North Star Press of St. Cloud, Minn. is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year as a family-run regional press. Founded in 1969 by John Dwyer, previously the business manager of the Liturgical Press in Collegeville, Minn., the press has been passed down from grandmother down to daughter-in-law down to granddaughter.
Six months after starting North Star, Dwyer died, leaving the press in the hands of his widow, Rita Dwyer. Although she still occasionally proofreads manuscripts, Rita Dwyer retired in 2001, leaving the press in the hands of her eldest son’s wife, Corinne Dwyer. Today, Corinne runs the press, together with her eldest daughter, Seal Dwyer, 29, assisted by Seal Dwyer’s husband, Brandon Paumen. All North Star titles are distributed by Partners Distribution.
Based since 2001 in the countryside 10 miles south of St. Cloud, the Dwyers produce and market their publications in-house, with Corinne in charge of editing and design, and Seal responsible for marketing, production, dealing with the authors, and bookkeeping. Paumen takes care of shipping and fulfillment. Due to county zoning codes, the trio cannot hire any employees outside of the family to work at the press’s current offices, located in a farmhouse.
While for most of its 40 years, the press averaged about 15-20 releases per year, in recent years, it expanded its output to 30 titless, and this year, upped the number to 50. “It’s our 40th anniversary, and we thought it important to celebrate with a splash,” Seal Dwyer explained. The press will release at least 50 titles in 2010, and is hoping to further increase its output to 60 titles in the future. Initial print runs range from 600 to 3,000 copies.
North Star has an eclectic list of 350 titles (225-250 are in print) that includes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. It specializes, however in “Minnesota fiction,” novels set in the “North Star State,” and, with 60 releases in the genre, claims to be the largest publisher of Finnish-American literature in the United States. The books have won a slew of awards over the years, including Minnesota Book Awards, IPPYs, and Benjamin Franklin Awards.
This year, the press has implemented a new policy, designed to jumpstart sales at non-bookstore venues: while each author receives traditional royalties, each is now also required to buy a minimum of 100 copies of their books at a 50% discount for re-sale into nontraditional venues. “It’s absolutely fantastic, and motivates them,” Seal Dwyer said, describing how one author, Kate Vogl, the author of Lost & Found, already has sold 1,050 copies into book clubs since her memoir on adoption was released in April 2009.
Looking forward, Seal Dwyer insists that North Star, which grossed $300,000 in revenue last fiscal year, is going to remain narrow in its focus, “because we’re committed to publishing the books New York deems to be too regional, without a national audience. We’ve stayed solvent doing everything in-house. We’re going to do it this way as long as we can maintain quality.”