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History of NESFA Press

(Notes towards an article by Mark L. Olson.)

Indexes published starting in 1966? An outgrowth of the MITSFS indexes?

The first NESFA Press hardcover book was a Boskone Book, Scribblings by L. Sprague de Camp, was published in1972 and was edited by Bill Desmond. Boskone Books became an annual tradition. See a list of all NESFA Press books in order of publication. Boskone books were small-sized (5-1/4" x 7-1/4") for many years.

Most years saw the publication of two titles: A Boskone Book and an index. The typical Boskone Book press run was 500-700 copies. A few copies of each Boskone Book were rebound in leather on an advance subscription basis only. These are known as the ‘finebound’ edition and typically only a half-dozen or so were produced.

By the late 70s, Boskone Books were typeset at Typotech just outside Harvard Square. Typotech was a remarkable institution, a print shop with typesetting equipment you could rent by the hour. The units looked vaguely like modern PCs, but used 8" floppies holding 64K of data and had a special-purpose operating software package. Raw ASCII text was fed in on paper tape (created on minicomputers, mostly) and then edited on these special-purpose gadgets. Once the proper control codes were entered, another program would break the text into justified lines and produce an output disk. The output disks were handed to the Typotech staff which ran them through a phototypesetter, yielding long galleys of stinky photo paper. These would be cut and pasted up by hand and then shipped to the printer.

A combination of bad luck and the approach of Noreascon Two (the 1978 Boskone GoH was John Brunner who wanted to do an alphabet book of cartoons, Tomorrow May Be Even Worse; the 1979 GoH was Frank Herbert who didn’t want to do a book at all; the 1980 Boskone was a deliberately scaled-down affair and no GoH book was planned) created a hiatus in Boskone Book publishing. This might have killed the program, but a book (Better Than One) was done for Noreascon Two, and Chip Hitchcock organized a last minute rescue to do a Boskone Book for Tanith Lee (Unsilent Night) the GoH in 1981.

Through the 80s, the Boskone Books grew thicker, but stayed the same small size. Additionally, NESFA did several Worldcon books. The main change was in the typesetting technology: in the early 80s, NESFA members wrote line-justification software for the VAX and all of book production moved to VAXen except for the final output to galleys which was still done at Typotech. The last book to have been done at Typotech was Grand Master’s Choice, the Noreascon Three book.

In 1991, Mark Olson proposed doing a non-Boskone Book, The Best of James H. Schmitz in standard hardcover size (5-1/2" x 8-1/2"). This, the first of the NESFA’s Choice series, was moderately successful and most recent NESFA Press books have been of that series.