Originally created 05/07/00

Finding safe harbor



In the wilds of Manhattan, thousands of books are dumped on the market by hundreds of publishing houses with millions of dollars behind them. Like a literature machine, the New York publishing world supplies hungry readers with page upon printed page of novels and nonfiction, children's books and how-to guides. A big, noisy industry full of self-promotion and publicity, big-time publishing bears little resemblance to the quiet basement office in an unassuming West Augusta neighborhood, home of Harbor House Publishing.

Three years ago, former Augusta State University history professor E. Randall Floyd gave up the classroom to establish Harbor House in order to publish Deep in the Heart, a novel he had spent 10 years writing.

"I had some bites on it, some offers from publishers, but the advances were laughable," Mr. Floyd said. "I said, `I've spent 10 years on this book and somebody's offering me a $10,000 advance -- that's only $1,000 a year.' So I decided that I could do better than that and decided to form Harbor House for the purpose of publishing that one book."

With an initial run of 5,000 copies of Deep in the Heart, Mr. Floyd's Little Publishing House That Could pushed its way into the book world with favorable results: In the two years since its release, Deep in the Heart has gone through several printings and has sold almost 100,000 copies.

"Deep in the Heart did very well, but I put 67,000 miles on my Jeep in the first year the book was out," Mr. Floyd said. "I was going everywhere all the time -- I must have spoken to 200 Rotary Clubs. That's what a lot of writers don't understand, that if they don't go out and push their book they're going to starve."

With the success of Deep in the Heart, Mr. Floyd expanded Harbor House to publish more of his own manuscripts as well as books by other authors.

Among Mr. Floyd's Harbor House publications are the upcoming High Moon on the Marsh, a Civil War novel in the vein of Deep in the Heart, and the recently released 100 of the World's Greatest Mysteries, an investigation of the bizarre and unexplained culled from his syndicated column, which appears in The Augusta Chronicle and 45 or so other newspapers.

But Mr. Floyd doesn't want the company to become associated with only his work.

"I didn't want Harbor House to become the E. Randall Floyd publishing house, so I began to solicit other good writers," he explained. "I think that's been the best part of this job, reading those manuscripts."

One Harbor House project Mr. Floyd is particularly excited about is Rainy Days and Sundays, by South Carolina author Brewster Milton Robertson. A near-future noir that puts a dark spin on the abortion debate, Rainy Days is to ship to bookstores May 15. The novel has already drawn favorable reviews. Recently, film rights to the book were purchased by producer Alan Brown. Mr. Brown is currently involved in producing Beach Music, based on the novel by Pat Conroy.

"I've ordered an initial press run of 10,000 for Rainy Days," Mr. Floyd said. "Of course, that was before it started generating all this attention. Now I know I have to get another run ordered, and my dilemma has become how many. A lot of people think the worst thing that can happen is to sell out of books, but that's not true. The worst thing that can happen is to print too many. A bunch of returns will kill a small house like Harbor House."

Mr. Floyd said that Harbor House and other successful small publishing firms usually survive by carving out a niche, specializing in a particular type of book. Dipping into his own interests, Mr. Floyd said he wants to follow that lead to some extent.

"I guess I'm looking for biography, for Civil War history, for horror fiction and for any mainstream fiction that I like," Mr. Floyd said, "really, whatever appeals to me and whatever I think will sell."

Currently in the works are two series of books dealing with Mr. Floyd's great passions, Civil War history and unexplained phenomena, titled Heroes in Blue and Gray and In the Realm of. By concentrating on books that truly interest him, Mr. Floyd said, he is able to maintain the personal touch he sees as one of Harbor House's hallmarks.

"Every book we manufacture over the next two years will have been a very personal experience," he said. "We'll have sweated, screamed and cried with that author. Every title we do will have been nursed from inception, and that's what separates us from the larger houses."

Never intending to make a mint in the publishing market, Mr. Floyd remains true to his mission with Harbor House -- to publish work he feels good about.

"This is a day-to-day operation as far as I'm concerned," he said. "We're very small, and I want to stay small. Five years down the road I might like to have an office somewhere, but for now I'm happy here in the basement."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.