Owner of tiny publishing company has big dreams

December 05, 1990|By Maria Mallory

Because of an editing error, an article in yesterday's Business section did not make it clear that Paul Evans -- not Frederick Douglass -- majored in history at Morgan State University. Several of Mr. Evans' better-selling books have sold more than 4,000 copies.

* The Sun regrets the errors

The poster tacked to the door of Paul F. Evans' cramped and cluttered little office reads: "Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one."

As owner, editor, promoter and distributor of his own tiny publishing house, Mr. Evans lives by these words.

In the 11 years since he published his first book, Mr. Evans' company, C. H. Fairfax Co., has churned out more than a dozen books primarily targeted to, written by or about African Americans -- a market segment that he says is often undeserved by large publishing houses.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Mr. Evans and black publishers like him "offer American society what the other publishers haven't been able to for one reason or another," he says.

His company, fondly named after his grandfather, brings to life books such as "I Am Somebody, I Am Me," which is aimed at raising the self-esteem of black children and "The Overcome: A Black Passover," which he dubs "a recipe and prescription for the liberation of Afro-Americans."

Priced at $6 to $24.95, most of C. H. Fairfax's books have sold between 4,000 and 7,000 copies.

After about eight years of only extra-curricular dabbling in publishing, Mr. Evans, who has been described by one of his writers as an Ichabod Crane look-alike, with the offbeat charm of an absent-minded professor, turned creating books into a full-time job three years ago.

Mr. Evans was a newspaper writer and editor from 1982 to 1987 at the Baltimore Afro American and regularly contributed a column to The Sun during the late 1970s. By publishing his Afrocentric books, he said, he is "continuing the tradition of early black newspaper writers" such as Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglass, who majored in history at Morgan State University.

But there's more to C. H. Fairfax, says Mr. Evans, 42, who sees his role as a publisher as providing both a conduit for black literature and books with mainstream appeal.

"The Path Between," a historical novel that chronicles the lives of poet Emily Dickinson's family is a case in point, says Mr. Evans. Written by Towson State professor Maravene S. Loeschke, it was an important book for C. H. Fairfax, says Mr. Evans.

"I was pleased to get my hands on that, because it shows what I can do with a mainstream theme," he says.

"If I could do Emily Dickinson, I could do anybody -- black or white."

Though he has the freedom to choose and reject manuscripts at his discretion, "like a regular publisher," doing it all by himself has its drawbacks and compromises, he says.

Take his Park Circle office. The room doubles as both office and warehouse, so it's piled high with boxes of books and stacks of paper. It's barely large enough for Mr. Evans to entertain one visitor, and it has no phone. Strapped for cash, Mr. Evans is forgoing that expense.

His writers don't seem to mind. Working with Mr. Evans has definite advantages, says C. Richard Gillespie, also a Towson State professor who, like his wife, Dr. Loeschke, chose C. H. Fairfax.

"The advantages of working with Paul is that you work with one person," says Dr. Gillespie, whose historical novel explores the life of Haitian freedom fighter Toussaint L'Ouverture.

At the larger publishing houses, "you are at the mercy of what the politics are at that institution," he says. In addition, Dr. Gillespie says, he chose C. H. Fairfax partly because of Mr. Evans' background and perspective.

"I am a white author writing about a black subject," he says.

"Besides the input Paul can impart as a black editor, having my book published by a black company seems to give it more authenticity," he says.

Though Mr. Evans is "not the most organized person in the world," the personal attention he gives his authors makes him all the more desirable as a publisher, says Dr. Gillespie. He also pays more than the standard 10 percent royalty, Dr. Gillespie says.

When they need him other than during their scheduled conferences, Mr. Evans' authors may call him at his Columbia apartment, where he does have a phone.

Also housed in Mr. Evans' Columbia home are additional book inventories and the MacIntosh computer that he says makes the whole venture possible.

Using the computer, Mr. Evans edits and typesets his writers' typewritten manuscripts on computer disks, which he then farms out to local vendors for layout and printing.

To get the maximum return from his efforts, Mr. Evans rarely markets his books through retail bookstores, choosing instead to take direct orders solicited from mailings he sends to book buyers worldwide.

In addition, he spends thousands of dollars every two years to mail the every main public library in the country brochures describing his company's books.

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