It's a familiar publishing story. Boy goes to law school, writes book and keeps it under wraps. Boy grows up and becomes a respected attorney, and gives a bookseller $100 to read his manuscript. Bookseller publishes book to some acclaim, but modest sales. Lawyer keeps writing, finds publisher and, suddenly, his part-time hobby may turn into a career, though he vows to keep on lawyering.
No, the lawyer's name isn't Grisham or Turow. It's Frank Turner Hollon. His new book from MacAdam/Cage, The God File (Mar.), is already a Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers pick that just might have Book Sense written all over it..
For Bev Marshall, author of Walking Through Shadows, another of MacAdam/ Cage's lead titles this season, the road to publication was a little more typical. She wrote a 631-page book that her agent, Lisa Bankoff at ICM, found a little unwieldy for a first novel. Marshall countered with Walking Through Shadows, her shorter, second novel, about a 17-year-old humpbacked girl found murdered on a Mississippi dairy farm in 1941, which found its way to San Francisco—based MacAdam/Cage last year. Marshall said her experience with the small publisher has been like a dream. For instance, MacAdam/Cage sends its editors to meet face to face with its authors, Maxwell Perkins—style."They treated me with royal accoutrements," she added.
David Poindexter, the printer-turned-publisher who founded MacAdam/Cage three years ago, said The God File and Walking Though Shadows epitomize what he wants his press to be: a home for edgy, experimental books as well as more standard literary fare, with an emphasis on first-time writers. The God File, written from the point of view of a man serving time after taking the rap when his girlfriend shoots her husband, belongs in the former category; Walking Through Shadows fits into the latter.
Poindexter came to book publishing from the other side of a Linotype after working for American Lithograph. Five years ago, he started his own print brokerage company, Commonwealth Communications, the parent company and financial backer of MacAdam/Cage, which he started in 1999, taking its name from the middle names of his two children.
The press did much to bolster its image and reinforce its mission when, in fall 2000, after only one year in business, MacAdam/Cage bought nine year-old McMurray & Beck. At the time, McMurray & Beck was riding high following the nomination of Patricia Henley's Hummingbird House for a 1999 National Book Award and the major paperback rights sale of Susan Vreeland's critically acclaimed Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Editor Pat Walsh called it an "Oedipal" acquisition. "McMurray & Beck was our model," he said.
Though McMurray & Beck publisher Frederick Ramey and general fiction editor Greg Michalson had already left the small Denver house to establish the BlueHen imprint at Penguin Putnam at the time of the acquisition, Walsh remained convinced there was one key ingredient needed to emulate McMurray & Beck's success with Girl in Hyacinth Blue: booksellers. In just three years, MacAdam/Cage has garnered much support from both independent and chain bookstores. Last season, four of its five titles were Book Sense picks, and Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn is one of five finalists for the Book Sense book of the year, to be awarded at BEA in May (the book has sold 25,000 copies to date). Along with that distinction, Ella was a Borders Original Voices selection and a B&N Discover New Writers pick.
"I feel like we are doing things right because of the response we are getting," said Poindexter. But don't expect him to sit on his laurels. "I'll support a book in any way I can think of," he emphasized. Apparently, that includes putting his frequent flyer miles where his mouth is, because when PW caught up with Poindexter, he had just returned from a seven-day East Coast trip to promote Walking Though Shadows to just about any bookseller from D.C. to New Hampshire who would have him in their store.
"I wanted to get a flavor of how their business is going," explained Poindexter, who is planning more similar trips. "That's the other side of the equation. They're independent booksellers and we're independent publishers—we all have to be pretty creative to keep doing what we're doing."
Creative is just how booksellers like Fran Keilty, general manager of Atticus Bookstore and Café in Middletown, Conn., describe MacAdam/Cage and Poindexter. "He seems to be willing to take chances," she told PW, "and he wants to keep booksellers in the loop."
MacAdam/Cage is also earning a reputation for going to great lengths both to find and serve its authors. Take Stephen Elliot, author of Life Without Consequences, a fall 2000 Book Sense pick. Elliott went from being homeless to finishing grad school and is now the Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford. To keep him writing (and eating), MacAdam/Cage, which favors marketing budgets in the $40,000 range for first-time authors rather than big advances, pays him a stipend. "I'm committed to him," said Poindexter.
In the works at MacAdam/Cage are an expanded nonfiction list and certainly more first novels. "My goal is to do 30 books a year," said Poindexter. "That seems like the right number for us." Of course, that might considerably cut into his time for touring.