A new publishing venture called EdgeWork has been launched in San Francisco, initiated originally by 12 seasoned women authors, with a business model that mirrors more closely a real estate development company than a standard publishing house. The idea, as CEO Kim Chernin, author of In My Mother's House (HarperCollins) described it, was to provide an alternative venue for publishing quality literature that could be experimental and less commercial than mainstream New York fare. "We wanted to build a community of women through writing," she said.

"But they wanted to do it as a collective, the commercial formation of which doesn't exist in law," said Constance Spheeris, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property who is now president of EdgeWork. So Spheeris developed the concept of making each season's titles (called a "round") a separate company, with its own group of outside investors. "Buyers acquire a percentage interest in the company," she explained. Minimum investment is $5,000, and the number of investors per round is six to eight. No investment is expected from EdgeWork authors. "It's feminist publishing meets real estate development," said Spheeris, "with each round of titles the equivalent of developing a new parcel of land."

The first round of 10 new titles will be released beginning in October 2001, with pub dates that go through February 2002. An 11th title, Fortune Catcher by Susanne Pari, is a reprint, the first in a series called Women As Witness. Initially, there will be a collector's run of 1,000 case-bound books per title, priced at $17, followed by paperback editions that will have print runs from 5,000 to 30,000.

Production and distribution are being carried out by Cypress House, based in Fort Bragg, Calif., which will also do some marketing. "One of our specialties," said Cynthia Frank, publisher of Cypress House, "is helping people launch presses."

In partnership with the book publishing side of the venture, a Web site, Edgeworkbooks.com, will provide a gateway for women wanting to get involved in the literary world. Among its offerings will be writing classes that include coaching, critiquing and editing; virtual writing conferences; a daily almanac of women in writing; a cafe for literary discourse; and online psychotherapy consulting. Several of the offerings will be fee-based. "This makes the whole package a more attractive return on investment," explained Spheeris, "in that there's equity from the publishing of the books and income from the online consulting and core company development services."