In July, Southern Methodist University Press published Twelve Breaths a Minute: End of Life Essays. The book of true stories of death, dying and palliative care was edited by Lee Gutkind, founder and editor of Pittsburgh-based literary magazine Creative Nonfiction.
But even as Gutkind was out promoting the book, SMU Press folded. "The book was out about 30 seconds," says Gutkind. Only a few hundred copies were printed.
You could take the episode as a reminder of the uncertainties facing publishers today, as bookstores vanish and readers turn to electronic reading devices. But Gutkind saw opportunity, too. So next April, the book will be reborn as At the End of Life, the first offering from Creative Nonfiction Books, the just-announced publishing arm of the periodical Gutkind founded in 1993.
Gutkind's Creative Nonfiction Foundation has plenty of book experience: Over the years, it's issued 10 volumes through established houses like Norton, which published 2010 essay anthology Becoming a Doctor. But Gutkind has long wanted the foundation to control its own material. The time finally seemed ripe.
"The trend to publish high-quality nonfiction writing is moving in a smaller-press direction," says Gutkind. "Many of the better writers are moving to small publishers where their message can be heard." He cites famed New Yorker writer Janet Malcolm, who published her most recent book through a university press -- and even John Edgar Wideman, who published his most recent book through online service Lulu.com.
Creative Nonfiction Books has help. At the End of Life, for instance, was seed-funded by its Pittsburgh-based frequent collaborator the Jewish Healthcare Foundation. The fledgling imprint's publisher is Victoria Blake, who runs Underland Press, a well-regarded Portland, Ore.-based publisher of dark fiction. And Creative Nonfiction books will be distributed by Publishers Group West, an outfit skilled at placing titles in both chain and indie outlets -- still vital for both prestige and marketing.
Gutkind, who's written books on robotics, medicine and other topics, teaches at Arizona State University and is a part-time Pittsburgher these days. Creative Nonfiction Books will echo his focus on science and medicine.
At the End of Life collects work by patients, parents of child patients and physicians. Other upcoming titles include An Immense New Power to Heal: The Promise of Personalized Medicine, by Gutkind and Pagan Kennedy, and, in 2013, Becoming a Nurse and a Creative Nonfiction 20th-anniversary anthology. Gutkind hopes the imprint will eventually issue four titles a year.