Once every four years, the nation's first presidential primary launches New Hampshire into the national political spotlight. Now, a small press is bidding to be a player in the national political debate full-time. When Steerforth Press, based in Hanover, was founded more than a decade ago, its manifesto proclaimed that it endeavored to be a small publisher with an outsize impact. At the time, says publisher Chip Fleischer, "we were thinking more of aesthetics." But with two of its fall books starting to be referred to in the political media—Susan and Joseph Trento's Unsafe at Any Altitude: Failed Terrorism Investigations, Scapegoating 9/11, and the Shocking Truth About Aviation Security Today (Oct.)and Brian Mann's Welcome to the Homeland: A Journey to the Rural Heart of America's Conservative Revolution(Aug.)—it's clear that the same holds true for politics.
How is Steerforth, best known for reviving the works of Dawn Powell and whose all-time bestseller is A Poem a Day, managing to get heard above the din? By looking for "straight-up journalism," says Fleischer, rather than polemics. "We're not looking to be Chelsea Green or Regnery."
In the case of Unsafe at Any Altitude, which was featured on 60 Minutesearlier this month, Fleischer turned down a more limited version with a thoughtful "no." But after the Trentos acquired the government's "No-Fly" list and incorporated it with the story of Frank Argenbright, the founder of the largest private aviation security company who was scapegoated by the Bush administration for 9/11, Steerforth said "yes." A late addition to the fall list, Unsafe at Any Altitude was solicited and shipped by Steerforth's distributor, Random House, in a matter of weeks in order to take advantage of media coverage, which is only now breaking. The Trentos' tour will continue into the fall, with a major push in mid-November timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the creation of the the Transportation Security Agency.
NPR reporter Brian Mann's Welcome to the Homeland—which has received prominent reviews in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times Book Review, Salon and major dailies across the country—came to Steerforth through agent Andrew Blauner. Fleischer acknowledges publishing Mann's book in a political book market glut—75 new releases by his count. But he was convinced that Mann's blend of memoir and travelogue explains how Homelanders (Mann's word for the nation's 50 million rural whites) have come to dominate the conservative base of the Republican Party. Blauner pronounced himself pleased with Steerforth: "They are doing a great job. Yes, it's a small press. But when you walk into the Random House booth at BEA, Steerforth is there."
Is Steerforth's own publishing strategy paying off? Fleischer declined to give specifics, but he did note that this will be Steerforth's best year ever: net sales are up about 20% over the company's previous best year. Also, he makes clear that Steerforth is not abandoning its literary roots. Next spring's list features a poetry anthology. Then again, a forthcoming novel based on the life of St. Paul is penned by first-timer James Cannon, Sen. Howard Baker's former chief of staff. Steerforth won't have to wait till the snowy primaries of 2008 for the political spotlight to come its way.