Prairie Lights has joined the ranks of independent bookstores launching publishing divisions in response to industry trends. But the Iowa City store is doing things a little differently: the bookstore is partnering with the University of Iowa Press to produce, market, and distribute Prairie Lights Books releases. Jan Weissmiller and Jane Mead, Prairie Lights’s co-owners since 2008, will acquire manuscripts and edit them.
“The books will go through the same process as the University of Iowa Press in producing the books,” explained Jim McCoy, the university press director. “We’re helping to walk them through the process. As their distributor, it helps us if we help them.”
Two titles will be released this spring: Sweet Will by Philip Levine, a reprint of a 1985 Macmillan publication, will be published in April with a “several thousand” initial print run, and a collection of essays, Coming Close: 40 Essays on Philip Levine, edited by Mari L’ Esperance and Tomas Q. Morin. Coming Close, which McCoy describes as a “companion volume” to Sweet Will, will be published in May with a 1,500-copy initial print run.
Weissmiller told PW that she and Mead decided to launch their own press to take better advantage of their connections to the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop and the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. The two poets met while both attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop. “Our tentacles reach out pretty deep to them,” she said, with faculty, students, and visiting writers in both programs not only regular customers, but also participants in store programming.
Weissmiller says that she and Mead are soliciting manuscripts, and hope to publish original work, but are open to reprints if they “feel strongly about it.” They are interested in literary fiction; nonfiction, especially essays and memoir; and poetry. Since they also have connections to the university’s international writing program, they are contemplating publishing works-in-translation. They intend to publish at least two and up to four titles each year.
While neither Weissmiller nor Mead have prior book publishing experience, they believe their ability to tap their relationships with other independent booksellers, as well as the expertise of the University of Iowa Press’s staff, will make Prairie Lights Books a success.
“I really like the idea of having a distribution agreement with the University of Iowa Press,” Weissmiller said, “It gives me the freedom not to have to make certain decisions, like having to hire a design team.”