"Where'd you come up with the name 'High-Lonesome Books'"?....I'm often asked. Well, it all goes back to the hounds, coursing hounds to be precise; greyhound-type hunting hounds used to pursue jackrabbits, coyotes, fox, and other swift game on the Western plains and immortalized in Western literature by such as General Custer, Ernest Thompson Seton, Max Evans, and others. Of course General Custer and Mr. Seton are gone. And Mr. Evans, I understand, let his hounds go some years ago. But I still have some hounds, and run them on Western hares, and I had a bunch of them when I arrived in Catron County, New Mexico in 1980 and named my kennel.... High-Lonesome Hounds. It was just me and the dogs then, we lived at 7200 feet 15 miles from the nearest paved road; it was the only name that fit.
A few years later I found myself by necessity publishing my own book. I had moved to Grant County by then, at 6000 feet and still plenty rural, and it was still just me and the dogs, so I didn't have to look far to borrow a name for a fledgling publishing company....High-Lonesome Books.
The birthing of that book—Gila Descending, High-Lonesome Books, 1986—is not entirely pleasant to recall but will perhaps be instructive to readers who've ever thought about trying such a thing themselves. In the spring of 1983 I had made a three week, 200-mile, canoe trip down the Gila River with a hound-dog and a tomcat. My previous book—Gazehounds & Coursing, North Star Press, 1977—had, despite the arcane subject matter, found a publisher, and I thought a narrative about a wilderness venture with a dog and a cat would leave me scrambling to keep up with a host of publishers bidding for first rights. It was not to be. I ended up sending the manuscript out far and wide, New York to regional. Several said, "Personal narratives don't sell" (at the time the nation's best seller was Blue Highways), while others said, "You need a track record" (a book about coursing hounds had no standing). One publisher agreed to publish, provided I would include more guide book information, and accept the editing out of the boy/girl stuff (SEX!), and my blunt opinions. To me, that would leave it as someone else's book, not mine; so by spring of 1986 I was back where I started—a trip, a completed narrative, and no publisher.
At the time I was a stringer for the Albuquerque Journal, and a reporter and general gopher for the Silver City Enterprise, so I knew a little about publishing. Or thought I did. Typesetting wasn't that hard, laser printers were just becoming available to make camera-ready copy, and a hometown printer I knew assured me he could print it up cheaper than the big boys. This he did and then, because he wasn't one of the big boys and didn't have the equipment, we had to collate the entire project, page by page. That's where you have all these stacks of paper, one stack for each page of the book, and page one is placed in front of page two is placed in front of page three...et cetera. Over 200 pages printed over 2000 times, collated by hand! Another 'ol boy offered the use of a warehouse-sized room in a building he owned and I offered free beer and good cheer and the chance to be part of a great literary event to all my friends. They most all showed up, a couple dozen people, and around the room we went, stack by stack, page by page, those 200 pages printed over 2000 times, and we put that son-of-a-gun together. I freighted all the finished stacks in my pickup to Bishop Printing, Portales, New Mexico, for the binding.
When the first book came off the bindery, I carried it with enormous, almost tearful, pride across the street to a drugstore with an old-timey soda fountain to peruse and admire during lunch. I was about half through a real good milkshake when I found the first blank page. In time I would find many more. Not any more in that one book—one was enough—but nearly half the two thousand books printed carried at least one blank page, or two or three or four, and I would have to thumb through every last book to find them. My printer friend had spit these blanks out of his imperfect press, and neither he nor I nor my hard-drinking collators had found any but a small percentage of them. My printer friend kindly offered to print up the replacement pages for free and I would spend months thumbing through the 2000 books, 200 pages each, tipping in the replacement pages by hand and securing them along the spine with Elmer's Glue-All, till the entirety of my work, Gila Descending, was ready for sale. At that, I missed some, and I still on occasion bump into a reader who'll say: "That Gila Descending wasn't bad, but what happened on page 174?"
Despite the rough beginning, the 2000 copies sold out in less than a year, and I made a lot more off the title than I would have with a publisher's 10% royalty. I took some of the proceeds and reprinted Meet Mr. Grizzly by Montague Stevens, an old University New Mexico Press classic that had fallen into the public domain. Outdoor Life ran a column on the book and I sold half the printing direct mail. And some of those buyers bought the second edition of Gila Descending when they got the High-Lonesome Books brochure (2 books at the time) with the Stevens book in the mail. More big bucks by my reckoning. And by indirection I was learning the value of a good mailing list.
There followed some thirty titles, to date; reprints like Black Range Tales by James McKenna, and Slash Ranch Hounds by G.W. "Dub" Evans, and originals like Lawmen, Outlaws and S.O.Bs. by Bob Alexander and Death on the Gallows by West Gilbreath, plus eight more books of my own, including an updated version of Gazehounds & Coursing. We no longer collate by hand and haven't seen a blank page in years.
The final chapter in this saga involves the trade of used, rare, and out-of-print books. About 1990, to make better use of our mailing list, I gathered up a bunch of used books I owned and no longer needed and offered the list in one of our brochure mailings. The response was almost over-eager, with many respondents disappointed we only had one copy and it was sold. We now deal in used books, too, in our topics of choice: Western Americana and Outdoors.
Some quick advice for publishing as a cottage industry: a) find a focus, and publish within a field where you yourself have interest; b) work out of your home and do as much in-house as possible—profit comes as much from what you don't spend as what you bring in; c) the less you have to deal with the government the better—never have any full-time employees and don't believe that stuff-and-feathers about "you have to get big or get out." If you stay small and do it all yourself they'll hardly know you're there.
Some quick advice for used and out-of-print books as a cottage industry: a) all of the above, plus; b) buy low and sell high!
Since 1989 High-Lonesome Books has been located on 12 acres north of Silver City, New Mexico. At 6200 feet it's still up high, but with my wife Cherie and son Bud it's not so lonesome anymore. Cherie's the only one of us who's really computer literate and she makes the whole thing go. We fish, hunt, hike the Gila Wilderness and run rivers when time allows. At times I still go out on the road and make the rounds of independent bookstores (bless you all!) in New Mexico, Arizona, and West Texas, and I hit the used book stores along the way. We're still quirky, publishing such things as hunting books, which are politically incorrect in some circles. We have a creek, lots of big cottonwoods, a garden, chickens and hound-dogs, and a barn-full of books; we're not rich but we're solvent and we're not working for wages.
You're welcome to come by. Give us a call!