Cornerstone Press is a small, independent publishing house
supported by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point's Department of English. Its cautious rate of publication - 32 titles since it was established in 1984, or a maximum of two titles per year - has enabled
Cornerstone Press to be very selective about the books it publishes, and
to lavish attention on each and every author with which it has had the
privilege of working. Indeed, Cornerstone Press has built its
reputation with readers on the back of this quality, and its reputation with authors and would-be authors on the basis of these
close relationships. Nonetheless, Cornerstone Press has managed to publish across just about
every major genre of book: fiction, including both novels and short
story collections; non-fiction collections, including collections of essays, journalism, and letters; poetry;
children's and young adult books; memoirs; local histories;
translations; cookbooks; guide books; and books of cartoons.
Cornerstone Press's reputation as a publisher of quality books and incubator for talented writers has been further consolidated as a result of several notable achievements:
- Cornerstone Press published the first book by Patrick Rothfuss, Quill Award winner and New York Times bestselling novelist. Rothfuss has achieved notoriety as the author of the first two books (The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear) in a projected trilogy collectively titled The Kingkiller Chronicle, but his first-ever book was Your Annotated, Illustrated College Survival Guide, Volume I, published by Cornerstone Press in 2005.
- Cornerstone Press published Wildflowers of Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest (2007) by Merel R. Black and Emmet J. Judziewicz, which quickly sold through its initial print run. Cornerstone Press then sold the rights to a second edition to the University of Wisconsin Press, which republished the book as Wildflowers of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Region in 2009.
- Influences: How Ancient Hinduism Dramatically Changed Early Christianity by A.L. Herman, originally published by Cornerstone Press in 2004, was republished in 2009 as Influences of Ancient Hinduism on Early Christianity following the sale of rights to Indian publisher Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.
- Justin Isherwood, author of many books with many different publishing houses, including White Ladies and Naked Gardens (1991) with Cornerstone Press, was recently described as "one of the Badger state's best-known literary exports."
- In 2010, Cornerstone Press published Jake the Grizz and the World's Fastest Snowboard by Kit Kiefer. Kiefer is the author of six previously published titles, including four books in the Marvel Encyclopedia series. Cornerstone Press was able to draw upon Kiefer's connections in the field of comic books in order to convince acclaimed comic book artist Christopher Ivy, who most recently worked on Transformers and G.I. Joe comics for IDW, to create a dozen unique illustrations for Jake the Grizz. Kiefer is also the author of numerous articles that have appeared in well-known publications such as The New York Times and Better Homes and Gardens.
However, we have not even mentioned what is arguably Cornerstone Press's most distinctive feature: Cornerstone Press is staffed by students taking English 349: Editing and Publishing at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
English 349: Editing and Publishing
English 349: Editing and Publishing is a course that was first created by Mary Croft in the mid-1970s. Under Croft's direction
, students composed booklets on a wide variety of topics and then each student printed and distributed 30 copies of his or her booklet among the members of the class. When Dan Dieterich inherited the course in 1978, he followed Croft's model for the first six years in which he taught it.
Then, in 1984, Dieterich restructured English 349: Editing and Publishing, modeling the new course after one taught at the University of Notre Dame. Instead of each student composing his or her own booklet, under Dieterich's new model all of the students worked together to edit, design, print, bind, market, and sell approximately 1,000 copies of a single book over the course of one semester. This required a small injection of grant funding to get off the ground, but ever since the course has been self-sustaining - even run at a profit. The first two books to come out of the English 349: Editing and Publishing course appeared under the name First Class Publishers. In 1988, however, the name Cornerstone Press was adopted and has been used for all subsequent publications. In fact, relatively little has changed about the publishing model of Cornerstone Press since Dieterich first implemented it in 1984.
At the beginning of the semester, students are elected
to various administrative, editorial, design, production, marketing, and sales
positions within Cornerstone Press. Although students have certain responsibilities
that their positions require them to fulfill, jobs often overlap, and a
team effort is essential. The student staff of Cornerstone Press then select a manuscript for publication based on an open call for submissions that would have been issued at least three months in advance of the start of the semester. Manuscripts come from all over the United States, and when one is finally chosen, a contract is negotiated with the author, which always includes an industry standard royalty rate. Once the contract is signed, the real work of publishing a book begins. All of the work of editing, design, production, marketing, and sales is carried out by the students enrolled in English 349: Editing and Publishing, though with the guidance of the course instructor who acts as Publisher-in-Chief of Cornerstone Press.
Clearly, Cornerstone Press's publishing model is extremely unique. In short, its modus operandi is to publish in quantities of around 1,000 and then look to sell on the rights for its most successful titles. It does not do any reprints of its titles, since there is a brand new crop of students coming through the door every semester, and the best educational experience for these students is going to be to take a manuscript all the way from selection and acquisition through to marketing and sales, which doesn't leave a lot of time for coordinating reprints of the titles published in previous semesters. Rather, Cornerstone Press actively promotes itself as a stepping stone for aspiring authors. This model is sustainable only because English 349: Editing and Publishing supplies Cornerstone Press with 25 unpaid interns every semester, which allows the publishing house to keeps its overheads low, publish in small quantities, and still make money. Of course, what is most impressive about this publishing model is that Cornerstone Press still manages to produce books of a quality that would be judged as excellent by most any publisher's definition.
In 2010, Per Henningsgaard took over from Dieterich as instructor of English 349: Editing and Publishing. Henningsgaard is a scholar of publishing history (especially of the 20th and 21st centuries), as well as bringing to the role industry experience in the editorial department of a New York City-based multinational publishing house. He continues the important legacy of having an instructor for this course who can provide the oversight and knowledge necessary to run a publishing business in which complete staff turnover is a regular occurrence.
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