At a festival in Storey Publishing’s hometown of North Adams, Mass., the 35 year-old press celebrated its anniversary on July 28 alongside dozens of vendors who make and sell the very things that are the subjects of Storey’s books. Hundreds of nearby residents attended Flavor, a festival that included author talks, children’s events, books, crafts, locally made food, and beer in the far northwest corner of the state, a few miles from the publisher’s offices on the campus of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
“We really wanted to do something locally,” said publisher Deborah Balmuth, who partnered with regional organizations to coordinate the programming, called Nourish, for the event. “There is a reason why Storey is here, because we are very connected to the lifestyle here and the kinds of activities that go on here,” said Balmuth.
The publisher’s array of DIY, gardening, cooking, agriculture, wellness, and children’s titles were on display in workshops through the festival, including a talk on herbs by Recipes from the Herbalist’s Kitchen author Brittany Wood Nickerson, and a demonstration of fermenting techniques that used recipes from Kirsten and Christopher Shockey’s Fermented Vegetables.
John and Martha Storey founded the publishing house as Storey Communications in 1983, adding new titles to a backlist they acquired from Garden Way Publishing. In 1999, the press moved from Vermont to North Adams, and a year later, it was acquired by Workman, whose current CEO Dan Reynolds previously served as Storey’s CFO/COO. Workman’s extensive sales relationships with retailers of children’s books have been of particular benefit to Storey as the publisher rolls out a growing list of titles focused on deepening children’s connections to nature and the outdoors.
“Workman has such a phenomenal kid’s line and we get a boost because they already have an introduction to those buyers,” said associate publisher Margaret Lennon.
The addition of interactive and visual children’s titles is a reflection of the press’s enhanced commitment to design in recent years. Creative director Alethea Morrison works with a team of in-house designers to create visuals that balance aesthetics with practical visual instruction and information. The team does original full color photo shoots for all books, while updating older titles with full color art and photography.
The publisher’s recent publication of a handful of inspirational gift books has given Morrison an opportunity to try out new approaches to design as well. Everyday Gratitude includes hand-lettered prints on nearly every page, and each one was drawn by Morrison. The book has sold through its first two runs of 15,000 copies, and Storey commissioned a third printing of 20,000 additional copies.
Over time, consistent backlist sales have contributed to stable growth for the company, which has nearly 700 books in print and 50 employees. Storey’s bestselling book Carrots Love Tomatoes, was first published by Garden Way in 1975 and has sold 790,000 copies. The publisher has particularly strong relationships with nontraditional book retailers, including midwestern feed supply stores, garden centers, and hardware stores. “Thinking creatively about where people would buy these books has been critical to Storey’s success,” said Balmuth.
Balmuth said the longevity of Storey’s backlist is also a sign of the relevance of the publisher’s books to readers, even during economic downturns. “During recessionary times our books sell even better,” said Balmuth. “Everyone wanted to grow their own food 8 or 10 years ago, and so we saw a big surge in books about gardening and root cellaring.”
Looking ahead, Balmuth said Storey is seeking out new subjects in which to develop a similar deep backlist to the one it has established in its existing core subjects. “We have niches and we see new ones where we can go really deep.” said Balmuth.
As she looks for those new niches, the criteria for what makes a good Storey book remains the same, said Balmuth. “Our books are about creating more joy in life and giving people experiences that are uplifting and make life feel rewarding whether it’s through activities and finding small bits of gratitude in everyday life.”