A year ago, Dave Hamrick was getting excited because he was about to become the marketing director of TaylorWilson, a new company that he intended to make the best publisher in Texas. Lone Star Books, TaylorWilson's imprint that Hamrick directed in addition to being the marketing director for TaylorWilson, bought the 150 backlist titles from Gulf Publishing, a longtime Texas outfit that published popular regional nonfiction like the Lone Star guides, and the company was going to expand upon that list with new titles to become the largest for-profit publisher in Texas. But then TaylorWilson shut down after only seven months and had exactly one new publication to show for it. John Graves and the Making of Goodbye to a River: Selected Letters, 1957-1960 is the scanty evidence left to us that had TaylorWilson thrived, its publishing list could have been vibrant, eclectic, rooted in a sense of place, and just esoteric enough to make curious readers want to know more. People are keeping mum about exactly why TaylorWilson closed shop, and as for the company's brevity, Hamrick says, "What I learned was that there are several basic mistakes that all start-up companies that fail seem to make, and I think we made all of those mistakes." The story of what happened at TaylorWilson is different from this story.
Several weeks ago, a trade and academic publisher, the Rowman & Littlefield Group in Lanham, Md., bought TaylorWilson and Taylor Publishing, a Dallas-based company that is not related to TaylorWilson. Though he'll continue to live in Austin, Hamrick will be the editorial director of Rowman & Littlefield's Lone Star Books, which will take titles from both Gulf and Taylor Publishing, reprint them, and begin publishing new titles for an estimated eight book offerings in the fall of 2002 (for a total of 25 titles a year). Rowman & Littlefield advertises itself as "independent publishing for independent minds" and with an almost equal number of academic publishers and trade imprints under its umbrella, Rowman & Littlefield published more than 1,000 titles last year. Of course, a number like that isn't all that impressive if no one's actually buying the books, but considering that Rowman & Littlefield owns the National Book Network, the nation's second largest distributor of independent trade publishers, it seems reasonable to expect that Rowman & Littlefield can effectively place Lone Star titles in stores. What the principals of TaylorWilson had hoped -- that their company would become the largest for-profit publisher in Texas -- may actually happen with Lone Star Books in its new incarnation.
Hamrick isn't divulging the details of his publishing plans just yet because "that's where the competitive playing field is," he says. Texas has an active university press scene whose editors are probably keen on publishing the same kinds of books Hamrick is eyeing. Jed Lyons, the president and publisher of the Rowman & Littlefield Group, says the reason he added Lone Star Books to his roster is because Texas is probably "the best state to be a regional publisher in because of the enthusiasm that Texans have for Texas." Was Lyons concerned about taking on a company that had only been in existence for seven months before it dissolved? "Not at all," he told me. "Because the beauty of book publishing is the annuity-like aspect of books, the fact that good books continue to sell year-in and year-out." At the end of August, Jim Bob McMillan will resign as executive director of the Writers' League of Texas to join the Texas Commission on the Arts. More news later.
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