The Espresso Book Machine: A Savory Vehicle for Sacramento Area Authors

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG)  |  Story and photo by Andrew Rose
  Share this pic with friends!

Watching the EBM, one is reminded of the Everlasting Gobstopper machine from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - Three hundred eighty authors and counting have published their works through I Street Press at the Sacramento’s Central Public Library.  On the second floor one will find the Espresso Book Machine (EBM).  This isn’t a venue for selling lattes to local bookworms.  On the contrary, the EBM is state of the art machinery, and is budding writers’ self-contained means of making their work known.

The first EBM was unveiled at the New York Public Library in 2007.  Now more than fifty such contraptions exist in such far flung locations as Johannesburg and Abu Dhabi.  Sacramento’s unit, installed in 2011, is one of only two EBM’s in California.

The machine occupies the space of two storage freezers one might have in their garage.  But it’s a heck of a lot more interesting to watch.  Witnesses marvel as a book is molded and formed before their eyes.  This includes binding the text to a cover with hot glue.  Watching the EBM, one is reminded of the Everlasting Gobstopper machine from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  A 300-page volume takes about five minutes to print.  Like the Everlasting Gobstopper, a single, self-contained unit comes out at the end.  It’s literally hot off the press.  Wonka’s magical candy was designed to last forever.  Similarly, a new paperback is there for the ages.

On the introductory video for the I Street Press, Rivkah Sass, Director of the Sacramento Public Library, describes the appeal of the EBM.  “Most of us have a book inside us,” she proclaims.  “And I Street was really about how do we, as the library, become that center of community-based publishing for the Sacramento region.”

Through I Street Press, authors can self-publish.  Before such technology existed, a writer would traditionally send his/her work to a publisher, or possibly fifty publishers, with hopes that one of them would pick up their book.  The sole way for a writer to earn his/her stripes was through a publishing house.  A would-be author could do it alone, but hiring a bookbinder was a costly vehicle.  So-called vanity publishing had a negative implication in its very name.  But now, the ball is in the author’s court, as technology such as the EBM is allowing these individuals greater flexibility with their printed words.  It’s truly changing lives for authors of all levels. 

One individual whose life was enhanced through the I Street Press is Lance Pyle.  Pyle employs the nom de plume Peter Blueberry as the author of The Agency of Obnoxious Laughter.   In the tradition of Shel Silverstein, Pyle combines humorous poetry with illustrations.  I Street Press got Pyle started, and now he has a series of more than twenty poetry books.  Pyle’s career as an architect flourished, and then his life took a dramatic turn when he was diagnosed with throat cancer.  He was forced into retirement and “didn’t have anything to do.”  That’s when Pyle started dabbling with rhymes, accompanied by drawings.  The prolific poet and artist has created his volumes without benefit of writing or art classes.  Pyle says of newfound creativity, “I didn’t know I had it until I had to go find it.”  He has now sold more than 3,000 of his books independently. 

Pyle, as all I Street Press authors, got started through an initial meeting with librarian Gerald Ward.  Ward maintains the I Street Press as a one-person operation.  While each book on the EBM is printed the same way, Ward recognizes that every author’s needs are different.  Some are accomplished writers, while others come to the I Street Press with merely an idea.  No matter where one is in the writing process, Ward is happy to encourage the writer’s endpoint of holding their very own book in his/her hands. 

The initial librarian’s consultation is free of charge.  After assessing the would-be author’s needs, Ward will point the individual in the right direction to get started on their book.  This might include hiring an outside editor or taking a writing class.  Ward states, “Whether 40 or 700 pages, there is a $6 charge per book and 3 cents per page.”  The writer may complete a proof copy as part of the package.  The fine-tuning process continues until the final copy is completed.  The end product is an actual published book, complete with ISBN, copyright, and bar code.  Additional fees for set-up and revisions are arranged between Ward and the author.  The I Street Press is a nonprofit organization.  Fees paid by authors using the EBM are contributions to the library to help maintain its services.      

Those interested in the I Street Press are encouraged to see the process first hand.  For more information, go to www.saclibrary.org/istreetpress.