Booksellers Grow Publishing Efforts

by Judith Rosen

One year and 70 books later, the Troy Book Makers in Troy, N.Y., a small-scale Print-on-Demand venture started last summer by Eric Wilska, owner of the Bookloft in Great Barrington, Mass., and Susan Novotny, owner of the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, N.Y., is about to expand. It will double its space this fall to better accommodate an InstaBook machine, copy machines and binders for perfect and spiral binding.

“We’re really having growing pains,” said Wilska, who described business at the Troy Book Makers, which is located next to Novotny’s Troy store, Market Block Books, as “slow and steady.” The key lesson the two have learned is that someone must be appointed to oversee the operation. “Bookstores think, ‘We’ll train one of our booksellers to do this.’ It’s not going to happen,” said Wilska. “You have to have a good designer/businessperson to run it.” At Troy, running the unit is the full-time job of Melissa Batalin, who occasionally receives help from other store employees.

Novotny’s stores have benefited the most from signings with POD authors like Kathy Cohen, whose look at raising a child with autism, Mom, Are You Listening?, sold 100 copies in two hours at Market Block Books and then went back to press next door. Wilska is publishing facsimile editions of public-domain titles like Willard Douglas Coxey’s Ghosts of Old Berkshire that he can sell in the dozens at his store.

Recently Wilska and Novotny turned the Troy Book Makers into a complete vertical business model with the introduction of a series of original guides, which they are publishing themselves and distributing to other outlets. The first, which came out in the spring, Dining in the Berkshires, has 650 copies in print after two trips to press. In fact, the book has sold so well that Wilska had to do the second printing of 400 copies at an offset printer. Future dining guides will be geared to the Capital region around Albany and Lake George/Saratoga.

To find more publishing clients, Novotny and Wilska have decided against opening a second storefront or advertising heavily on the Web in favor of attending the NEIBA trade show in September. “We actually spent $1,000 for a table to let our colleagues know that we can do proprietary publishing and to get them to send customers to us for a referral fee,” explained Novotny.

The buzz is beginning to build about what the Troy Book Makers can do. Last month well-known writer Jon Katz, author of Dog Days (Villard, June), contacted Novotny about printing one of his less commercial projects, a collection of poetry. The reasons Katz or any other writer would come to Troy Book Makers rather than iUniverse, said Wilska from, are the same as shopping at an independent: it’s small and has a knowledgeable and personable staff.

See the article in Publishers Weekly