For the past two decades, publisher Sharon Woodhouse has focused on local publishing with books by, for, and about Chicago and the surrounding area. Lake Claremont Press celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, and the local house will be kicking off its celebrations at Printers Row Lit Fest this weekend.
As part of that celebration, Lake Claremont Press will be hosting nonstop book signings at its booth in Tent Z, during which fans can buy signed editions of books from authors Ursula Bielski, Rose Laws & Dianna Harris, Dale Laackman, Daniel Smith, Christopher “Bull” Garlington, David Witter, Lisa Holton, David Haynes, and Renee Kreczmer. That crew represents a mix of frontlist and backlist authors, and Woodhouse notes that it’s a great opportunity for readers to connect with authors and for authors to meet their readers.
“Everyone is invited,” Woodhouse says about her stable of authors. “I really try to encourage the newer authors to pick their time slots first, and I encourage them to stay longer.”
Encouraging authors to meet and greet their readers is something Woodhouse knows is good practice. Building a community of devoted fans is crucial in a day and age when discoverability is especially challenging. Authors who dedicate themselves to selling their titles and promoting their work turn their books into cottage industries—just one of the keys to success for indie publishing.
With two decades of success under her belt, Woodhouse knows a thing or two about indie publishing, and she’s tapped into a winning niche market. With its focus on all things Chicago, Lake Claremont Press has built a devoted readership, and Printers Row offers a fun and exciting opportunity to connect with those readers.
“We can count of seeing dozens of the same people every year,” Woodhouse says about her customers and the Lake Claremont Press community. “They might have all of our books. But they’ll still come by and say ‘hi.’”
With Printers Row in its thirtieth year and Lake Claremont Press in its twentieth, the weekend showcases local publishers, booksellers, and authors—as well as the city itself, which is something Woodhouse’s house has been doing for decades.
“Everyone is feeling good about Chicago,” Woodhouse says about the annual festival, one of the largest outdoor book fairs in the country. “Plus the book lovers—we’re at the intersection of that.”
Although Woodhouse finds that sales ebb and flow, particularly as publishing continues to weather a challenging economy, she is optimistic about this year’s festival. In fact, Lake Claremont Press typically does a brisk business on Lit Fest weekend, which always falls smack in the middle of Dads-and-Grads season.
Woodhouse knows books, and she knows what her readers are looking for. In fact, Lake Claremont Press has recently launched a subscription service whereby readers can sign up for and get books shipped automatically, get invitations to book release parties, and buy books at deep discounts on backlist titles. New subscribers in 2014 will get an invitation to the house’s official twentieth anniversary party in September.
In addition to this new paradigm for Lake Claremont Press, Woodhouse is so keen on publishing that she’s launched two new imprints: Everything Goes Media and S. Woodhouse Books. These new imprints give Woodhouse some freedom and latitude to publish in subjects and genres beyond nonfiction titles about Chicago.
Launching two new imprints may be risky in a time when the economy is still challenging and when naysayers continue to bemoan the impending death of publishing, but Woodhouse is not discouraged. “A lot of people still read. And a lot of people still love books,” she says. “And I still love books. So what if they’re not going to last forever and ever? I still know good books. Even if most publishers go out of business, I want to be the one who doesn’t.”
One of the first books to launch in Woodhouse’s brave new world is For the Kingdom and the Power, which examines the shocking, exponential growth of the KKK in America. It’s a project that Woodhouse fell in love with, despite the fact that it fell well outside the parameters of the local mission of Lake Claremont Press—hence the impetus to launch another imprint.
Although risky, Woodhouse finds the launch of her new imprints energizing as well, and she is hopeful about the future of all of her publishing ventures—even if some might think her barely on the right side of crazy at a time when so many publishers are consolidating, restructuring, and reducing output.
“Irrational optimism, bordering on delusion: That’s me,” she laughs. “That irrational optimism and confidence carries you to the next solution. You don’t just stop every time you hit an obstacle.”
Considering all the obstacles publishers have faced in the past two decades, Woodhouse’s tenacity is remarkable. Twenty years in indie publishing is nothing to sneeze at. With seemingly boundless optimism, sheer determination, and perhaps a bit of delusion, the future of all three of Woodhouse’s imprints—Lake Claremont Press, Everything Goes Media, and S. Woodhouse Books—looks bright, which is good news for her community, a community she welcomes to drop by for a chat during Printers Row.