This independent publisher has been helping local writers get their work into the hands of readers since 1978.
Any writer who has tried to get their work published knows how tough it can be. Even with the help of a literary agent, finding a publisher for a novel or short story collection can often take years, if one is found at all. And in an industry where large corporate publishing houses often swallow up independent publishers, the books that do end up being published are often chosen for their potential to turn a profit rather than for their artistic or academic merit.
Writers aren’t the only ones who are missing out. Some would argue that the way the contemporary publishing industry does business has resulted in a lack of variety and fewer voices and ideas on bookstore shelves. It makes one wonder how many great works of literature are languishing on hard drives and in desk drawers.
But all hope is not lost. Although they’re not always visible, independent publishers are still putting out work by new and lesser-known authors. Founded in 1978 by Lowell native Paul Marion, Loom Press emerged from Marion’s involvement with Merrimack Valley Poets in the mid- to late-1970s. The informal writers’ collective met regularly at the Andover Public Library and offered poetry readings to the public.
“In the mid-1970s, small presses were really hot. [Starting a publishing company] felt very populist and grass roots — someone just starting out could get their work in print,” says Marion, who has written several books and is a prolific poet. “Quick-print shops were opening. We could do it without a lot of money.”
During its first several years, Loom Press focused on poetry chapbooks. The small press published its first full-length paperback in 1984: a poetry collection by Marion called “Strong Place.” From there, Marion says, the press evolved to publish other types of work by a variety of writers. For the last several years, Loom Press has published five or six books a year, all of them by authors who have some type of connection to the Greater Merrimack Valley region.
Lowell photographer Jim Higgins is among several local authors who have been connected to readers through Loom. His 2020 book, “North & South Ireland: Before Good Friday & the Celtic Tiger,” features photographs of Ireland in the 1980s. Loom published a short story collection, “Smokestack Lightening,” by Lowell author Stephen O’Connor in 2010, and “Sweeny in Effable,” a collection of novellas by Irish American author Dave Robinson, in 2016.
The small press has also put out several books of poetry by local writers, including “On Earth Beneath Sky” in 2020 by Cambodian American poet Chath pierSath. “Mid Drift,” a collection of poems about post-industrial Lowell by Kate Hanson Foster, was published by Loom in 2011.
Loom Press has also branched out into nonfiction. “The Power of Non-Violence: The Enduring Legacy of Richard Gregg,” a biography of the world-famous peace activist by UMass Lowell political science professor John Wooding, was published by Loom in October 2020. This November, Loom is scheduled to release “The Artist and the Orchard,” a memoir by orchardist Linda Hoffman, the owner of Old Frog Pond Farm & Studio in Harvard.
Marion, who worked as the executive director of community and cultural affairs at UMass Lowell until his retirement in 2016, says that according to Loom Press’ printer, book sales in the U.S. have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. “The younger generation that ‘discovered’ vinyl [records] is now discovering paper books,” Marion says.
This trend, along with Marion having more time to dedicate to book publishing since his retirement, has resulted in Loom Press increasing the number of titles it releases each year to between 10 and 12.
“We’ve stepped up the volume and are doing a better job getting our books noticed,” says Marion, who lives in Amesbury. “We’ve had a few books mentioned recently in The Boston Globe. Online commerce and social media have completely changed our business model. Our authors are willing and able to help promote their work.”
When it comes to finding new authors to work with, Marion says Loom sometimes publishes unsolicited material submitted via the form on its website, but it’s not the primary way the press finds new authors or acquires fresh material.
“You have to write a lot of rejection letters,” Marion says. “Once in a while we get something out of the blue, but some people’s work just isn’t ready to be published. [The way we find new work] is really more organic. We have enough authors now that they’re like an informal referral service, recommending projects by other writers they know.”
Marion’s latest contribution to the local literary scene is a journal called The Lowell Review that was launched this past summer. The publication is an offshoot of the RichardHowe.com blog, a popular online journal that has been publishing a variety of work by “voices from Lowell and beyond” — from news, to opinion, to poetry and fiction — since 2007. “We wanted to present the best of the blog’s material in a more permanent structure,” Marion says. “We also felt that the region deserved to have its own literary journal.”
The Lowell Review, which Marion co-edits with Howe, is available in electronic and print formats and includes essays, poems, stories and visual art by writers and artists from the Merrimack River watershed. The second issue of the journal will be released in March.
“We see ourselves as part of the cultural ecosystem of the Merrimack Valley,” Marion says. “At age 67, I’ve been doing this for a long time. The literary vitality here is stronger than I’ve ever seen it. We’re operating at the most robust level we’ve ever been.”