WANT YOUR PHONE to ring a lot? Just write the first of a two-part article. You'll hear from any number of interesting people, most of whom will let you know, directly, subtly, or bluntly, that you blew it by not mentioning them in part one.
I hereby confess that my survey of Washington's burgeoning writing population (Book World, March 6) should have included mention of two well-established groups, the Washington Romance Writers and the Children's Book Guild. The former is for people who write, or want to write, what is known in the trade as "bodice- rippers"; it has, according to president Claire Harrison, "93 members, approximately 16 of whom have sold romance novels." Mary C. Childs, president of the Children's Book Guild, reports that the group has 45 members, and "all have written at least two books, and some have had as many as 30 or 40 books published."
In this second of two articles on the Washington book scene, the emphasis is on publishing. And let me state up front that no mention will be made of magazine or newsletter publishing, not because the activity in those areas (especially the latter) is not interesting, but simply for reasons of space. Insofar as book publishing is concerned, the Washington-as-literary-boomtown equation still holds, but with some marked distinctions. And the most important distinction is that our biggest publishers are non-traditional. Thus it may surprise some readers to learn how very much publishing gets done here.
If "publisher" means a general-interest commercial trade book producer that sells its products in book stores (as opposed to direct mail), has its own catalogue and distribution system, has at least one full-time salesperson, and pays actual cash as an advance against royalties, then Washington has very few publishers. In fact, only half a handful meet those criteria. One is Acropolis Books, founded in 1960 by printer Alphons J. Hackl as an offshoot of his Colortone Press. The first book to bear an Acropolis imprint was Philip and Helen Stern's O Say Can You See, By Dawn's Urban Blight. Today that book is still in the catalogue (one of the advantages of dealing with smaller, more loyal publishing houses), along with 160 others, including Jack Anderson's and John Kidner's Alice in Blunderland.
Another highly accomplished area publisher is EPM Publications, named for its founder, Evelyn P. Metzger, who was for 15 years the Doubleday representative in Washington. EPM has the curious distinction of being better known outside Washington. Says Metzger, "Actually, we publish books from and about Washington, but you hear the least about us in this area. We did Hugh Sidey's (and Fred J. Maroon's) These United States, and we have a book of memoirs by veteran broadcast commentator Bryson Rash coming out. We are a regional publisher, and, as Publishers Weekly pointed out recently, regional publishers are now supporting the industry, with half of all the books sold coming from small presses." Metzger says her company has grown 50 percent in the last year.
A third publisher of particular note is Public Affairs Press, run for 44 years by its redoubtable gadfly founder, Morris Snapper, whom Robert Sherrill once called, "one of those solid but somewhat offbeat fixtures that give Washington character." Public Affairs Press has published 1,500 books and pamphlets on topics political, social, economic and historical, including books by Gandhi, Toynbee, Nasser, and Truman. The current catalogue lists 100 titles.
But aside from these three, and such hardy relative newcomers as Potomac Books and Seven Locks Press, most Washington publishers are better known by their primary line of work as research corporations, think tanks, professional associations, and government or quasi-government organizations. There are scores of publishers in these categories.
There are also subsidiary service and special publishers here. Prentice-Hall owns both Robert J. Brady and Reston Publishing, and in addition has a Washington office, as does Matthew Brady, the law book firm. Separate books in the hundreds are produced annually by such companies as Aspen Systems (public health, medicine, law, nursing and special education), Congressional Information Service, and the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA). There are several companies that will publish the material you bring to them in book form. And even one that does the opposite. There's also an outfit, Educational Challenges Inc. in Alexandria, which, according to its president, Peg Paul, contracts with major educational publishers to produce "complete mainstream classroom materials--including writing, editing, graphic design and production."
Indeed, there's so much publishing going on in Washington that there is a 5-year-old, 200-plus member group known as the Washington Book Publishers, which describes itself as, "an irregular salon, meeting at no fixed address, and enjoying the support and encouragement of the communities of which it is a part." Mark Carroll, one of the founders, and by day the chief of publications at the National Park Service, is called by some people, "Mr. Washington Publishing." "The group was formed," says Carroll, "to overcome the isolation of local publishing people, and to be both supportive and a resource. It has heightened our awareness of ourselves as publishers."
Typical of a company that also publishes books is Congressional Quarterly, best known for its authoritative coverage of Congress. CQ has a separate book division that is itself divided, into a general area and one called CQ Press which brings out political science texts written by experts in the field. David Tarr, director of CQ's book department, says, "My guess is that we are a major publisher by local standards, but small, small by comparison with a New York or Boston line. Still, a college graduate interested in publishing, and who thinks he or she would have to go to New York, could get some interesting experience here."
Think tanks are big on publishing. Brookings Institution puts out a 73-page catalogue, which lists 18 new books in 1982 and 13 "forthcoming." But that's small potatoes compared to the American Enterprise Institute, or AEI, which has published over 700 books and pamphlets, including 50 this past year or so (down from an average of 100 a year in the late '70s.) And AEI's list looks puny compared to that of such associations as the American Chemical Society.
Edward Styles, AEI's director of publications, hosts a monthly lunch that is regularly attended by his counterparts at Brookings, Resources for the Future, the Urban Institute, Smithsonian Press, International City Management Association, the Conservation Fund, Georgetown's Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science--all publishers, as are the Library of Congress, the National Gallery of Art and the National Archives.
On the academic front, Howard is the only area university with a press qualified for membership in the American Association of University Presses. On May 1, Howard will present its fourth annual five-week Book Publishing Institute, under director Charles Harris, who worked in New York publishing (Random House and John Wiley) for 15 years before coming to Howard. Georgetown, Catholic and Gallaudet have smaller press operations, and George Washington offers a series of popular courses in publishing skills through its College of General Studies.
Of course all this growth has not been without casualties. The Washington Post had a book operation for a while in the mid-1970s, which published five books, and even tried to buy Public Affairs Press (Snapper wouldn't sell). According to William Dickinson, editorial director and general manager of The Washington Post Writers Group, the newspaper's syndication arm, "We decided ategorienot to go any further when we realized how expensive it would be to set up a full-fledged publishing enterprise." And the book division of Washingtonian Magazine is no more, nor, for all practical purposes, is that of U.S. News and World Report, which was similar to that of Time-Life Books, another direct-mail operation currently in the economic doldrums. (On a recent Monday morning, all 300 Time-Life editorial workers found white envelopes on their desks; more than 50 of them contained pink slips.) Nevertheless, the flagship of the books-by-mail fleet, the book division of the National Geographic, sails confidently onward. According to its chief, Robert Breeden, 1982 sales were in excess of 4 million copies. Also, New Republic Books, under the editorship of Marc Granetz, has a new arrangement as a "licensed imprint" --as opposed to a wholly owned subsidiary--of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, and does eight to 10 books a year on Washington topics.
Clearly, Washington is on the literary map. One major New York publisher (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) opened an office here last September and assigned one of its four senior editors (Marie Arana-Ward) to run it. The giveaway City Paper runs Barbara Raskin's excellent "Book Flaps" column every week. And Ronald Goldfarb, a lawyer and author, reports that his firm's practice, which used to be mainly trial work with some legal representation of writers, now reflects almost the opposite situation. Finally, the number one nonfiction best seller nationally and locally, Megatrends, is by Washingtonian John Naisbitt and was sold by Washington literary agent Raphael Sagalyn.
I keep remembering something Judith Viorst said: "I wanted to be a writer more than anything on earth. I tried everything: I moved to Greenwich Village, and took rotten low-pay jobs in publishing. But it wasn't until I got married and had kids and moved to Washington that I had anything published. Maybe it's something in the air."