Now in its 30th year, Alice James Books is proof of the adage "the older you are, the better you get."
The press's move to Maine a decade ago helped keep it self-sustaining. In exchange for office space, the press provides internships for students in the BFA writing program at the University of Maine at Farmington. More recently the press received a huge boost from a three-year $250,000 stabilization grant, which runs out at the end of this year, from an anonymous donor. With the grant, Alice James added two full-time staffers, upgraded its equipment and launched a Web site with secure ordering (alicejamesbooks.org). Last summer it signed with a trade distributor for the first time, Consortium Book Sales & Distribution.
"My projection was that we should increase our sales for the first two years at Consortium by 80%, and we seem to be on track," says Alice James director April Ossmann, who has overseen the post-grant transition. "They have sold as many copies in the first two months after publication as we used to average in the first year." Currently, Alice James publishes three books a season, but plans to add a seventh book starting in 2004.
When the press was first founded, authors were responsible for the complete production and promotion of their books, from typesetting to mailing out finished copies. Consortium sales and marketing director Jim Nichols told PW that the cooperative nature of the press was attractive. Today, authors whose books are selected through the New England/New York Competition become active members of the Alice James editorial board, while winners of the national Beatrice Hawley Award are exempt from co-operative work. And, for the first time, Alice James has begun soliciting books outside the two awards, such as My Mojave.
Ossmann credits the poet board with guiding the press through many rocky times since it was founded in Cambridge, Mass., in 1973. "They're so intimately involved in the press—they're actually publishers," said Ossmann, who also attributes the quality of the books to the board. "The active members choose the award books. We have a pretty stringent publishing process," she explains. "We pair a new author with a buddy from the board, who edits the book. Then I edit it."
The press remains committed to giving women access to publishing and to involving authors in the publishing process. "We consider ourselves a feminist press," says Ossmann. However, the press continues to be a proving ground for new poets, both women and men. It has published early works by Jane Kenyon, Marjorie Fletcher, Erica Funkhouser and Robin Becker. This year's National Book Critics Circle Award winner in poetry, B.H. Fairchild, got his start at Alice James Books with The Art of the Lathe.