
by Ryan Harrington
I’m sorry guys, but this is bullshit.
We live in a New York that is falling down around us. The trains don’t work at all, and on a morning they threaten to work, our terrible weather intervenes to shut them down by other means. Rents are falling a little bit, I guess — but only because there’s so much never-ending construction waking us early and promising to welcome new residents who will, you guessed it, further slow down the trains.
And why do we do it? Because we want to live in the beating heart of indie publishing.
Now, as David Ulin writes for Los Angeles Magazine, LA—holder of so much of America’s cumulative niceness; a city of angels—has its own thriving indie publishing scene.
Why do they get so many nice things? I, for one, am speechless. Ulin writes:
Prospect Park is one of several general interest presses that, together, are changing the perception that Southern California is not a landscape for publishing. Just down the street, Red Hen Press, which was founded in 1994, issues between 20 and 25 works of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction every year. In Eagle Rock, the five-year-old Unnamed Press will release its 50th book in July: Its output is primarily literary fiction and works in translation. From a third-floor office in downtown’s Old Bank District, Rare Bird publishes something like 50 titles annually, both new projects and reprints of older work. Add to this smaller imprints—Writ Large Press, which seeks, its website notes, to publish “overlooked Los Angeles writers,” and Lil’ Libros, with its bilingual board books for young children — and one can start to see a shift in the cultural production of Los Angeles, which, despite its history as a creative capital, has never really been a publishing town.
One reason the article offers for the publishing boom is the city’s bookstore culture, which inspires patrons and employees to talent stack and get into publishing. Another reason is versatility: many Left Coast small presses can do more than one trick, like having a bookstore, or an event space that host workshops, as part of the operation. (Not that you need to be in LA for that…)
The goal of each seems to be to protect their small press status, keeping it affordable to sell just a few thousand copies of books that they absolutely love.
So, whatever — go on ahead and publish great literature in your beautiful playground of a city. We can’t really hate you all that much. But I can’t speak for my friends who are tied to the positively arctic Twin Cities out of a love of great indie publishing. You’ll have to deal with them separately.
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.