Blog Categories Archives
Insights from Hawthorne Publishing

Regional Presses: The Strength and Love of America’s Homeland

Hawthorne Publishing is an independent, regional press, as was its direct antecedent Guild Press of Indiana.

There are hundreds of regional presses in America, and they perform a very valuable service different in degree and focus from both university/scholastic presses and large national publishing companies. A regional press publishes books only about the state, or area, in which it exists: the history, culture, art, natural location and local lore.

In Michigan, for instance, Sleeping Bear Press of Ann Arbor publishes stories for children about their Michigan homeland and has now expanded into novels for teens.

It is easy to confuse the long-time and traditional regional presses like Hawthorne Publishing with the many, many new self-publishing or “Indy” publishers now trending in all states.

What is the difference? Traditional publishers like Hawthorne, which has been in business under two names since 1987, do not accept books from would-be authors who wish to fund their own books. They establish their own publishing limits, in our case the history and culture of Indiana, set up publishing guidelines and accept, or seek out, books which fulfill the publishing mission.

They let would-be authors know the submission guidelines if they are actively seeking new manuscripts and reject all author applications that do not fit the publishing guidelines.

Why do we care? What purpose do book publishers like us serve?

In Indiana there is only one other regional press like us: The Indiana Historical Society Press. It actually overlaps with the scholarly market, but their goal is similar to ours: to enhance the understanding of Indiana history and culture by putting out books which enrich the tradition of our state. So, like most regional presses, the two of us are mission-oriented.

Realistically, another characteristic of the regional small press is that it has to innovate to have a positive bottom line. To make any money, or even break even and believe it is fulfilling its larger goal of mission realization, is difficult in this age of Amazon and online Kindles and the disappearance of bookstores in almost all states.

Still, we have “made it” at Guild/Hawthorne for some 30 years now and so I guess we are doing something right.

Strategies are necessary, when the market may support sales of only 1,000 books or less. Actually, the runs can be small today with easy-to-order digital reprints, so regional presses like ours can order only what we believe we can sell. How different that is from our early days, when ordering a couple of thousand books or more books was standard. They were printed on huge offset machines, Hydelberg printing presses, and the process took three months or so from the time the print order was received. So that is one change in American technology that benefits small regional presses like ours. We can order just what we think we can sell, then reorder on short notice, receiving a book in less than a month.

But how do we pay for the expenses up front of putting out a book, even a softcover? All regional presses have their ways of funding the books they choose to put out. The Indiana Historical Society seeks print donation funding and may get a donor devoted to Indiana history to come up with $10,000 to see a specific book published. Author families quite recently are allowed to contribute the print funding if they understand that they have no control over any part of the editing function.

Scholarly presses fund their printing by donor gifts or, as is the case with IU Press, a foundation devoted to covering their worthwhile book publishing efforts.

As for Guild-Hawthorne, since our inception, we have been an author’s cooperative, based on a model from an Austin Texas writers’ group in the earliest days. Authors submitting manuscripts which are accepted to help fulfill the publishing mission put up half the costs of production at Hawthorne, with our publishing company furnishing the other half. When the books are sold, authors receive half of proceeds.

But that decision to get costing upfront is only the beginning of a success strategy for a small regional press. Promotion to get the books out to the interested audience takes front and center stage once the book boxes arrive. Unlike self-publishers, regional publishers take responsibility along with the book authors for getting the books into the hands of readers who care about their state or region. It’s the central part of the mission.

Next: Selling regional press books in the marketplace.

Click back to see the offerings at Hawthorne and ask yourself how they fulfill the mission of enhancing the state’s historical and cultural background.