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Independent publisher hopes to continue her story

Emily Clark Victorsoperates small publishing operaticalled Allium Press out her home Forest Park. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Emily Clark Victorson operates a small publishing operation called Allium Press out of her home in Forest Park. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 4, 2012 11:37AM

Emily Clark Victorson has a ready explanation for making herself the proprietor of a small Forest Park publishing house that has yet to pay her a regular salary.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” she says.

Victorson is publisher of Allium Press of Chicago, a small publishing house she co-founded in 2009 in her Forest Park home. She started the business (named for Allium tricoccum, the wild onion called “Chicagou” that gave the city its name) after she was laid off as senior research associate from History Works, a purveyor of corporate and big family histories.

With skills she’d picked up producing and designing books and earlier working as a librarian at the Chicago History Museum, she thought she’d take advantage of the new print-on-demand model (translation: no big upfront capital investment) to go into the publishing business.

“It is paying me a salary in terms of great job satisfaction,” Victorson says.

From the beginning, Victorson decided Allium’s niche would be fiction related to Chicago. It’s territory similar to that occupied by Chicago’s Lake Claremont Press, but Lake Claremont focuses on nonfiction. Victorson says she was delighted to find there was no shortage of good material in her niche.

Allium’s first book was a debut novel, Death at the Fair, by University of Chicago librarian Frances McNamara, who the Sun-Times said “has a keen eye for zeroing in on how a metropolis can fuel and deflate the human spirit.” Allium also published McNamara’s subsequent Death at Hull House and Death at Pullman. Death at Woods Hole (the characters are from the University of Chicago) is scheduled to come out this year.

“[Victorson] does a good job with the covers and the presentation of the book physically, which makes a difference to the bookstores, and also electronically,” said McNamara, the incoming president of the Chicago chapter of the Sisters in Crime authors group.

Last year, Allium published Set the Night on Fire by established Northbrook author Libby Fischer Hellmann, and it will bring out another Hellmann novel this spring, A Bitter Veil. Wilmette author David J. Walker, who has written for such major publishers as Minotaur and St. Martin’s, also is having his latest book published by Allium. The plot, Walker says, is “Chicago priest meets the CIA.”

Both Hellmann and Walker say they were drawn to Allium partly because its books are so well edited.

Victorson has tried out some unconventional ideas, such as simultaneously publishing in hardcover, softcover and e-book formats. Meanwhile, though, she just keeps looking for good manuscripts and hoping for the happy ending — a salary.

“I’ll stick it out as long as I can,” she says.

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