Sacramento library’s I Street Press: Fit to print

Will the Central Library’s expensive new self-publishing machine work?

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Only one thing will satisfy a truly addicted writer: getting a book published. Now, here in Sacramento, there’s help.

In November, the downtown Sacramento Library began offering a new print-on-demand publishing service for independent and aspiring authors. Called the I Street Press, it’s basically a one-stop shop for scribes who want to self-publish without a literary agent or conventional publisher.

The library hopes the printing service, which only prints paperbacks and costs $99, plus additional fees for each book, will inspire Sacramento’s literary community and encourage authors to attend writing classes at the downtown branch.

The new service came with a hefty price tag, $150,000, but should eventually pay for itself, said Manya Shorr, a library outreach and community-services supervisor. The library paid for the operation with a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the California State Library; user fees will fund the publishing operation going forward.

So far, only four customers have used it, but all upcoming appointments to meet with the library’s publishing assistant are booked solid, said Shorr.

It seems like an exciting opportunity for local authors, especially for wannabes publishing their first book.

“What we like about it,” Shorr said, “is that we have an actual person that you can actually come and work with and keep the money local.”

The library’s operation, which uses a newfangled Espresso Book Machine to produce paperbacks on Tuesdays and Saturdays, does offer several benefits over online publishing services like or Xlibris. Authors who choose the I Street Press avoid shipping fees and shady sales tactics used by Web publishers, who sometimes lure writers into spending thousands of dollars for a handful of books.

But Shorr believes ISP’s most exciting feature remains the freedom it offers indie writers. For that reason, it might be a good alternative to getting chewed up by the mainstream publishing industry, said Brad Buchanan, chairman of Sacramento State University’s English department.

“I think the publishing system these days is completely broken,” said Buchanan, who also runs a small literary publishing company called Roan Press. “There are a lot of undiscovered writers who can’t wait around for an agent to pick them up and get them to a publisher.”

Traditional publishers do have one obvious benefit: After accepting a manuscript, they usually pay authors instead of charging them. No such luck in self-publishing.

This is why most people in Sacramento’s writing community say the ISP won’t be a viable alternative. Margie Yee Webb, who self-published her book through a service based in China, thinks the ISP will definitely help local writers, but only on a smaller scale. “Some people may want to just share it with family or friends,” she said.

It’s also uncertain whether authors will even find a market for self-published books, even in local bookstores. Bill Senecal, manager at Beers Books in Midtown, says his store once had a section for self-published Sactown titles. But customers didn’t care.

“We had 10 boxes of books that nobody bought,” said Senecal, who thinks the self-published books just weren’t very good. “We stopped doing that. We won’t carry that type of book anymore.”

Yet Webb thinks the I Street Press might help readers change their mind.

The library has plans to expand the operation. Shorr says that library officials are thinking about teaching writers to turn their work into e-books, which have become more popular over the past year.

Publishing an e-book is also easier because most websites, like Smashwords or, take a commission instead of charging upfront.

“The e-book is currently the standout economical method,” said Barry Schoenborn, president of Northern California Publishers and Authors.

True. But on the other hand, you can’t sign an e-book—which is the whole point of authoring a book, right?

No need to fret, said Shorr. She believes even as digital readers like the iPad change traditional publishing, plenty of readers will still want paperbacks.

And for Sactown’s aspiring writers who write them, the library’s book machine will be waiting.