University Presses Offer FICTION WRITERS A Publishing Alternative

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When major publishing houses slammed their doors on a new book project by Max Evans, the celebrated Western author went back to school.

At the University Press of Colorado, Mr. Evans found a warm reception for two Bluefeather Fellini novels.

``University presses are taking on the role of publishing high-quality fiction, even though in limited numbers because of limited finances,'' says Evans, best known for his novel ``The Rounders.''

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Like many of its counterparts around the nation, University Press of Colorado is dabbling in fiction to help authors who find it difficult to break barriers at major publishing companies.

University presses traditionally have been a forum for scholarly works, typically publishing about 17 percent of the new books in the US every year, says Peter Grenquist, executive director of the Association of American University Presses.

The advantage university presses have over major publishing houses is that they can break even with a smaller investment and a smaller press run, usually 3,000 to 10,000 copies, press directors say.

``We exist to do the kinds of books the commercial houses can't. The goal really isn't to make a profit, it's to serve the public needs of those scholars,'' Mr. Grenquist says.

Although many academic presses have published poetry and translated foreign fiction into English for years, the move into fiction forced them to change their methods.

For most of their publications, university-press promotions consist of ending fliers to libraries and scholars interested in a particular subject. For fiction, the presses had to learn marketing the New York way.

``It's very labor-intensive for us. We are also spending quite a lot of time promoting those books,'' says Beth Hadas of the University of New Mexico Press. ``Once you start publishing them, you get into things like your author's need to be toured around.''

The presses have had mixed success with fiction. Louisiana State University published ``A Confederacy of Dunces,'' by John Kennedy Toole, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981. But Texas Tech University Press disbanded its regional fiction program because it was a ``hard sell,'' says Wendell Broom, press director. ``Our region ... is so small that it's real tough to define regional fiction here.''

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