Fourteen-year-old Islandport Press is growing in more ways than one. This year, the five-person press is nearly doubling its list and preparing to move its offices and warehouse to a single 5,500 sq. ft. space in downtown Yarmouth, Maine. Islandport, which received a 2009 Barnes & Noble Focus on New England Award for Outstanding Regional Literature, is also expanding its list beyond Maine’s borders and testing new formats. In July, it will release its first calendar, illustrated by award-winning artist Dahlov Ipcar, based on her Circle paintings: the Dahlov Ipcar: Full Circle wall calendar. In 2014, the press will release its first graphic novel.
“We were committed to remaining in Maine and Yarmouth, and we are delighted that we could find workable space,” said Islandport publisher and editor-in-chief Dean Lunt. He plans to use some of the press’s new room for networking events for its authors and illustrators; for art shows with original art from Islandport’s illustrators; and for market days for booksellers in Maine and New Hampshire, which Islandport services directly. In 2011, it signed with Bookmasters to distribute its titles to the trade in the other 48 states. Islandport also just signed with a gift rep to sell its list to shops in southern New England.
“Dean Lunt and his team produce books of the highest quality, both visually and editorially,” said Larry Bennett, president of Bookmasters Distribution Services. “Their authors have a way of bringing to life the history, the sights, and the sounds of Maine that appeal to all readers.”
According to Lunt, one of the reasons for Islandport’s expansion, while keeping its core Maine titles and New England sensibilities, is its backlist. “The backlist doesn’t sell like it used to. To publish the quality of books we want, we need to do more.” While that’s also true for many small presses, it’s especially true in Maine, which over the past year and a half not only lost several Borders outlets, including one of the company’s top five stores nationwide, but the Mr. Paperback chain, as well. Islandport is also expanding its frontlist, publishing 15 titles in 2013, up from eight last year; it will release 16 in 2014. “Instead of cutting back, we’ve increased,” said Lunt. “Year to date, we’re up double digits, and I would expect sales in 2013 will be up double digits with the extra books and new markets.”
Not that Islandport is neglecting its Maine base. One of the press’s biggest hits in the past year is former game warden John Ford Sr.’s Suddenly, the Cider Didn’t Taste So Good, which broke the press’s record for selling the most copies in a 12-month period, in both print and digital. Lunt has high hopes for its sequel, This Cider Still Tastes Funny!, which has just been released. Barbara Klausmeyer, co-owner of Left Bank Books in Belfast, Maine, calls Ford Sr.’s first book “a standout” and “eagerly awaits” the follow-up. Ipcar’s children’s books and Glenna Johnson Smith’s Old Maine Woman have also sold well.
“We’ve done very well with Islandport books at Sherman’s, particularly because the publisher is great about getting its authors covered in local TV and print media,” said Josh Christie, a bookseller at Sherman’s Books and Stationery in Freeport, Maine. “We’re proud of the breadth and depth of our Maine book department, and Islandport’s books are a crucial part of that section.” Like Klausmeyer, he singles out Ford Sr. and Ipcar as particularly strong sellers.
In addition, Islandport has begun doing special promotions for some of its Maine titles to benefit literacy in the state. Following the success of last winter’s promotion for Rebecca Rule’s The Iciest, Diciest, Scariest Sled Ride Ever!, the publisher is working on a similar one for Astrid Sheckels’s summer release, Nic and Nellie, a picture book. This time Islandport is teaming up with the Island Institute, which supports Maine’s 15 year-round island communities, and will donate 10% of all revenue from sales of the book between its July 11 release and Labor Day to the Institute’s Maine Island Scholarship Program. It will also donate 10% of sales of two earlier picture books illustrated by Sheckels over the same period. The launch for the new book will be held at Archipelago, the Institute’s store and gallery.
“As an island native, I have been keenly aware of the good work done by the Island Institute,” said Lunt. “This is a great opportunity to celebrate Astrid’s artistic talent, promote early literacy, and support an organization whose important work I have witnessed firsthand.”