Random House Distribution Services has signed its first new client, 10-year-old Steerforth Press, which will move from Publishers Group West on June 1. The deal is one of several changes that have taken place since Random House announced the formation of RHDS last May. Although RHDS originally planned to focus on back-office services only, in some cases, as with Steerforth, it will also handle sales, said John Groton, v-p, client relations at RHDS. Gorton added that he expects to sign distribution deals with several other publishers soon. In addition, Random House recently named Kevin Mailloux, who has long been in the operations group, to set up systems for new client lines.

While Steerforth is RHDS's first new client, it already handles distribution for Shambhala, Random House Mondadori and Karen Brown Guides.

For Steerforth, the agreement follows the move of its office from South Royalton, Vt., to Hanover, N.H., and a short hiatus from publishing. Tommy the Cork: Washington's Ultimate Insider from Roosevelt to Reagan by John Kerry's chief of staff, David McKean, will come out later this month and will be Steerforth's last release for four months. "As far as not having books for the spring," said Steerforth publisher Chip Fleischer, "I knew I wanted to consider our distribution options. When you switch distributors, you get to present a new face and get a fresh start."

Steerforth had already begun that process with its hardcover release last spring of Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Irish Mob. It also made its first foray into presidential politics in November 2003 with Howard Dean: A Citizen's Guide to the Man Who Would Be President, which has 32,000 copies in print.

According to Fleischer, while Steerforth wants to continue publishing literary books, it will do "quality titles with a commercial upside." To kick off its new relationship with Random, it will release the paperback of Street Soldier in June along with another true crime book, I Heard You Paint Houses by Charlie Brandt, former deputy attorney general for Delaware. In it, Brandt not only reveals what happened to Jimmy Hoffa, but details a history of the relationship among the Teamsters, the mob and the U.S. government in the 1950s and '60s. "We are keeping it under wraps until pub date," said Fleischer, who explains that the title is slang for "killing people." Also scheduled for June release is political cartoonist Jeff Danziger's Wreckage Begins with "W."

Although Steerforth will publish only 10 books in 2004, about half its usual output, Fleischer plans to build the list back up to between 15 and 20 books a year.