White Cloud Press, an independent publishing company in Ashland, is growing even as it deals with tumultuous changes in the book industry.
Sales grew by 40 percent each year in 2012 and 2013 — despite the closure of numerous chain and independent bookstores across the nation and the rise of new forces such as ebooks and Amazon.com.
This year, White Cloud Press is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
"Our core remains the good old-fashioned book," said Publisher Steve Scholl. "Reports of the death of the book were premature. What's changed is the delivery system."
Publishing has long been a risky business.
Books that don't sell in brick-and-mortar stores get sent back to the publisher. Industrywide, about 30 percent of books will meet that fate, said Stephen Sendar, owner and president of White Cloud Press.
Amazon.com doesn't return unsold books, but it does acquire books at such a discount that there's little profit for authors and publishers, Sendar said.
White Cloud Press has adapted to the risky landscape by asking authors to foot more of the up-front costs when they get books published.
The company often asks authors to contribute several thousand dollars toward a book's cost. Some writers pay the money directly, while others have turned to fundraising Internet sites such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo.
In return, White Cloud Press will split revenues on sales of books with authors, rather than doling out the paltry 10 to 12 percent that is common in the industry, Sendar said.
By asking authors to "pay to play" rather than take on all the financial risk itself, White Cloud Press is pushing writers to actively market and promote their books, he said.
"The best salesperson for a book is the author," Sendar said.
Scholl said authors today must think like musicians, who record albums and then go on tour to promote their music, rather than sitting back, thinking the work is done.
The process is different than self-publishing through a vanity press because White Cloud Press accepts only a tiny fraction of submissions for publication. It also thoroughly edits each book and works on other aspects of publishing, such as designing the book's cover, Sendar and Scholl said.
Scholl said he receives about 60 book proposals each month.
In 2014, White Cloud Press will publish 14 books, up from five to six books in previous years, Scholl said.
It does have a self-publishing arm that is separate from the work it does to vet and publish new books that meet its standards.
Housed in a business park on Hersey Street, White Cloud Press has a reception area filled with its books about world religions, the environment and nature, yoga, politics, health, sports, business, relationships and travel. It also publishes fiction, memoirs and children's and young adult books.
The company's warehouse is filled with boxes and stacks of books, although ebooks are also a growing part of the business.
Scholl originally founded White Cloud Press with his wife, Janice Lineberger.
Lineberger, a former teacher, brought editorial and business skills to the enterprise, while Scholl tapped into his academic background in the history of religions and Islamic history, law and philosophy.
The mission of the company always has been to publish books that are grounded in scholarship, yet are accessible to a wide audience, according to Scholl.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Scholl said he felt a moral obligation to present clear, honest books about Islam to help counter the fear that all Muslims were terrorists.
"There is truth and wisdom in every faith tradition out there. I want to help people see that," Scholl said.
The press became embroiled in a national debate when White Cloud's book "Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations" by Michael Sells was assigned as required reading for incoming freshmen at the University of North Carolina in 2002.
A conservative Christian group filed a lawsuit, and soon Sells and his book were the focus of a media frenzy.
Since then, the book has been chosen as a textbook by more than 300 universities and is considered the best translation of and introduction to the Quran, Scholl said.
Other memorable moments in White Cloud Press's history include publishing a book about prayer by Mother Teresa — and getting former President Jimmy Carter to pen a blurb praising the book.
"Early on, I learned to ask the biggest names possible. They either said 'yes' or 'no,'" Scholl said.
Scholl doesn't have a Rolodex filled with phone numbers for past presidents, but he has extensive contacts with people who know other influential people. Authors for White Cloud Press are also usually leaders in their field and have contacts, he said.
The company's books have been praised by the The New York Times and other publications and featured on CNN, Nightline, PBS, CBS Evening News, Good Morning America and National Public Radio.
Despite the national success, Scholl said he would like the company to be better known here at home.
This year, White Cloud Press will launch a speakers series in Ashland featuring its authors.
In the constantly changing world of books and publishing, Sendar said it's rare for an independent publisher to still be standing after 20 years.
He said the company will keep adapting so that it can continue its mission.
"These are incredible books that matter. Our job is to publish books that matter," Sendar said. "If we go away, a lot of information that changes the world slowly over time goes away."
For more information on White Cloud Press and its titles, visit www.whitecloudpress.com.