‘Levelling’ the playing field: Independent book publisher in Amherst earns state honor for helping Valley authors get published

  • Steve Strimer uses a perfect binder to attach a cover to a book at Levellers Press in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • In October, Levellers Press, the publishing wing of Collective Copies, received an award from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus “in recognition of their dedication to the sustainability and advancement of manufacturing in Massachusetts.” STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Steve Strimer thumbs through copies of "Flight of Integrity", yet to be cut, at Levellers Press in Amherst on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. The pages are printed four to a sheet, allowing four books to be printed with each run. In October, the publishing wing of Collective Copies received an award from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus "in recognition of their dedication to the sustainability and advancement of manufacturing in Massachusetts." —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Steve Strimer prepares copies of “Break Every String” by Joshua Michael Stewart to be perfect bound at Levellers Press in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Steve Strimer thumbs through pages from "Flight of Integrity", yet to be cut, at Levellers Press in Amherst on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. In October, the publishing wing of Collective Copies received an award from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus "in recognition of their dedication to the sustainability and advancement of manufacturing in Massachusetts." —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Steve Strimer thumbs through copies of "Flight of Integrity", yet to be cut, at Levellers Press in Amherst on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. The pages are printed four to a sheet, allowing four books to be printed with each run. In October, the publishing wing of Collective Copies received an award from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus "in recognition of their dedication to the sustainability and advancement of manufacturing in Massachusetts." —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Collective Copies shop on South Pleasant Street in Amherst is home to its publishing wing, Levellers Press. In October, the small publishing house received an award from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus "in recognition of their dedication to the sustainability and advancement of manufacturing in Massachusetts." Photographed on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • One wall of Levellers Press is covered by scores of proofs of the covers of books published by the Amherst worker-owned firm. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Steve Strimer places a newly bound copy of "Break Every String", by Joshua Michael Stewart, onto the shelves at Collective Copies in Amherst with other titles published by Levellers Press on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. In October, the wing of Collective Copies received an award from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus "in recognition of their dedication to the sustainability and advancement of manufacturing in Massachusetts." —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • "Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts", by Robert H. Romer, was the first title published by Levellers Press 10 years ago. In October, the publishing wing of Collective Copies received an award from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus "in recognition of their dedication to the sustainability and advancement of manufacturing in Massachusetts." Photographed on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Titles published by Levellers Press, a wing of Collective Copies, grace the shelves at the Amherst location on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. In October, the small publishing house received an award from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus "in recognition of their dedication to the sustainability and advancement of manufacturing in Massachusetts." —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • One wall of Levellers Press is covered in proofs of the covers of books published by the Amherst worker-owned firm. In October, the small publishing house, a wing of Collective Copies, received an award from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus "in recognition of their dedication to the sustainability and advancement of manufacturing in Massachusetts." Photographed on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • "On Their Own Terms", by Laurie Loisel, is the most recent title published by Levellers Press in Amherst and "Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts", by Robert H. Romer, was the firm's first published title in 2009. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A storefront window at the Collective Copies shop on South Pleasant Street in Amherst displays some of the titles published by Levellers Press. In October, the small publishing house received an award from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus "in recognition of their dedication to the sustainability and advancement of manufacturing in Massachusetts." Photographed on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 11/17/2019 10:53:31 PM

AMHERST — A recent title published by the Amherst-based Levellers Press, “Devil’s Den to Lickingwater: The Mill River Through Landscape & History,” tells an “essential history” of the Hampshire County River — but it’s a history that would likely be overlooked if not for Levellers, according to the publisher’s founder, Steve Strimer.

“That goes back to our mission,” Strimer said. “It’s to make sure there is a way for books that are essential — that another publisher might pass up — to get published.”

The press, which is the publishing wing of the worker-owned Collective Copies copying and finishing center, was named after a 17th-century English political movement that advocated for working people’s rights.

Aside from its attention to local authors and subjects, Levellers also distinguishes itself by the editorial control it allows its authors and a willingness to look beyond financial gain when taking on new authors, Strimer said.

For this work, Levellers Press was recognized at the State House last month as a Manufacturer of the Year.

Levellers published its first book, “Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts,” by Robert H. Romer, in 2009, and the title remains one of its bestsellers. It’s possible Romer could have found a larger publisher for the book, but less likely that a different publishing house would have allowed Romer the editorial control that he held at Levellers, Strimer said.

Strimer said he noticed that as authors tried to get their books published, “their manuscripts would come back to them almost unrecognizable after an editor had had their way with it. So in many ways, Levellers is driven by the authors themselves … We want the author to get the book they had imagined and loved with our advice.”

Levellers tends to work with small numbers. Only “one and a half” people are dedicated to working on books, and another three to four help with the press while also working at the Collective Copies counter, Strimer said. Books, meanwhile, tend to sell 200-400 copies, with most sales happening through the publisher’s online store. 

The press has independently published about 100 books so far, and another 100 with Off the Common Books, which is also housed in the Collective Copies space. 

The publisher pays startup costs, but no advance. After the startup has been covered by sales, Levellers the surplus evenly with the author.

The press also prints in relatively small batches of 50 to 100 books, which can bump up prices — “Devil’s Den to Lickingwater,” for instance, sells for $28.25. But the press can break even with sales of 150 to 200 books, Strimer said, and because the publishing wing owns all of its printing and publishing equipment, it is able to offer options such as color printing, which can be “prohibitively expensive” at larger publishing houses, at affordable rates.

But for both the press and its authors, publishing books often goes beyond financial gain, according to Strimer.

“I look at it as a big success when I’m finally able to pay an author a royalty on their book,” Strimer said. “That’s one of our goals, and maybe even more so than most of our authors.

“Many of them don’t look at this as a real moneymaking thing,” he added. “It’s mainly sort of a work of love.”

State Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, who nominated the press for the award, said in a statement that the firm and Collective Copies are “icons in Amherst.”

“They are a successful unionized collective-managed shop that has shown great flexibility in adapting to and maximizing advances in printing technology and changes in the publishing industry,” Domb said. “As a result, in a community of students and writers, many authors have succeeded in partnership with Levellers to publish their work and reach new audiences.”

Strimer also spoke of the Valley as one of the few places in the country where Levellers could succeed, citing the abundance of writers and “over-educated people” who settle in the area.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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