Algonquin Books a small press with a big publishing imprint

By Ted Holteen Herald staff writer

If you’ve ever spent the time to write your own book, you likely found out quickly that the hardest work comes after the final chapter is written. Such is the often impenetrable world of the publishing industry.

Maria’s Bookshop will look to bridge the gaps between writers, readers and publishers Monday night at the Rochester Hotel’s garden. Shay Lopez from Maria’s will host a question-and-answer session with three representatives from Algonquin Books, a small but influential publishing house in North Carolina.

Two of Algonquin’s current top-selling authors, B.A. Shapiro and Caroline Leavitt, will join Marketing Director Craig Popelars for the event. Leavitt’s latest novel, Is This Tomorrow, is set in 1950s Cold War suburbia and the paranoia people have about those who are different. Shapiro’s The Art Forger, which debuted on the New York Times best-sellers list, is a mystery thriller about the infamous Gardner Museum heist in Boston.

Popelars, who has been with Algonquin for 19 years, regularly tours the country visiting independent bookstores. Algonquin boasts writers such as Julia Alvarez (How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies) and Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants) as well as surprise smash successes like Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist. Popelars said that even though Algonquin is a relative David in the world of publishing Goliaths such as Random House and Knopf, the house more than holds its own. Shapiro and Leavitt both left larger houses for Algonquin and found more commercial and critical success.

“We only publish about 30 books a year, and we’re very aggressive with our publicity, unlike the big houses. These are two authors who show what Algonquin does,” Popelars said, adding that independent bookstores such as Maria’s are the lifeblood of the house.

“I’ve told the gang at Maria’s for years they’ve been on my bucket list because they’re one of our flagship stores,” he said. “Between my love for mountain biking and craft beer, I’m really looking forward to it.”

Algonquin was founded in 1983 by Louis Rubin to help publish Southern students who couldn’t break into the big New York City houses. Ironically, now the house is among the choosiest when it comes to signing new authors. That exclusivity also ensures a high standard of quality.

“We probably reject more than most houses, but they might have other imprints so they can be more versatile,” Popelars said. “For example, we reject science-fiction books because that’s not what we do well. We also really haven’t done anything with vampires – in fact, we’re probably the only house that hasn’t done vampire erotica. There’s something about what we look for in a book.”

ted@durangoherald.com

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