South Carolina writer Pat Conroy, whose books have sold millions, made it clear Sunday he is giving not just his name and fame to a new division of the University of South Carolina Press, but also his time.
“If we sell them right, we can be like Simon & Schuster,” Conroy said of his new, unpaid role as editor at large for Story River Books, a USC Press imprint, which will seek works of high quality fiction with S.C. ties.
Conroy, 68, whose lifelong passions for words and books were the subject of his 2010 “My Reading Life,” spoke to an audience of more than 200 at Sunday’s S.C. Book Festival at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
Although he has always had the deserved reputation as a writer – not an editor – Conroy explained that his new editor’s role at Story River Books grew out of a relationship with Jonathan Haupt, the director of the USC Press. In writing dozens of introductions to USC Press books, Conroy said, he traded emails frequently with Haupt.
“They were the most literate emails I’ve ever seen ... I started trusting this guy ... He’s one of the best editors anywhere,” Conroy said of Haupt.
Eventually the two hatched the idea of publishing top quality, highly readable works of fiction by writers with strong S.C. ties.
And, Conroy told the audience, he hopes the imprint will turn out to be so successful that it establishes “credit for the university in intellectual areas that attract teachers, writers, and people to this school and state. My hope for it is that it is a place where all writers feel comfortable coming to but we are going to have to build up.”
Conroy made his remarks while appearing on a panel with John Warley, whose novel “A Southern Girl” is the first to be published by Story River Books. Conroy praised Warley, an old roommate from The Citadel, and Conroy was in turn praised by Warley.
“The reason that so many quality manuscripts are coming in, of course, is that Pat’s name is now associated with the imprint,” Warley said. The quality of the press has been elevated enormously because of Pat’s involvement. “
In addition to publishing about 50 scholarly books each year, the USC Press – whose budget is about 20 percent subsidized by the university – already had two existing imprints, one for children’s literature and one for poetry. Story River Books is the Press’s third imprint.
Upcoming Story River novels include one set in Appalachia and another about the burning of Columbia during Sherman’s 1865 invasion. Story River Books has nine other novels and three short story collections in the works for publication between now and the fall of 2015.
Haupt said Story River is open to all kinds of fiction submissions.
“The quality, the literary merits, are more important than any type of genre it might fall into,“ Haupt said.
“We have a serial killer novel we are looking at right now,” he said. “We have some detective novels, we had some thrillers as well.”
Conroy won’t read every single submission to Story River.
“First, they’ll pass through a committee, and if the committee likes them, and they reach their final cut, he sends them to me,” Conroy said.
“I get nothing out of this except satisfaction.’’ He pauses, then throws a kidding jab at Haupt. “Except the deep satisfaction of getting no money from Jonathan Haupt.”
Conroy will write up a report, then send the book back to Haupt, who along with a 12-member faculty advisory board makes a final decision on whether to publish.