Michel Moushabeck opened the offices of Interlink Publishing in New York City in 1987 because it was the place to be, especially with a list of books by authors from across the globe. For Moushabeck, that changed within just a handful of years, and he made a fateful decision that has shaped his press for the last 30 years. He moved to Northampton, Mass., a small New England city located in a leafy valley in central Massachusetts.
Simple things changed right away, Moushabeck jokes. “Back in Brooklyn, I used to drive around the block for an hour looking for a parking spot. Now I go for an hour’s walk in the morning on the Robert Frost Trail.”
But the change in location wasn’t just good for Moushabeck’s commute. It was good for everything that Interlink does. Moushabeck wanted to set his publishing house’s content apart from others, but he also needed an environment where publishing could be streamlined, from acquisitions to marketing and events.
Today, five universities are within driving distance of Interlink’s offices, bringing 50,000 student readers to the area. Their courses adopt and teach Interlink books, but the students themselves also come with essential job skills that feed the press’s needs, such as marketing and design. “We have a wealth of educated people and freelance talent, so we never have to go outside of New England looking for people. We’re surrounded by it,” Moushabeck says.
The result is a publisher known for his specialization in translated fiction, international cookbooks, and multicultural children’s picture books. When Moushabeck wants to pair an internationally renowned artist with an author, he can look down the road to Jane Yolen, Ruth Sanderson, and countless other acclaimed authors in the area. When he wants to bring one of his writers to the United States, as he did recently with Moroccan author Anissa Bouzianne, he can count on nearby University of Massachusetts–Amherst to collaborate on an event.
In short, it is a model that works. According to Moushabeck, Interlink has had double-digit growth in the last two years, and he is not alone. With an altogether different publishing model than New York’s Big Five, publishers across New England are known for their deep investment in specializing in topics that have loyal readers far beyond the locations from which they’re published.
And it’s more than a business difference, Moushabeck says, it’s a cultural one. “In a nutshell, we’re really located at the heart of America’s most bookish and literary communities,” he notes. With that support and an unyielding commitment to deepening readers’ understanding of the world around them, publishers from Maine and Vermont to Connecticut and Massachusetts have high staff retention, strong backlist sales, and a long gaze on what it means to publish from the northeast of the United States.
Be Here Now
Few publishers are as rooted in the New England tradition as Globe Pequot Press. The 60-year-old publishing house was acquired by Rowman & Littlefield in 2014 and now has 15 imprints under its umbrella. But instead of moving the press to Rowman’s headquarters in Maryland, president and CEO Jed Lyons ensured that it remained in Guilford, Conn., and asked veteran Stackpole editor Judith Schnell to take the reins as publisher.
A Maine native, Schnell says that Globe Pequot’s regional strengths were a draw for Lyons. “Jed likes to acquire companies that are established—that are distinctive for publishing in a certain area of publishing—and he likes to keep the companies largely editorially intact so that the publishing program remains the same,” she notes.
Globe Pequot draws heavily on local ties for the books it produces, feeding a frontlist of 650 titles this year—up 100 titles over last—and a backlist that numbers in the thousands. When George H.W. and Barbara Bush’s granddaughter wanted to write a book about their relationship, GP’s Down East imprint was her go-to press. Its connection with Michael Steere, Down East’s longtime editorial director, sealed the deal.
The same goes for a forthcoming collection of letters between E.B. White and fellow writer Edmund Ware Smith, titled Chickens, Gin, and a Maine Friendship (May 2020). Discovered in a bank vault in Damariscotta, Maine, the letters were presented to Steere, who acquired them for publication. “People may wonder, How could we have possibly gotten these books?” Schnell says. “But those are the kinds of connections that you make because you’re local and there’s a loyalty among readers and authors.”
Those connections go beyond sourcing books, to marketing and selling them. Globe Pequot regularly pairs with partners in copublishing agreements on regional-interest titles. A guidebook to New England was recently produced with Yankee Magazine, and The Essential Guide to Cape Cod and the Islands emerged from a partnership with Cape Cod Life.
To ensure books are on the shelves of retailers, Globe Pequot also maintains a dedicated sales force, including a representative solely for the state of Maine. “It’s really important for us to establish those kinds of connections and sales,” Schnell says.
Despite its investment in sales and marketing, Globe Pequot isn’t chasing bestsellers. “Our approach is not to do one or two blockbuster books and hope for home runs,” Schnell notes. “Ours is a more traditional type of publishing, where we’re publishing books that are investments in the backlist—the titles may not be glamorous and glitzy, but they’re going to be around for a while.”
At Stackpole, Schnell carried an editorial list of 30–40 titles at a time, and while her responsibilities no longer allow her to acquire as much, she continues to acquire 10–15 titles annually, cultivating authors who she thinks are emblematic of the work of the press. “I do love making and creating books,” she says, “and I love working with the authors.
Regional Roots, Global Reach
From Tuttle’s offices in Rutland, Vt., sales and marketing director Christopher Johns recounts a bidding war for a Tuttle title that began in October at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The book, Bushido Explained, balances academic and practitioner-based views on the Japanese samurai code and piqued the interest of French publishers.
For a publishing house started in rural Vermont in 1832, Tuttle’s global focus on craft titles, language instruction, and Asian arts and culture might seem unusual until one recognizes how much of it has been built on global relationships. The company’s roots as a modern publisher go back to Charles Tuttle’s arrival in Japan at the end of World War II. Within a matter of years, Tuttle had established a publishing house with offices in Tokyo and back home in Vermont—a tradition that carries into the present day, with the addition of offices in Singapore.
Alexander Bennett, author of Bushido Explained, is just one of the many authors with whom Tuttle has a tradition of building multi-title publishing relationships today. A professor of Japanese history, martial arts, and budo theory at Kansai University, Bennett has authored six books with Tuttle in five years and is helping translate another.
Tuttle is doing similar work to be a go-to publisher with a deep list in other specific subject areas as well. “We’re taking a wide look at how bushido has changed over the years—a beginner’s guide to bushido—along with tons of illustrations,” says Johns, who is pursuing a similar approach with a book about ikigai, the Japanese concept of the things that are essential to a good life.
In June, Tuttle published A Geek in Japan, by Hector Garcia, who previously coauthored Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life for Penguin, which more than a million copies. A Geek in Japan quickly became Tuttle’s bestselling publication in a decade. Garcia then approached Tuttle with a follow-up to his Penguin title, The Ikigai Journey, which Tuttle readily agreed to publish. Long-term readers who are interested in more than one book on ikigai will find the book from Tuttle, Johns notes.
“We can go deeper,” Johns says. “Are we going to sell 1.2 million copies? Maybe, yes, or no, but we know we’re going to sell a few. Our readers know the power of what this book is. We’re doing it with the person who started this.”
This approach is a hallmark for Tuttle, Johns says: by picking a subject area and publishing into it again and again, “we don’t mind going deeper and looking at new avenues.” With the 2020 Summer Olympics coming to Tokyo, he notes that Tuttle will keep publishing for that audience, bringing the world at-large back to American readers through close relationships with expert authors.
Surrounded by the sprawling campus of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Storey Publishing’s mission has moved from a focus on showing readers how to cultivate their land to showing them how to cultivate their minds in the service of a better life. The publisher—which is owned by Workman and based in North Adams, Mass.—was originally founded in 1983 as a wing of the garden-supply company Garden Way.
To this day, Storey continues to publish into homesteading and gardening, and publisher Deborah Balmuth says, “That’s part of what being in Western Massachusetts is about, a connection with those topic areas.” Like good farmers, the publisher has also adapted to a changing environment over time, expanding in recent years to add children’s books and books on spirituality, as well as crafts and special interest titles.
“All of our books have always been about flow living and what we’ve always been about, finding authors who have life experiences to share about the meaningful connections,” Balmuth says. “But maybe that whole personal independence thing is taking a different turn right now. I think for people right now it’s not about hobbies, it’s about enhancing connection to life experiences and to meaningful experiences in life.”
With a focus on meaningful experiences, Storey has recently grown its children’s list from a single title seven years ago, to roughly 10 out of the 40 titles it publishes annually. Among them are the Backpack Explorer series, which introduces kids to nature exploration, and introductory books on cooking and art for children between the ages of 3 and 8.
Storey’s sales of children’s books to libraries have doubled in the last year as a result, while the careful build-out of the list ensures depth and longevity in the backlist, Balmuth says. It is a proven strategy for Storey, which survived the 2008 recession because of high interest in the company’s backlist of homesteading and DIY titles.
In-house knowledge of that backlist is crucial, which Storey maintains with a high retention rate of employees at the house. “Because of our location, if you want to work in publishing and work here, we have a lot of longevity,” Balmuth says. She attributes the retention to the cross-disciplinary work of the staff, who often work across traditional boundaries to collaborate as editors, designers, and photographers.
For Chelsea Green Publishing, collaboration now means co-ownership. In February, cofounder Margo Baldwin and her husband completed a multiyear transition to 100% employee ownership. In business for 35 years, the publishing house is profitable, and Baldwin is looking to find a successor to shepherd into the next generation a list that includes titles on environmental justice, sustainability, nature, cooking, and organic growing.
It’s a far cry from where Chelsea Green began. “When we first started, we thought we would be a generalist publisher,” Baldwin says. “It was only by dint of understanding that that wasn’t possible that we then began to focus on the core elements of our publishing.” As a result, Chelsea Green began to specialize.
The publisher’s first breakout success was The Man Who Planted Trees, Jean Giono’s classic 1953 tale, which Chelsea Green translated in 1985. A string of environmental classics followed, including Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower and The Limits to Growth, a multiauthor work that challenged the economic principle of unlimited growth. Along the way the publisher had a handful of offbeat successes too, including The Straw Bale House Book, which sold more than 100,000 copies, according to Baldwin.
At the time, it was not immediately clear that the model would work, in large part because the titles outpaced the mind-sets of general readers and fellow publishers. “We did not have a lot of company,” Baldwin says. “We suffered a little bit from being too far ahead.”
As with her fellow New England publishers, time bore out the results. “These older titles—when the time comes around—they keep growing,” Baldwin notes. One example is Sander Katz’s Wild Fermentation, which was released in 2003 and has sold more copies for the publisher each year.
Chelsea Green has expanded to include a London office and is acquiring books for an American market as much as it sends books to the U.K., but Baldwin says that the location and size of the company are still distinctly of New England in their roots. “When you’re a bigger company you can be the CEO, someone else is CFO, and someone else is publisher, and somebody else is editorial director,” she adds. “But here, it’s an old-fashioned publishing role.”
As old-fashioned as the role may be, the content remains at the cutting edge. Baldwin and the staff at Chelsea Green participated in the September 2019 climate strikes, and within weeks, they inked a deal with environmental activist Roger Hallam to release his climate manifesto, Common Sense for the 21st Century, which was crash published for release November 19. Baldwin says it’s an approach that fits the values of Chelsea Green, and it’s profitable too. “It’s not like we’re losing money doing this,” she notes. “We’re tapping a nerve with the consumers of our books.”
A Communal Vision
Helene Atwan worked at New York City publishing houses for 20 years before taking the helm as director of Beacon Press, the Boston-based independent publisher that first opened its doors six years before the start of the Civil War. Instead of a publishing house, she found a whole community that surrounds and sustains the press in ways that weren’t possible in New York.
“Working in New York publishing is so different. It is so chopped up and dispersed, and it doesn’t have the kind of cohesion that the writing and scholarly community does,” Atwan says. In New England, the small, close-knit community of scholars and writers affords a different opportunity to seek out books and cultivate relationships with authors over time.
“I don’t think that I would personally have been able to do a book with Anita Hill if I weren’t in Boston,” Atwan says. “Those connections were made here.” The same goes for Cornel West’s Race Matters, which happened “because the director and an editor are at Beacon in Boston here,” she explains. “I worked for Farrar, Straus when the Beacon staff brought up Cornel West, and nobody knew who he was in New York. That was a unique opportunity. That book has been enormous for us.”
With its core community, Beacon can focus on what has been an attribute of New England life for hundreds of years: cultivating strong working relationships. “We work with authors directly, and we want to work with them directly,” Atwan says. The press often accepts unagented books and actively discourages authors from setting up parallel supports that authors elsewhere often seek out. For instance, she notes, “we don’t want them to hire a publicist, because we want to do the publicity.”
Across the city at Hamilcar Publications, that closeness is incubating a new publishing house, and it’s no accident. Cofounder Kyle Sarofeen’s entire career has been in New England publishing, including roles at Elsevier, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Quarto, and Pearson. When Sarofeen and his partner, Andy Komack, decided to launch a new press in 2018 with a focus on boxing, they didn’t think twice about where to do it.
“I was born in a place where all these publishing houses are,” says Sarofeen, who grew up north of Boston. “Some people come from other places to work in publishing here, but it’s kind of easier if you’re born here. I’m a product of four different publishing houses based here.”
In the tradition of their fellow New England publishers, Sarofeen and Komack have assembled a small, dedicated team of people who are drilling down on an area of specialization, with the belief that readers want to read deeply into a subject as much as they want to go wide. “Our copyeditor, I first met at Houghton,” Sarofeen says. “Our typesetter, I used when I was at Elsevier. Our manufacturing manager was at Quarto. I picked up someone at each place. I was keyed into all these people I worked with at other publishers here.”
Through the website Hannibal Boxing Media, the publisher cultivates readership by producing articles on subjects related to its new and forthcoming titles. For instance, a piece by site editor Carlos Acevedo led to the forthcoming Sporting Blood (Jan. 2020), and another set of pieces have led to the creation of a cross-over series on crime and boxing titled Hamilcar Noir. The short reads are meant to hook new readers and capture a sense of place, including the publishers’ own backyard, which is the subject of the forthcoming Slaughter in the Streets: When Boston Became Boxing’s Murder Capitol (June 2020).
For Sarofeen, it’s all second nature and a way of life that balances hard work, craft, patience, and directness. “Building a book is like being a carpenter,” he says. “You can’t just pick it up. It’s a trade. You can’t just build a house. It’s like anything: if you’ve done it for a long time, you’re comfortable doing it.”
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