A publishing house in downtown Sacramento has been churning out books for the past few years – 15,000 from 180 authors since 2011.
I Street Press isn’t a commercial venture, however. It’s the main branch of Sacramento Public Library.
Four years ago, Central Library purchased an Espresso Book Machine that prints, binds and trims paperback books, giving self-publishing authors the same quality as books printed by a regular publisher. The library is the only place with such a machine in Northern California, and one of only two sites in the state.
“I think one of the things we are doing is encouraging people to write,” said Gerald Ward, a librarian at Central Library for more than 22 years. He said the library encourages people “to become more literate and to tell their stories, fiction or nonfiction, and to become more creative in the process.”
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The library bought the machine for $200,000 and is breaking even with the fees patrons pay to use the service, Ward said, adding that 98 percent of the authors publishing with the book machine are local.
Programs such as 916 Ink, a Sacramento youth literacy program that provides writing workshops, have used the book machine to help publish young authors, Ward said.
Local author Bob Stanley, poet laureate of Sacramento from 2009 to 2012, said he has helped others publish their work with I Street Press. He said he thinks the service is valuable because of the advice offered from experienced librarians such as Ward.
“It isn’t just the machine. It takes good people who are not only well trained to operate the machine but also know the aesthetics,” Stanley said. “They really take the time to figure out exactly what you want.”
Local poet Lance Pyle, known to his readers as Peter Blueberry, in 2011 discovered he had cancer for the second time. During that time, Pyle’s grandson suggested he write poetry. In response, Pyle joined the California Writers Club in Sacramento and learned of the Espresso Book Machine.
I figured my life was over, and this has given me my life back.
Lance Pyle, poet known as Peter Blueberry
He said he contacted several publishers but decided to use I Street Press because he could be involved with every step of the process. Since using the machine, Pyle has sold more than 1,200 books and has read his poems to more than 20,000 people at schools and senior communities in the Sacramento area. His poem “The Sacrifice,” a tribute honoring soldiers and veterans, has had a distribution of more than 16,000 copies to military bases around the United States, he said.
“Connecting with the I Street Press has helped me blossom and bloom,” Pyle said. “I figured my life was over, and this has given me my life back.”
The genres of books printed are as diverse as young-adult novels, poetry and family genealogy, Ward said.
Ward said of the authors he has seen, half print for personal and family use while the other half aspire to sell.
Authors interested in using the machine will pay for the extended warranty and materials, totaling $6 per book and 3 cents per page plus taxes. There is also a setup fee ranging from $25 to $300 depending on the services needed.
While self-publishing is widespread and can be effective, it is often difficult to sell the books once they’re made, said Ron Shoop, district sales manager at publishing company Penguin Random House.
“Once a book is alive, it doesn’t mean it will suddenly go into the marketplace,” Shoop said.
Rivkah Sass, executive director of the Sacramento Public Library, said the premise behind I Street Press was not to compete with large publishing houses but to be involved in the creative process of writing. “Our belief is that people have a story to tell, and we wanted to create the avenue for them to tell their story,” Sass said.