Brett Waldman has been part of Twin Cities publishing most of his life. What a perfect time for a new start.
Mary Ann Grossmann,
St. Paul Pioneer Press,
Nov. 17, 2002, Page 10E
Brett Waldman was hanging a banner over his booth at the Upper Midwest Booksellers Association's trade show in late September when his cell phone rang. It was his lawyer, telling him he was officially incorporated as TRISTAN Publishing. "That was such a special moment," Waldman recalls. "All the other publishers were setting up their booths, and I was there with my first book."
Waldman, 35, got lots of congratulatory visits and offers of help from other publishers at UMBA because he has been a part of the local literary community since he was in the sixth grade. All his adult life he has worked with his dad, Ned, a former partner in the Bookmen book distributorship and owner of Minneapolis-based Waldman House Press. Father and son, so alike in their outgoing personalities and dapper appearance, were almost always seen together at book-related events in the Twin Cities.
After years of "picking, packing, stickering and sweeping," Brett had worked up to the presidency of Bookmen by the time the company was sold in May. He was also president of Waldman House Press, publisher of two best-selling "Cup of Christmas Tea" books and three about PEEF, the Christmas Bear, as well as other elegant picture books for adults and kids.
Brett had always supposed he'd eventually take over Waldman House, but that didn't happened.
"In working through a plan for me to purchase the company, my father and I realized that it was not meant to be," he says.
"When I realized that Waldman House was not going to be in my life, it was hard to see it as a positive. But now, I know this is the best thing for my dad and for me. I welcome the possibility of having a true father-son relationship, without business on the docket. I'm my own man now. I can spread my wings and do things my way."
In exchange for Brett's ownership share in Waldman House, his dad assigned him the rights to three books, including St. Paul artist/author Warren Hanson's "Beginning." (The book currently carries the Waldman House imprint, but the next printing will bear the TRISTAN Publishing name.)
Brett is delighted that his fledgling company's first book is by Hanson, illustrator of the "Christmas Tea" and PEEF books. In 1998, Hanson wrote and illustrated "The Next Place." To everyone's surprise, his book about the afterlife was soon being read at funerals and in grief groups. After 9/11, volunteers raised money to buy hundreds of copies for families whose loved ones were killed in the attacks.
"Beginning" is a prose poem about how scary and exciting it is to try something new, and Waldman says it's the perfect book to launch a new venture like TRISTAN Publishing.
"This book is simple but profound," he says. "It has a special place in my heart because it was my baby at Waldman House. Warren and I nurtured it for some time, including being together in Canada recently to check the press run. I've known Warren for 20 years, and I'm proud to be his publisher now in the truest sense. I have a tremendous amount going for me by starting with one of his books."
"Beginning" is also meaningful for Hanson, because he's embarking on a new venture, too. He has become a self-publisher with "This House Will Never Be the Same," a new book about the stages of life a family goes through in a house, until the owners grow old and sell it to a new young family.
Hanson has known Brett since 1985, when Waldman House first published "A Cup of Christmas Tea." He says the rights to "Beginning" were given to Brett with his blessing.
"Brett's done a marvelous job in becoming part of the book community locally and nationally, and to have his own publishing company is a great thing for him," Hanson says. "His heart is very much in it."
Waldman's heart has been in publishing since he was a kid.
A native of St. Louis Park, his parents were divorced when he was almost 11. He lived with his mother while he attended Hopkins High, but he and his dad remained close over the years.
Waldman remembers when his father started Waldman House in 1978, with publication of Ron Schara's Minnesota fishing guide. That was one of the three books he took with him from Waldman House, and he expects to bring out an updated and revised TRISTAN Publishing edition in spring.
The third TRISTAN offering will be "The Station," an original poem by Robert Hastings that has never been published in book form.
"This book is a reminder about life's journey being more important than the destination," Waldman says. "It fits my company's mission, which is to publish books with a message, books that make a difference in readers' lives and touch their hearts."
As a second-generation publisher, Waldman realizes that this is not a wonderful economic climate in which to launch a new company. But he's ready for the challenge.
"This is a wild time to take this step, but it never crossed my mind not to," he says. "What else am I going to do? This is my calling. I am a publisher."
And he's ready to make sacrifices. One of his greatest passions is sailing, but his 25-foot sailboat is for sale. He won't be sailing in the Caribbean with his buddies this winter, and he won't be taking any vacations for a while. He rents a little house in St. Louis Park, and that's where he's going to stay.
"Some people think I walked away from the Bookmen with a lot of money. But that was a break-even proposition," Waldman says.
"I'm going to have to pull this together as a one-man band, just like other small publishers I served at the Bookmen. I know it's a tough row to hoe. I've rented a little space with no windows in the back of a warehouse in Golden Valley. My business phone is my cell phone. I had a staff of 130 at the Bookmen, but it's debatable whether I could even fit one helper into my office now."
Waldman says he has set high goals for himself as a publisher.
"You have to persevere and not give up. You have to be hungry and open to possibilities, and you have to know that your role is to create momentum," he says. "And your relationship to authors is critical. I want to bring so much excitement and performance to them with sales and nurturing that they will go home barefoot once a month because I've knocked their socks off."
Finally, Waldman honors the lessons he learned from his father.
"I saw some phenomenal successes at Waldman House because of the creativity and unique approach my dad fostered. I hope I'll be able to bring those same qualities to my press in ways that haven't been done before."
Mary Ann Grossmann can be reached at email@example.com or (651) 228-5574.
Written & Illustrated by Warren Hanson
Imprint TRISTAN Publishing