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20 Years at August House
Bob Summer -- 1/10/00

Two days before Christmas in 1979, Ted Parkhurst delivered the first offerings of a writers publishing cooperative named August House to the post office in Little Rock, Ark. But other than the excitement of becoming a first-time publisher, Parkhurst had no inkling that over the next 20 years the nonprofit venture would evolve into a company with a staff of 10, a backlist of around 100 titles (plus 60 more in audio), $1.5 million in annual sales and a 12% profit margin.

The first year the house offered $25 subscriptions to its list of six 48-page booklets of p try and children's stories, said Parkhurst, an aspiring p t at the time. "Bill and Hillary [Clinton] were charter subscribers," he noted. Parkhurst sold the subscriptions door to door. By 1985 August House had been incorporated as a for-profit firm, with Parkhurst as president and his wife, Liz, as publisher.

August House specializes in folklore and oral storytelling, an emphasis Ted attributes to Liz, who studied folklore in college. Indeed, the house's bestselling title is Laughter in Appalachia, an anthology of Southern mountain humor, first published in 1987 and now in its 12th printing. Parkhurst told PW that 85% of the firm's sales come from folklore and oral storytelling products for all ages. August House is also the sponsor of the National Storytelling Festival, held each fall in Jonesborough, Tenn. But the firm also publishes in other areas: In Full Bloom: Tales of Women in their Prime by Sharon Creeden and Widowed: Beginning Again Personally and Financially by Sharon Trusty, Barry Corkern and Sally Chandler Crisp led the fall list.

Twenty years after Parkhurst, a former president of the Publishers Association of the South, went knocking on the Clintons' door, August House has received a State Business of the Year award and been listed as one of the nation's top 100 independent publishers. "We've come a long way since then," said Parkhurst.
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