North Liberty, Iowa-based Ice Cube Press finished 2021, its 30th anniversary, with a solid increase in sales over 2020, founder Steve Semken said. The graphic novel Moon of the Snow Blind by Gary Kelley led the sales gain. Like many of Ice Cube’s titles, Moon of the Snow Blind focuses on an event in Iowa’ s history and is in keeping with Semken’s vision of showcasing local Iowa stories as well publishing books that document changes in rural America.
Ice Cube has been Semken’s sole endeavor since 2002 and he has published 100 authors in a variety of genres from fiction and nonfiction to poetry and graphic novels. Imprints of Ice Cube Press include Tall Corn Books and Maintenance Ends, as well as the general Ice Cube Press imprint. The press publishes between 6-9 titles per year.
Other titles that did well last year included Our Friend Sitting Bull by Mary R. Christopher, which follows Christopher’s ancestors’ relationship with Lakota Chief Sitting Bull in the 1880’s. Ice Cube’s titles are geared towards exploring curiosity, and Semken said he looks for books, “where fiction and nonfiction meet. It’s the real stories that people latch onto,” Semken said. November’s The History of Orthodontics Through Time & Space by Craig Campbell is a reimagining of the history of orthodontics through the eyes of two artists that blends fiction and nonfiction. Post-Modern Blues by David M. Perkins, released in October, is a collection of poems which cover politics, mortality, and lost love with a blend of humor and severity, Semken said.
As a small publisher, Semken delivers a personalized experience to authors and he’s able to bend some industry norms. For instance, Semken involves authors in cover design: “if the author doesn’t like the cover, that’s the worst thing for book sales,” he said. The pandemic caused Ice Cube Press to cut its print run numbers in half and Semken is still dealing with supply chain issues. Even Snow Blind was caught in the supply chain morass with Semken noting after the first printing sold out he wasn’t unable to get a reprint date until this year.
Supply chain problems have also held up a new initiative: Community-Supported Literature is a play on Community Supported Agriculture, where members gain access to extra content from Ice Cube authors. Through the program, people can support the press at different price levels and gain access to benefits or products such as receiving all the book releases in a year, an essay by an author, a Zoom call with an author or publisher, YouTube book trailers, peeks at alternative covers, and more. However, Semken said because his favorite printer had problems getting supplies and is already booked through the year he needed time to find a new printer and is now set up with two companies. “The good news being, all the books will be done on time,” he said.
Among the new titles are two spring books, The Land Remains and Bach and the Blues, and two fall titles, The Long Way Home and Slippery Steps.