Emily Victorson has helped put Forest Park on the map as a book publishing center. Her small publishing house (literally, her office is in her house on Elgin Ave.), called Allium Press of Chicago, now has five titles in print.
Victorson’s entry into the publishing business in 2009 is a confirmation of the truth that necessity is often the mother of invention. Her credentials at that time included a master’s degree in library science from the University of Michigan, an eight-year stint at the Chicago Historical Museum and six years at History Works in Chicago, producing books for individuals and corporations.
Then, after being laid off because of the economic downturn, she was trying to figure out what to do next, when she ran into a friend, Frances McNamara, who was attempting to self-publish her first novel. The then-unemployed Victorson realized that her previous work experience had given her expertise in production, editing and design, so she suggested that she publish the book instead of the author.
McNamara’s novel, a murder mystery set in Chicago in the 1890s, titled Death at Pullman, became the first book published by the fledgling Allium Press. Since December of 2009, four more titles have been added to the list of publications with five more hoped for in 2012.
Victorson said many publishers print non-fiction books about Chicago, but none focus on fiction set in the Second City. That is the niche she has begun to fill. Allium, in fact, is the scientific name for the wild onion after which Chicago was named. The settings for the other four novels published by Allium are the 1968 Democratic Convention, the large Irish immigration around 1900, the 1893 World’s Fair, and Hull House.
Fred Henders got into publishing through the distribution side of the business. In 2006 he started Crimson Books Inc. which specializes in distributing books on military history from Osprey Books in England. His inspiration for getting into the publishing business came when he saw a book of military prints published by a Hong Kong company which was of poor quality. “There’s got to be a better way to do this,” he said to himself.
He then met Keith Rocco, whose Civil War prints sell for thousands of dollars. The light went on in Henders’ mind. He collaborated with Rocco to produce a quality book of the artist’s military art for $25. The Civil War Art of Keith Rocco was published in 2009, followed by a book of prints from the museum at Gettysburg in 2010 and a third book on Rocco’s Napoleonic art in 2011.
In contrast to Victorson and Henders, Don Heimburger has been in the publishing business for 40 years. His company, Heimburger House Publishing Co., specializes in books about railroading. His website states, “Railroading is our main interest … here at Heimburger House. Our business is founded on publishing and offering the best railroad books available. They must be of high quality and of a particular subject matter that appeals to our customers.”
None of Forest Park’s publishers try to compete head-to-head with the big companies in New York like Macmillan, Random House and Simon & Schuster. Instead, they find an empty niche in the market and try to fill it better than anyone else.
The upside of running your own small publishing house, said Victorson, is that you don’t have to answer to or compromise with anyone when making a decision. The downside is that you don’t have anyone to lean on.
In that regard she gave a shout out to Augie Alesky. “One of the things that has made this possible,” she said, “is Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore. Augie is a very important factor in my ability to do this. He has been very supportive of our books.”