Making Book

Books and writers certainly get their due starting at about this time of the year as the Virginia Festival of the Book ramps up. Local authors who have been holed away surface to share their year’s work in one way or another, shedding temporary (and sometimes unwanted) light on a solitary process. But there is one aspect of the writing life that gets even less notice.

“I am reminded just how invisible we local publishers are each time a new acquaintance asks, upon hearing I work at the University Press, ‘Oh, you mean where they make copies?’” says Trish Phipps, the publicist for UVA publishing operation.

Publishers might be invisible to the average Joe, but, by contrast, the publishers openly appreciate the City’s contradictory charms. The cost of printing books is comparable across the country, but the cost of living is not. At the very least, publishers that work on a shoestring budget (or stay on one even as their business grows), like the lower average salaries here and the fact that they can select from a well-educated applicant pool. The area’s location provides benefits, too, being close enough to metro areas to feel civilized but small enough to feel cozy. Whatever else you can say about Charlottesville, it’s not Northern Virginia…yet.

The publishing companies that have moved or grown here put out everything from highly specialized financial and investment newsletters to French literature and, of course, this place being where it is, all things Jefferson, Madison, Lewis, Clark and Civil War.


Established in 1989, Hampton Roads Publishers publishes fiction and non-fiction on topics like health, spirituality and metaphysical philosophy. Employing some 25 people, Hampton Roads publishes 30 books per year, on average.

Hampton Road’s Grace Pedalino says there’s a trade-off for the lower salary level in Charlottesville: “Publicity is harder.”

But Hampton Roads doesn’t make New York Times bestsellers. Its most popular book, selling 2.5 million copies so far, is Conversations With God: An Uncommon Dialogue ; Hampton Roads also published its two follow-ups, which combined have sold an additional 2.5 million copies.

A relative giant in these parts, the newly re-named University of Virginia Press (formerly University Press of Virginia) publishes 50 to 60 titles annually, mostly in the humanities and social sciences. Special focus is on American history (especially Civil War history), African-American studies, Southern studies, regional titles and something called eco-criticism.

Forty years old, the press gets support from UVA in the form of a site and financial backing. But that’s not all. The University has a pretty strong hand in the press’ overall governance: President John Casteen appoints directors to a three-year term on the board that selects titles for publication. Most are UVA faculty, giving them a tighter lock on the “publish or perish” dilemma than many of their peers.

Currently the press has 1,200 general interest and academic books in print. That’s not even counting the series that the UVA press puts out, such as the papers of George Washington and James Madison as well as the Carter G. Woodson Institute Series in Black Studies. Upcoming titles include The Selected Letters of Dolley Payne Madison and the paperback edition of Saving Monticello: The Levy Family’s Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built .

A graduate of the UVA English department, Ross Howell ventured out on his own to start Howell Press in 1985. These days he has five full-time employees. The company publishes between eight and 10 books per year, with specialties in regional titles, gourmet food, quilts, aviation, history and transportation. Among Howell’s most popular regional titles are Charlottesville Portrait by renowned photographer Mary Motley Kalergis and Charlottesville Collection , a cookbook by June Oakley. In conjunction with the UVA Library, Howell also recently published Lewis and Clark: Maps of Exploration, 1507-1814 .

He too likes the lower overhead, adding that the “quality of editorial and graphic design people for a town of this size is remarkable.” His clients extend from Washington, D.C. and Richmond to Virginia Beach.

Established in 1992, Rookwood Press specializes in French literature from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and publishes three to five books per year.

Founder David Rubin formerly edited Continuum, a journal on French studies, for AMS Press in New York City. When his five-year contract with the publishing house expired, Rubin took Continuum with him. He publishes the since-renamed journal (now it’s EMF: Studies in Early Modern France) through Rookwood.

Rubin is his only employee, but he’s not in it entirely alone. Howell Press warehouses and ships all of Rookwood Press’ books.

Bill Carden began The Charlottesville Guide while a student at UVA in hopes of earning extra spending money. A newcomer and tourist’s handbook for area attractions, The Charlottesville Guide was a successful production for Carden, who soon got help on it from another UVA student, Joe Jennings. In time, they launched Carden Jennings Publishing following Jennings’ graduation.

That was 17 years ago. Now Carden Jennings employs 25 people to publish everything from medical journals and books to CD-ROMs and Internet publications. Its most recognizable title, however, is something a tad more directed toward the general public, if they happen to be generally horsy, wealthy and snooty: Albemarle Magazine. With all these riches to boast of, Jennings credits his success in part to the “large pool of talented publishing professionals” here and the cheaper salaries they’re willing to accept compared to metropolitan markets.

A relative newcomer, ExploreLearning was founded by Dave Shuster in 1999. The company of 13 full-time staff specializes in online educational publishing, specifically interactive simulations like the popular “Gizmos,” which includes programs in math, science and language arts.

With a background in journalism, Thane Kerner began his career working with Carden Jennings Publishing where he launched the scientific publishing division. In 1993, Kerner began his own publishing company, Silverchair Science & Communications, with Elizabeth Willingham. The company today has 44 employees—33 in Charlottesville and 11 in Philadelphia.

Specializing in medical information, Silverchair publishes between 40 and 60 books per year. Silverchair also publishes Web portals and 20 to 25 personal digital assistant applications per year in the rapidly growing field of medical reference. Having access to medical reference material on a PDA can make all the difference for a physician working in an emergency or ambulance situation, and the demand is expected to grow.

The company added its Philadelphia office about 18 months ago with the acquisition of Corporate Technology Ventures. It was a crucial development, Kerner says, because Philadelphia is “the center of the medical world.” However, Charlottesville provides a “much more business-friendly” environment, says Kerner, a one-time Republican candidate for City Council, with lower taxes and fewer regulations than Pennsylvania.

If you are holding this paper right now, you are familiar with Portico Publications . In 1989 Bill Chapman and Hawes Spencer launched Portico, parent to C-VILLE Weekly. In 1995, Portico added Blue Ridge Outdoors, a monthly outdoors sports and recreation magazine that nowadays publishes a second edition in North Carolina. Rob Jiranek came on board as a partner in 1995 and serves as publisher of BRO; Spencer left the company last year. Portico currently employees 25 people full time.

C-VILLE comes out at least 52 times per year, depending on the calendar. It also makes the semi-annual dining and restaurant guide, Bites. We don’t reckon we have to explain C-VILLE’s content to you, but the business rationale for locating in Charlottesville goes something like this, according to Jiranek: It’s a “promising college town that needed a smart, alternative voice” and it has a “large enough population, a large enough retail base and limited media competition.”

As for Blue Ridge Outdoors, where else would you situate it if not in the foothills of the Blue Ridge—Reston?

Controversial UVA Professor of Education and Humanities E.D. Hirsch, Jr. began the Core Knowledge Foundation in 1986, drawn into publishing by “a desire to produce classroom materials that are solid, sequenced, specific and shared,” according to company press materials. The company publishes two or three new titles a year and specializes in producing materials for teachers and students that aim to improve “cultural literacy.” (Quick! Who was Shakespeare’s literary rival?)

The Foundation has produced the Core Knowledge Sequence, an outline of grade-by-grade content for kindergarteners through fifth graders that utilizes a “building-block model,” which supposedly lets students build on their knowledge of previous years and ensures a steady market for Core Knowledge materials.

Core Knowledge’s Chip Shields says the area is attractive to the Foundation because “Charlottesville is a vibrant community of writers, educators, artists and activists.”

Originating in New York City in 1970, Money Market Directories, Inc. relocated to Charlottesville in 1978. In 1986, the company was sold to Standard & Poor’s , making it Standard & Poor’s Money Market Directories. The company staff rises to as many as 70 employees at various points in the year.

Highly specialized, Standard & Poor’s makes products that serve as resource tools for the pension fund and financial services industry; there are seven titles in various media available at present. Example: directories of pension fund and investment managers, tax-exempt organizations, North American securities dealers and a register of corporations, directors and executives.

The largest publishing company in our survey, LexisNexis has more than 500 employees in Charlottesville, even after sharp staffing cuts a couple of years ago. Worldwide, it has 25,000 staffers. In 1994 Reed Elsevier Inc. bought the business, which was founded as the Michie Company in 1899.

Many people here know LexisNexis for its squat brick building anchoring the east end of the Downtown Mall behind the Amphitheater. What’s perhaps less well known is that the Charlottesville branch of LexisNexis is one of the company’s two major manufacturing locations and its center for primary law products, meaning statutory codes, the controlling laws of all 50 states and similarly necessary materials for attorneys. For LexisNexis, which publishes more statutory code products than any other U.S. publisher, the presence of the UVA Law School makes Charlottesville an especially attractive place to set up shop. The Charlottesville manufacturing facility of LexisNexis prints books in multiple formats, and publishes approximately 6 million books a year.

SNL Financial was started in 1987 by former banking executive Reid Nagle in Hoboken, New Jersey. Nagle moved the financial data publishing company to Charlottesville two years later, drawn in part by the relatively cheaper cost of well-educated employees here. Covering in its databases and online news products five basic financial industries—banking, specialized financial services, insurance, real estate and energy—SNL serves mostly institutional investors and executives in its target industries.

Now employing some 240 people, SNL has outgrown its second home, the five-storey Mall building at the corner of Fourth Street, and is preparing to relocate to the former National Ground Intelligence Center building four blocks northeast. The deal was brokered with some sweet assistance from the City, demonstrating how important the publishing industry is to Charlottesville.

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