Allium Press of Chicago celebrates 10 years in business in 2019, but it’s also the same year founder Emily Victorson has been named one of Chicago’s “Lit 50” by Newcity Chicagomagazine.
“I feel like now I’m sort of on the radar,” said Victorson, who also serves as vice president of the Forest Park Public Library Board of Trustees.
She added: “Nobody’s told me to stop, you know. The books have sold well for a small press, the numbers have been good for a small press, we’ve gotten really good reviews in national reviews and journals, and several of the books have won awards. So I feel like I have gotten the stamp of approval from various places — I know that I’m not just making this up.”
Victorson credits her persistence, good writers and local support for helping her keep her independent press alive for 10 years.
She started Allium Press out of her Forest Park home in 2009, with the aim of “rescuing Chicago from Capone, one book at a time” and publishing historical fiction, mysteries and thrillers with a connection to the city.
She previously served as a librarian at the Chicago History Museum, where she published a significant number of history articles in the museum’s magazine, and as a researcher at History Works research firm, the group responsible for compiling information for the now-closed Ernest Hemingway Museum in Oak Park.
She was hired at her first job to give her boss time to write a book, she said. Now, 35 years later, she’s copyediting that former boss’ manuscript.
“It’s like my career is going full circle,” she joked.
Victorson’s professional experience informed her ability to start her own independent press, where she does everything from approving and editing manuscripts to crunching numbers to designing book covers.
Allium has now published 21 books including the “Desplaines River Anthology: Historic Voices from the Graveyards in Forest Park” and other titles by local authors like D.M. Pirrone and J. Bard-Collins, who live in Oak Park. Recently, a prospective author drove from Iowa City to pitch Victorson a novel.
“Fortunately, it sounds good,” she said.
Victorson estimated she’s received dozens of submissions so far this year. She attends conferences and receives referrals from agents.
“If they have a Chicago book that they can’t sell to the big publishers, they will often recommend that author’s pitch to me,” she said.
Allium also is listed in industry directories and Victorson belongs to writing groups, like Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, which are based out of Forest Park’s own Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore.
“If people in Forest Park want to buy our books, that’s the place to go,” she said, calling the bookstore “very supportive” of her press and the local literary community.
Victorson said authors who want to pitch her must start out by sending a query letter. If the subject sounds interesting and fits with Allium Press’ theme of fiction with a Chicago connection, she will then ask for three chapters from the writer. It’s then she can usually decide if a book will be worth publishing.
“It’s really about the quality of the writing that I can’t get around,” Victorson said. “If you’re a really good writer, if the quality of your writing is good, you can always fix problems with plot and character and things like that. But if you’re not a good writer, even if you fix the plot, the writing is just not there. And, you know, I can’t sell the books if people don’t want to read them.”
Books have to be “really good, not just good,” Victorson said, and authors have to be willing to market their work. Writers need to be on social media, hosting book events and constantly networking.
“I always think people are, like, ‘Wow she just gets to sit around all day and read books and go to cocktail parties,'” Victorson said, adding that she attends events like the Printers Row Literary Fest, holds book events for authors and helps writers with social media, all in an effort to hawk their works. She’s even pitched Hollywood about making some of Allium’s books into movies.
“The book we just released would make a great movie, so that would be nice if someone would figure that out,” Victorson said.
She is currently revising three more books and has several more to read in the queue.
Over the last 10 years, Victorson said the rise of self-publishing and price of paper has impacted her independent press.
“There’s just way too many people out there now,” Victorson said. “I think it is nice for people to be able to get their work out there, but it also means there’s a lot more competition for readers’ attention, for getting reviews. The reading space is just overwhelmed right now. I don’t think that benefits anybody.”
Still, Victorson said she can never ignore a good hook.
“I love to read books about Chicago, and I want to read more of them, so I try to provide that for authors,” she said.