Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Not New York: Book-Biz & Publishers in San Francisco

CityLightsThe final stop on our trip out west (by way of the Twin Cities…because direct routes are boring) is San Francisco. Again, I have to preface an article by shamefully admitting that I have never physically been to this week’s destination. Of course, there’s what I know about San Francisco from popular culture: cable cars, hippies, a large bridge… And while those things do lend their local color to any good Bay Area-experience, the city has far more to offer. A thriving publishing industry, for instance.

Personally, perhaps because of my own professional experience, I’ve always viewed the Bay Area as the West Coast hub of educational publishing. Pearson Education, Cengage, and McGraw-Hill, three of the biggest textbook publishers, have large offices in San Francisco. Nearby Berkeley is home to the University of California Press, one of the largest university presses in the United States and the largest on the West Coast. They publish a large volume of books and journals in the social sciences and arts, medicine, film, literature, as well as books specializing in California and the West. And just south in Palo Alto is Stanford University Press.

Such was my limited impression. After digging a little deeper, I found that there are many more companies that round out the Bay Area book scene. Rick Steves publisher Avalon Travel and women’s publisher Seal Press are both based in the Berkeley office of Perseus Book Group, which also owns the major West-based distribution companies Consortium and Publishers Group West and is one of the nation’s largest publishers of independent imprints. Illustrated and gift publisher Chronicle Books is also based in San Francisco. Their list runs from art, design, cooking, and pop culture, and includes children’s books and trade nonfiction, notably the popular Worst-Case Scenario series by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht. And, if you want a publishing experience that’s a bit more outside-the-box, you could work on Chronicle’s gift line of calendars and accessories–not to mention those fabulous Moleskine notebooks.

HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins that focuses on health, wellness, and spirituality, has its office in San Francisco’s financial district, just a few blocks from the Bay. Ignatius Press, publisher of popes and Catholic theologians, is based in an area of San Francisco known as Inner Richmond, right next to the northeast corner of Golden Gate Park. Just across the Bay in Berkeley, next to the Marina, is Counterpoint Press, a combination of three independent presses: Counterpoint, Shoemaker & Hoard, and Soft Skull Press. All imprints publish fiction and nonfiction, and Soft Skull also publishes graphic novels. Hesperian Health Guides is a nonprofit that’s been working for 40 years to commission, translate, and distribute health-education books and print/digital media for areas of the world with limited healthcare access.

I must, of course, mention McSweeney’s, which has been publishing an eclectic and impressive range of books, journals, and multimedia material since 1998. Best-known are probably the McSweeney’s book list, which includes authors like McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers and The Rumpus editor Stephen Elliot, and their literary journal Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. McSweeney’s is also responsible for the daily literature and humor site McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, print magazine The Believer, DVD magazine Wholphin, and the food journal Lucky Peach.

It would be impossible to talk about the West Coast book industry without mentioning the variety of innovative media-related tech companies coming out of the region. Inkling may be giving its traditional educational publisher big brothers a run for their money with its online collaborative learning environments and affordable iPad textbooks. Start-up BookLamp describes itself as the “Pandora of books,” and its Book Genome Project categorizes books based on their “thematic ingredients.” For more on these and other media start-ups, check out 7×’s article on “8 Bay Area Startups Disrupting the Worlds of Media and Publishing.”

Last but not least is City Lights Bookstore, which was recently named one of the greatest bookstores in the world by Lonely Planet (although they might be biased, since Lonely Planet is based in Oakland). City Lights is a San Francisco landmark, first becoming popular with the beatnik generation in the 1950s. Today it continues to delight readers and tourists alike with its collection of both big-name and hard-to-find titles. City Lights also has its own press, City Lights Publishers, which publishes innovative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Be warned, though: While publishers are plentiful, jobs may not be. There is a bias towards computer and media experience in the job market, so if you want to work in San Francisco, it may be time to take that programming class you keep thinking about. Also, there are earthquakes…

Do you work in the Bay Area? How do you find the industry there? What other parts of  San Francisco book business should people know about?  If you’ve worked in publishing elsewhere, particularly in New York, how does it compare?


  1. Katelin says:

    What a wonderful article. I am headed to NYC for the NYU SPI in June. I have a degree in English, and I’m just finishing my J.D. in May. Coming from the South, it will be an adjustment to move to NYC. I’ve always had a large apartment with a lot of outdoor space. Perhaps the West Coast would be less of shock in that respect.

  2. Shannon Kobran Shannon Kobran says:

    Thanks so much, Katelin! I didn’t want to move to NYC initially, either, but after a few months I found that it suited me better than I expected, and now I really enjoy it. You can check out my earlier article on my own move to NYC. Or, if you’re still interested in looking elsewhere, I’ve written short profiles on the publishing scenes of Denver and The Twin Cities.
    And if you think you might want to stay in the South, be sure to check out my April profile on Nashville!

    Best of luck at NYU SPI!


  3. Dishonne says:

    Greetings from Ghana, West Africa! I am from the San Francisco Bay Area, and really enjoyed reading this article. I am currently looking for a great publisher of childrens books. My book concept is unique, and I want to put it in the hands of a publisher that will really appreciate it and do it justice. Who might you recommend? I am an African – American female writer, if this makes any difference. This will be my first children’s book series. Thanks!

  4. Dominno says:

    Such an informative article! I’m looking for a job as an editorial assistant, or entry level position at a publishing company, in SF or the east bay. I know you said that a computer or media background is preferred for jobs in the Bay, and I have an ever so helpful BA in International Relations from SF State. Any ideas that could help me get my foot in the door in this industry?

  5. Henok says:

    The article is so informative. I am an author of a new manuscript in exploration geophysics. I started the book writing about eight years ago including problem designing with the scientific writing. I came to the US recently, and would like to get a scientific publishers in San Francisco with a fair price. Because, I live here in the Bay Area would like to talk if I get one that fits my demand.

    Thank you!

  6. Sarah Browne says:

    Thank you so much for this article! I’ve been looking for a job in publishing for a while and this gives me some ideas of what’s nearby.

  7. Greetings to you, I will like to republish my books with you guys. It is due to the several challenges I encounter with as a self published Author of three motivational books.
    Looking forward to hear from youroffice.

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