Best Use of Start-Up Mode by a Press No Longer in Start-Up Mode

Agate Publishing

Critics' Picks

Chicago's literary scene seems to be in perpetual start-up mode—a constant stream of newly launched reading series, websites, and presses means there's always some fresh blood. Back in 2003, Doug Seibold started Agate Publishing in just this vein, working out of his basement with, as he told the Reader in 2012, "a cell phone, a laptop, and a DSL line" and beginning with African-American fiction and business titles, both fields he'd worked in during his 15 years in local publishing. He now has an Evanston headquarters and a staff of 17, but Agate retains its nimbleness. In 2006 Seibold bought Chicago-based Surrey Books, which focuses on food and drink, and spun his two existing lines into imprints of their own, Bolden Books for works by African-Americans, B2 for business titles (Agate's first big breakout was a collection of quotations titled I, Steve: Steve Jobs in His Own Words, which landed on the New York Times best-seller list after the death of Apple's cofounder/guru). As Agate has grown, it's put out an increasingly savvy, diverse selection—Kiese Laymon's Long Division, one of the most exciting debut novels of the last year, shares the Bolden imprint with the self-help title Making Marriage Work. Agate also has added two new imprints: Midway, focused on the region, especially Chicago (Hot Doug's: The Book is one hit), and Agate Digital, which among other titles offers scores of e-books drawing on the Chicago Tribune's archives, from evergreens on Al Capone and the 1933-'34 Chicago World's Fair to Pension Games, on the state's ongoing financial mess. Seibold has remarked that the key to Agate is "less about the kinds of content we publish than it is about the scale at which we operate relative to other publishers"—another way of saying small, fast, nimble. But that doesn't mean content gets short shrift; witness local pastry chef/pie shop proprietor Paula Haney's The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie, which is as impeccably constructed and beautiful to look at as any of her edible creations.