Tag Archives: Lake Claremont Press

A Little Bit of ‘Irrational Optimism’ Goes a Long Way

CBR_Logo2For the past two decades, publisher Sharon Woodhouse has focused on local publishing with books by, for, and about Chicago and the surrounding area. Lake Claremont Press celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, and the local house will be kicking off its celebrations at Printers Row Lit Fest this weekend.

As part of that celebration, Lake Claremont Press will be hosting nonstop book signings at its booth in Tent Z, during which fans can buy signed editions of books from authors Ursula Bielski, Rose Laws & Dianna Harris, Dale Laackman, Daniel Smith, Christopher “Bull” Garlington, David Witter, Lisa Holton, David Haynes, and Renee Kreczmer. That crew represents a mix of frontlist and backlist authors, and Woodhouse notes that it’s a great opportunity for readers to connect with authors and for authors to meet their readers.GOC2-cover-front3-661x1024

“Everyone is invited,” Woodhouse says about her stable of authors. “I really try to encourage the newer authors to pick their time slots first, and I encourage them to stay longer.”

Encouraging authors to meet and greet their readers is something Woodhouse knows is good practice. Building a community of devoted fans is crucial in a day and age when discoverability is especially challenging. Authors who dedicate themselves to selling their titles and promoting their work turn their books into cottage industries—just one of the keys to success for indie publishing.

With two decades of success under her belt, Woodhouse knows a thing or two about indie publishing, and she’s tapped into a winning niche market. With its focus on all things Chicago, Lake Claremont Press has built a devoted readership, and Printers Row offers a fun and exciting opportunity to connect with those readers.

“We can count of seeing dozens of the same people every year,” Woodhouse says about her customers and the Lake Claremont Press community. “They might have all of our books. But they’ll still come by and say ‘hi.’”

With Printers Row in its thirtieth year and Lake Claremont Press in its twentieth, the weekend showcases local publishers, booksellers, and authors—as well as the city itself, which is something Woodhouse’s house has been doing for decades.

“Everyone is feeling good about Chicago,” Woodhouse says about the annual festival, one of the largest outdoor book fairs in the country. “Plus the book lovers—we’re at the intersection of that.”

Although Woodhouse finds that sales ebb and flow, particularly as publishing continues to weather a challenging economy, she is optimistic about this year’s festival. In fact, Lake Claremont Press typically does a brisk business on Lit Fest weekend, which always falls smack in the middle of Dads-and-Grads season.

97818931217201“Chicago books are good for Dad—for dads and grampas and the guys you don’t know what to buy for,” Woodhouse says.

Woodhouse knows books, and she knows what her readers are looking for. In fact, Lake Claremont Press has recently launched a subscription service whereby readers can sign up for and get books shipped automatically, get invitations to book release parties, and buy books at deep discounts on backlist titles. New subscribers in 2014 will get an invitation to the house’s official twentieth anniversary party in September.

In addition to this new paradigm for Lake Claremont Press, Woodhouse is so keen on publishing that she’s launched two new imprints: Everything Goes Media and S. Woodhouse Books. These new imprints give Woodhouse some freedom and latitude to publish in subjects and genres beyond nonfiction titles about Chicago.

Launching two new imprints may be risky in a time when the economy is still challenging and when naysayers continue to bemoan the impending death of publishing, but Woodhouse is not discouraged. “A lot of people still read. And a lot of people still love books,” she says. “And I still love books. So what if they’re not going to last forever and ever? I still know good books. Even if most publishers go out of business, I want to be the one who doesn’t.”

KP-Cover-front-198x300One of the first books to launch in Woodhouse’s brave new world is For the Kingdom and the Power, which examines the shocking, exponential growth of the KKK in America. It’s a project that Woodhouse fell in love with, despite the fact that it fell well outside the parameters of the local mission of Lake Claremont Press—hence the impetus to launch another imprint.

Although risky, Woodhouse finds the launch of her new imprints energizing as well, and she is hopeful about the future of all of her publishing ventures—even if some might think her barely on the right side of crazy at a time when so many publishers are consolidating, restructuring, and reducing output.

“Irrational optimism, bordering on delusion: That’s me,” she laughs. “That irrational optimism and confidence carries you to the next solution. You don’t just stop every time you hit an obstacle.”

Considering all the obstacles publishers have faced in the past two decades, Woodhouse’s tenacity is remarkable. Twenty years in indie publishing is nothing to sneeze at. With seemingly boundless optimism, sheer determination, and perhaps a bit of delusion, the future of all three of Woodhouse’s imprints—Lake Claremont Press, Everything Goes Media, and S. Woodhouse Books—looks bright, which is good news for her community, a community she welcomes to drop by for a chat during Printers Row.

—Kelli Christiansen

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Local Author Spotlight: Arnie Bernstein Loves a Good Story

CBR_Logo2ARNIE BERNSTEIN HAD NO WAY OF KNOWING that such a good story was about to land in his lap.

In 2009, when Bernstein saw the Quentin Tarantino movie Inglorious Basterds, he had no clue his life was about to change. Watching a fictionalized account of Jews hunting down Nazis during WWII got him curious: What were the real stories of Jews who fought back during the Hitler era? His research uncovered the forgotten story of an American pro-Nazi movement of the late 1930s. Coupled with a long-standing interest in extremist groups after having witnessed the controversy surrounding the would-be Nazi march in Skokie in 1977, Bernstein knew he had something special on his hands.

“I was looking for a story,” he says, and the story he relates in his latest book, Swastika Nation, found him.

In fact, it was such a good story that Bernstein sold it to a literary agent on a one-line pitch. “I’ve been incredibly lucky,” he says with a shake of his head.

Swastika_Nation_3-210Swastika Nation, which published September 3, was several years in the making. The book tells the true story of Fritz Kuhn and the rise of the German–American Bund, a pro-Nazi group in the 1930s. The Bund had a national presence, but also powerful enemies, including politicians, newspapermen, Hollywood figures, and members of the Jewish underworld.

After winning over his agent with that one-line pitch, Bernstein spent about a year researching and writing the book proposal. “I wanted to get it right,” he says. “The proposal had to be perfect.”

But getting to a perfect proposal didn’t force open the gates of publishing. Months went by during which all Bernstein or his agent heard was one rejection after another, most of them in the vanilla “it’s not a fit for us” vein. “We got fabulous rejections,” Bernstein jokes.

The rejections came one after the other for a good five months until, in May 2011, an editor at St. Martin’s Press understood right away the story Bernstein wanted to tell and what he was trying to accomplish. Bernstein then spent about eighteen months researching and writing the manuscript and even more time working with his editor at St. Martin’s before the book published last week.

But getting the proposal right was only half the battle, of course. Bernstein also had to get the story itself right. “You have to be honest to history,” he says. “You have to let the story tell itself.”

Being true to history meant doing a lot of research—many months of research across many miles of America. Bernstein’s studies found him trolling for information in some unexpected sources, from networking for interviews on Facebook to sifting through thousands of pages of files in FBI documents and from scrolling through scores of microfilm to weeding through inky pages of old newsprint.

“What I had in my hands was a puzzle,” Bernstein says of the bits of information he uncovered for Swastika Nation. “I knew what the picture looked like, but I had to pull all the pieces together.”

Getting pieces to come together seems to be working fine for Bernstein. In fact, it seems just about everything has converged to get Bernstein to this very point in his career as an author. Swastika Nation is his fifth book. His previous titles are Bath Massacre: America’s First School Bombing (University of Michigan Press) and Hollywood on Lake Michigan; The Movies Are: Carl Sandburg’s Film Reviews & Essays; and The Hoofs and Guns of the Storm: Chicago’s Civil War Connections, all of which were published locally by Sharon Woodhouse and the team at Lake Claremont Press.

Bernstein offers high praise for Woodhouse and Lake Claremont, noting that it was they who helped him get his foot in the publishing door. “She listened to me and gave me a start,” he says.

Bath_small-330If it was Lake Claremont that helped Bernstein get his foot in the door, it was his work on Bath Massacre that thrust the doors wide open. Bath Massacre, the story of the first school bombing in America, changed everything for Bernstein. “It was a turning point,” he says about that book. “It changed my life.”

After the publication of Bath Massacre, Bernstein earned wide praise for his work. It also established him as an expert, and in December 2012, following the horrific events surrounding the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Bernstein suddenly found himself getting calls from a variety of media as people sought insight into the tragedy.

Bath Massacre may well have been Bernstein’s breakout title, but that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten his roots.

“I learned my craft here in Chicago,” Bernstein says. “Chicago has the most supportive writing community in the world.”

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Author Arnie Bernstein (photograph by Jennifer Girard)

From Dana Kaye to Rick Kogan to Augie Alesky to Jonathan Eig, Bernstein heaps praise and thanks among those of Chicago’s literati who have helped him not only hone his craft but support his books in other ways, whether through publicity, interviews, speaking, or author signings.

“I’ve learned that when writers in Chicago approach established authors and other people in the publishing business who live here and ask for help, people are glad to offer what advice and direction they can,” he says. “That’s one of the great beauties of the Chicago writing world.”

A new book, a history of garnering positive reviews, and a supportive writing community—that in itself makes for a good story, just another aspect of the good fortune Bernstein feels lucky about.

 

Learn more about Arnie Bernstein.
Listen to Arnie Bernstein discuss Swastika Nation.
Read the CBR review of the new edition of Bernstein’s book Hollywood on Lake Michigan.

 

—Kelli Christiansen

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