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Angie Wieck, Published July 20 2012

Moorhead woman publishes small books from her home

MOORHEAD – At a time when online companies like Amazon are making self-publishing easier for writers and when readers are often more apt to download an e-book than visit a bookstore, Meredith Lynn of Rust Belt Bindery is working to cultivate readers who appreciate the artistic, visual and physical experience offered only by the print editions.

Lynn began publishing small books in her home when she moved to Moorhead in 2011. She had recently earned a master’s degree in painting at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, and was waiting to begin a six-week artist residency in Vermont.

She enjoyed book-binding classes she took while at the university, so to pass the time she began publishing what she called “travelogues” about her adjustment to life in Minnesota. She mailed them to her friends and family.

One recipient, writer friend Blake Kimzey, called to tell Lynn how much he enjoyed the books. He urged her to go into business as a small, independent publisher and suggested making his short story “Up and Away” her first project.

When the book sold out in just a week and a half, Lynn decided to continue the venture, and Kimzey agreed to join her as the company’s literary editor.

Kimzey, who resides in Irvine, Calif., sorts through submitted material and sends along what he likes to Lynn. The two then discuss book design possibilities.

“People now can get an e-book on their iPad in a second, so for someone to order and deal with an actual physical object, there has to be some kind of reward,” Lynn said. “It has to be well-designed, it has to look good, and it has to be different.”

One example of Lynn’s unique book design is her publication of “Hey, It’s America,” by Ryan Ridge. The manuscript came to her broken down into snippets, so Lynn had each one printed on what equates to a business card and then constructed a box to house the collection.

Lynn also occasionally provides illustrations for the books. Work she did based on Minnesota and North Dakota landscapes paired nicely with a collection of poems from California poet Ashley M. Farmer’s “Farm Town” series.

Lynn typically produces between 75 and 100 of each book.

“For me, doing smaller editions means we can put out more books,” she said. “If I’m binding 500, I can only do two or three (a year). This way, I can move through them much faster, and that way we end up working with more writers and more artists.”

She also tries to avoid doing second print runs for books that sell out. “We try not to do it because if you keep putting out more and more after the initial press run, you end up devaluing your own product.”

Whenever possible, she tries to offer a high- and a low-end version of a book. “Part of our business idea is to create things at all different price points so that anyone who is interested in owning art can buy something,” Lynn said.

One example is Rust Belt Bindery’s publication of “The Widow Teasdale and the Ineffable Warmth of Personal Services,” by Drew Jackson. A deluxe version with a handmade hardcover case is sold for $25; a standard paper edition is available for just $13.

While Rust Belt Bindery books are sold at a few select locations such as the Center for Book Arts in Minneapolis, Lynn prefers to make sales through their website www.RustBeltBindery.com.

Lynn said bookstores typically take a cut anywhere from 25 to 40 percent. Because Rust Belt Bindery operates with such a low profit margin, she prefers to sell books via the website so 100 percent of the profits are kept in house.

Rust Belt Bindery assumes all of the financial risk involved in publishing books. When the costs are covered, the remaining profits are paid to the company and the contributors on an agreed upon scale.

Lynn is now working on a book by Bemidji, Minn., poet Sean Hill and hopes to publish more work from Midwest authors and artists in the future.

In addition to publishing, Lynn operates a burgeoning book repair business in her home.

During a visit to an area used bookstore, Lynn mentioned to the owner that she had experience re-binding books. Since then, she’s received a few referrals from the owner as well as from other contacts she’s made in the publishing world.

To inquire about having a book re-bound or repaired, call Lynn or email her at rustbeltbindery@gmail.com.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501