Being patient and persistent – as well as nimble -- worked out well this year for Wisconsin Historical Society Press, which succeeded in pulling in a bestselling author who typically publishes with a large New York City house. On November 25, WHSP is releasing From the Big Top: Brief Transmissions from Tent Show Radio by Michael Perry, the author of five nonfiction collections of personal essays published by HarperCollins, including Population: 485; Truck: A Love Story; and Visiting Tom.
Even though Perry signed on with WHSP in July to publish From the Top and sent them the final manuscript on October 1, a deal between the two was a long time coming. “We’ve followed Michael Perry’s work for years,” Kathy Borkowski, WHSP’s director, explained, “He represents what the Historical Society is all about: collecting, preserving, and sharing our stories. It’s a great fit; not to mention, he’s very popular.” Borkowski disclosed that she has "stalked" him for a long time by attending any events in the Madison area that included Perry, a northern Wisconsin resident who often tours with his “roughneck folk” band, the Long Beds, besides doing author tours. Introducing herself every time, she’d tell him every time that “if he ever got tired of the big boys in New York City, we’d be happy to work with him.” “To his credit,” she told PW, “He’d always say, when the proper project comes along.”
Perry, whose last collection, Visiting Tom, a New York Times bestseller, was published in hardcover in 2012, has three projects currently under contract with HarperCollins: his first middle-grade novel, which will be published in fall 2014; his first adult novel that has yet to be scheduled for release; and a nonfiction collection of essays,scheduled for release in 2015. He says that he and his agent approached WHSP to publish From the Top because, while it may appeal to a national audience, it “originates from a tent in northern Wisconsin, which is an unusual place.” Perry has been for the past three years the master-of-ceremonies at Big Top Chautauqua, a seasonal performance space in a huge tent outside of Bayfield, Wisc. that draws both national and regional performers. The summer performances are broadcast live on public radio stations around the country.
But it also came down to time management, Perry says of this collection of essays, which were all originally aired as monologues on Tent Show Radio. Explaining that he, as a self-employed writer with bills to pay, needed to fill the two-year gap between publishing Visiting Tom and his fall 2014 release, Perry told PW that he didn’t want to be “muddying the waters," and short-changing the marketing campaign for either book by promoting two frontlist releases from two different publishers if he had negotiated a 2014 release date for From the Top.
“We’re not known for our speed,” Borkowski said about taking on a project in July for a November publication, describing the efforts made by the press’s 10 full-time employees to produce the book on time. “But if [Perry] wants to work with us, we will jump all over ourselves to make it happen.”
From the Top, which will be released as a trade paper original, has a 15,000 copy first print run. WHSP reports that 4,000 copies are backorders, which, Borkowski says, is greater than some of WHSP’s total print runs for other releases.
“It was everything I’d hoped for from this type of project,” Perry said, “From the quick turn-around to the high quality of the finished product. It was a wonderful-back-and-forth and great energy.”