For decades, Georgia native Lewis Grizzard was a Southern institution, penning a beloved column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and turning out 25 books of his patented down-home humor—including Elvis Is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself and If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I’m Gonna Nail My Feet to the Ground—before his death in 1994, at the early age of 47. Thus, it came as something of a surprise to the publishers at NewSouth when Grizzard’s widow, Dedra Grizzard, informed them in mid-2010 that every one of his books was out of print, some for as long as 10 years. Grizzard had published with a number of houses throughout his career, but the rights had all reverted to Dedra, Lewis’s fourth wife, who promised Lewis on his deathbed that she would keep his work alive. In contacting NewSouth, she wanted to know if the publisher would be interested in bringing his books back to market.
For years, Dedra maintained a bare-bones Lewis Grizzard Web site that drew a constant stream of e-mails from fans desperate for his hard-to-find volumes: “I have spent countless hours answering fan mail over the last 17 years,” Dedra told PW in an e-mail, indicating that most want to know why they can’t find Grizzard books on the shelves. “I spent a lot of time looking for publishers,” Dedra said. “They either did not get Lewis, his works, or Southern heritage and traditions, or they were too small to market it, or they wanted to hold the rights. A friend connected me with NewSouth. After we met, I literally felt at home. I had found what I was looking for: they published good books with a dedicated staff committed to excellence.” NewSouth publisher Suzanne LaRosa told PW that the level of activity generated by a very basic Web site suggested to her that the books need to be out again: “We were immediately interested because [Grizzard’s voice] is a unique expression of a particular aspect of southern culture, and his popularity is clearly ongoing.”
NewSouth signed six titles to start and has currently released two: the aforementioned Elvis Is Dead and They Tore Out My Heart and Stomped That Sucker Flat. “We’re selling more Grizzard e-books already than any other e-book we’ve got,” said LaRosa, “so we’ve decided to fast-track the next two titles” as e-books rather than waiting and releasing the e-book at the same time as the paperback. (Those titles will be If I Ever Get Back to Georgia and My Daddy Was a Pistol and I’m a Son of a Gun.) Print runs on the first two paperbacks (Elvis and Tore Out My Heart) ran 3,000 and 4,000 copies, respectively. “We wanted to test the waters,” said LaRosa. “We printed in paperback so it wasn’t very expensive, and we [LaRosa and co-publisher Randall Williams] thought that if we see any good sales activity, it wouldn’t be difficult to reprint.”
Marketing plans include a spruced-up version of Dedra Grizzard’s Web site and last October’s first annual Grizzard festival in the author’s hometown of Moreland, Ga. In addition, Dedra Grizzard is talking with Cracker Barrel restaurants about carrying her husband’s books, and is also in negotiations to get Grizzard's radio shows rerun by a major Georgia broadcaster. An update of the Grizzard museum in Moreland is also in the works. She’s also pushing a range of merchandise, from CDs and DVDs to a traveling one-man-show, “Lewis Grizzard: In His Own Words,” in which actor Bill Oberst, Jr. channels the storyteller who sold out speaking engagements throughout the South for 10 years. Dedra reported that “In His Own Words” has played to more than 800 sold out audiences.
Dedra said that “working with Suzanne has been a gift. I was with Lewis when he worked with his New York publishers and he faced countless nightmares. But she gets it! I really could not be happier.”