Reading Local


Sharon Woodhouse, Lake Claremont Press founder and publisher

Are you like me, one of those Chicagoans who never tires of reading about the city? Recently I discovered there’s a publishing house for people like us.

Lake Claremont Press offers books on an amazing range of subjects–area graveyards, genealogy research in Cook County, maritime history, city zoning history, sports, food, politics, sociology, entertainment, the labor movement, local geography and more–all written by people who are passionate about Chicago.

Curious to learn how a small, independent publisher survives in these times, I called Lake Claremont Press founder and publisher Sharon Woodhouse. Today I’m posting my interview with Woodhouse, and tomorrow I’ll review the newest Lake Claremont release, Historic Bars of Chicago, a guide to the 100 most historic neighborhood joints, taverns, saloons, sports bars and music clubs. I’ll also announce a book giveaway in tomorrow’s post.

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Frances Archer: Every year brings more new books about Chicago. Who is reading all these books?

Sharon Woodhouse: People seem more interested in and passionate about Chicago than other cities. Newcomers to the city get caught up in the city’s colorful history. I’ve talked to people from the South who like exploring Chicago because they’re not used to seeing buildings that date as far back as Chicago’s buildings do. Former Chicagoans continue reading books about Chicago years after they’ve moved away. Young people think of local history as a novelty.

FA: This summer I noticed interest in Chicago seems to be increasing.  More neighborhood and niche tours, for example. Have you noticed something going on?

SW: I agree with you. The chain bookstores are devoting much more space to local interest books than they did 16 years ago when we published our first book. I also think this is part of the “local first” movement. It’s not just a Chicago trend, but a national one. Urban places are “in” now and people want to keep alive what is good from the past, so they turn to local history books.

FA: What are your most popular titles?

SW: The ghost books [for example, Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City] and geneaology [Finding Your Chicago Ancestors]. Also our food books are always popular. The Street  and San Man’s Guide to Chicago Eats appeals because it covers all neighborhoods, promotes local businesses and tells people were to find good, cheap food. The success of that book inspired another book we’re coming out with soon, Beat Cop’s Guide to Chicago Eats. And The Chicago River is a 10-year-old book but it sells well enough to keep in print.

FA: I’ve read that Amazon sells more electronic books than print. How are you adapting to that development?

SW: Multiple ways. The type of material will dictate format. We’ve released some books in both electronic and  print formats. Obscure subjects and archival information might be released only as ebooks.

Converting our print versions to Kindle is the easiest path from our point of view. Amazon sets the price, they pay on time and they’re more accessible than anyone else. That’s important for a small publisher.

FA: Has the Internet also affected how you market books?

SW: Yes, the industry underwent a major change two years ago. We used to have a very thorough, effective turnkey formula for promoting our books. We’d get our authors reviews in publications, interviews on TV and radio. There’s been a cultural shift and media coverage no longer results in sales. The authors still want to be interviewed and reviewed in the traditional places, but that’s not where people who buy our books spend their time. It’s the online promotion that sells books.

FA: Are there any Chicago-related subjects that haven’t been covered in print, or haven’t been covered thoroughly?

SW: Sure. Youth boxing; the 80s music scene, particularly house music; the history of the local steel industry, Mexican immigration.

FA: When you’re not reading about Chicago, what are you reading?

SW: Nonfiction: science, current events, philosophy.

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After the interview, Woodhouse generously gave me my choice of Lake Claremont Press titles. I’ll be reviewing a few of her company’s books, starting tomorrow with the one I know something about, Historic Bars of Chicago. And, remember, I’ll also be announcing book giveaways.

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