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Renowned small publisher will shift focus from poetry

If the past is any indication, Louis Jenkins' new book will do well for Holy Cow! Press, which has published four books by Jenkins over the last decade, as well as works by other well-known poets.

If the past is any indication, Louis Jenkins' new book will do well for Holy Cow! Press, which has published four books by Jenkins over the last decade, as well as works by other well-known poets.

After 27 years in business, the small publishing company has a national reputation and has garnered critical acclaim for its poetry books, including a National Book Award nomination last year for a book by Patricia Kirkpatrick.

But "Sea Smoke" may be the last Holy Cow! poetry book for a while, says Jim Perlman, the small company's owner.

"I see myself publishing more fiction books and nonfiction books in the future," he said over lunch Wednesday. He said he would be trying some different book formats, including his first complete four-color book coming out next month. He will also work to reprint some of his titles that have lapsed out of print.

The shift of emphasis from poetry -- he released three poetry books in 2004 -- is not for lack of desire. "I think there always has to be poetry and publication of poetry," he said.

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That's especially true during wartime, he said. "I think war is a monstrous failure of imagination, and I think poetry has everything to do with imagination."

He also said that many poets in the region, such as Connie Wanek, Ellie Schoenfeld and Deb Cooper, need the support of a small press.

But despite all the critical success, and despite lining up a national distribution system and working the marketing angles, Perlman says he's rarely been able to break even on a poetry release. Strong support from donors has made things tolerable.

And even the critical acclaim is getting harder to come by. He cited one instance in which a major newspaper in the state will not review the book nominated for a National Book Award until November, six months after it was released and long after the marketing push was over. Such issues directly affect book sales. By contrast, Jenkins' repeated appearances on the "Prairie Home Companion" radio show have helped his sales.

Perlman says the difficulty getting reviews and media attention for new releases is part of the change in publishing. When he started publishing, about 40,000 books a year were published. Now there are 100,000 books published per year.

At the same time, there are more writers than ever. Perlman says he receives 400 manuscripts a year. He publishes three to five of them.

"I feel so bad for good writers, good poets that I can't accommodate their books," Perlman said.

The four-color book to be published next month, "As Long as the Moon Shall Rise," edited by Ellen Moore Anderson, is a collection of works about the moon, including artwork and writing by 80 artists and writers, ranging from Shakespeare to local favorites.

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Perlman said that book and his 80-book backlist are available from http://www.holycowpress.org .

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