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Holy Cow! It's 30 years old!

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Jim Perlman
Jim Perlman's Holy Cow! Press is celebrating 30 years in business. He operates out of the back porch of his family home. His books have won many literary awards.
MPR Photo/Stephanie Hemphill

Low overhead probably helps.  Jim Perlman's "office" is the back porch of the family home.   A bank of windows overlooks the yard.  An ancient word processor sits on a hand-me-down picnic table.   Stacks of paper teeter on  wooden shelves and tables, and even patches of floor.  

"I guess you could consider all these papers sort of my nesting for Holy Cow! Press," Perlman says with a chuckle.  "So out of here come the little chick books that I bring out into the world." 

Jim Perlman has been bringing literature into the world since high school.  He edited his school's literary magazine.   Then he started magazines at each of the three colleges he attended.

Eventually he became disillusioned by the short shelf life of magazines, and he turned to publishing books.

This year he's celebrating 30 years in business.

His first book was a chapbook by radical poet Tom McGrath, during the Viet Nam War.  

Jim Perlman gets about 500 manuscripts a year, and it takes him awhile to read them. He only publishes about four books a year.
MPR Photo/Stephanie Hemphill

Other authors on his list include native American writers like Diane Glancy, Joseph Brushac, and Anne Dunn.  He publishes a lot of Minnesota writers -- Joyce Sutphen, Ellen Moore Anderson, Ruth Brin.  

"Holy Cow!" -- complete with exclamation point -- is an odd name for a publishing company.  But at least it's easy to remember.  Perlman says the name came to him in a dream.

"I woke up the next morning and told everyone that I thought I thought of the name for my publishing company," he says.  "To me it means astonishment and surprise, and also it's hopefully something evocative of the midwest." 

Perlman says small press publishing is more about experimenting than making money.  He gets at least 500 manuscripts every year, and only publishes four books.  

When he decides to publish a manuscript, he says he's forming a partnership with the author.  He says most of the authors he works with have pretty strong egos.  They need to.

"You have to have that drive and belief, that what you are creating has meaning and importance for other people that read it," he says.  "And that's just something you try to recognize and deal with as an editor, because it's more often the case that people you publish are extremely opinionated." 

Holy Cow! books
Holy Cow! books are carefully designed, with inviting original artwork on the covers.
MPR Photo/Stephanie Hemphill

His authors even help design their books.  The covers are usually rich original artwork that draws the reader in.  Even the type is important.

"You can see side-by-side, for instance, if you type a poem in four different typefaces, which typeface really reveals the inner self of the poem to the best advantage," Perlman says.  "So it's sort of like clothing your poems in a certain style." 

Perlman says he tries to at least break even on all his books.   Most of them sell between 1,000 and 3,000 copies.  

Perlman relies on donations and grants to supplement income from sales.  But he says it's hard for a Duluth organization to schmooze with the big arts funders in the Twin Cities.

That's a problem Jim Lenfestey is passionate about.   He's a Twin-Cities based writer and arts supporter.  He says Minnesota is known for quality arts organizations, because big players like the Minnesota Orchestra and the Guthrie Theatre have created powerful fundraising networks.  He says it's something literature needs too.  

"But it requires people to understand that quality literature --  like quality theatre, like quality music -- needs to be supported," Lenfestey says.   

He says it's happening in the Twin Cities.  But publishers outside the Cities have to work harder.  

Jim Perlman works hard at marketing.  His next book is "One-Breasted Woman," by Minneapolis poet Susan Deborah King, about her life with breast cancer.  He'll promote it not only to poetry lovers, but also to people in medicine and women's studies. 

In the fall, he'll come out with "Definite Space," poems by Ann Iverson, from East Bethel, Minnesota.  The book is about her step-son's tour of duty in Baghdad.