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Workman's Y2K Challenge
Edited by Judy Quinn -- 3/6/00
Its upcoming repackage of a hot year 2000 calendar from Britain defies the rules

According to conventional publishing wisdom, the primary sales push for a calendar begins long before the end of the prior year.

But convention didn't deter Workman, which is now crash pubbing for an April/Mother's Day release of a six-figure first printing of The Ladies of Rylstone Calendar, a U.S. version of the year 2000 calendar featuring nude photos of middle-aged women that has been all the rage in Britain and has received worldwide media attention.

Workman has addressed the issue of the late pickup of this product by revamping its calendar to begin with the month of June 2000 and continue to December 2001. The unconventional publishing schedule, explained publicity director Ellen Morgenstern, fits this unconventional product. "This is really not so much a calendar as a phenomenon," she said.

The calendar originally was created by the members of the Rylstone district chapter of Britain's Women's Institute, a national women's social club, as an attention-grabbing way to boost up its annual calendar sales and raise money for leukemia research, a mission that hit close to home, since the husband of one of the group's members died of the disease. The provocative and very atypical calendar photos (taken by another husband of one of the members) took the country by storm, and some 88,000 calendars were sold, raising $500,000 for Britain's Leukemia Research Fund.

A January 23 New York Times article first prompted Workman to find out if rights were available to the calendar, and indeed they were, thanks to Toronto-based agent Bruce Westwood, who now represents the ladies of the club, after a tip-off from a producer friend from 20/20.

As in Britain, the "pinups" are donating all royalties from the new Workman edition of the calendar to charity--both to the U.K. charity it donated to previously and now to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in the U.S. While Westwood wouldn't disclose the advance, he noted that given the unusual nature and high profile of the project, the royalty rate for the deal is approaching that of a book deal, rather than the 5%-8% royalty typical for calendars.

While Workman is arriving at its calendar later in year 2000 than the original, it's providing a bonus: more pictures than the original, since its calendar stretches over 18 rather than 12 months.

Unfortunately, the ladies have said they don't want to do another "pinup" calendar, which gives Workman very little chance to work this franchise beyond this one-shot, crash pub deal.

But, as the appeal of their photos attest, experience is ultimately more important than mere looks. Westwood said he's now working with the women to find a ghostwriter to tell their story. Stay tuned.

'Storm' Chasers

Now swimming alongside Erik Larson's Isaac's Storm, the trade bestseller released by Crown this past fall, are not one but four books from Louisiana-based Pelican Publishing that are related to Larson's topic, the devastating 1900 hurricane in Galveston, Tex.

Once Larson's book hit, Pelican publisher Milburn Calhoun delved into his backlist and announced January 2000 release dates for reprints of Storms, Floods and Sunshine, the autobiography of Isaac Monr Cline, the forecasting pioneer (and Isaac of Isaac's Storm); When the Heavens Frowned by Joseph Cline, brother of Isaac and weatherman in his own right; Story of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane by journalist Nathan C. Green; and The Great Galveston Disaster by Paul Lester.

As might be expected, Texas bookstores have been the strongest supporters of the reprints, as locals either quibble with or want more information than is given in Larson's book. But Hastings also picked the books up not only for its Texas stores but chainwide, which led to the publisher's first-ever display with the chain.

The reprints also bring an opportunity to test the press's new print-on-demand division, Firebird Press, created after a 1998 fire destroyed much of the publisher's inventory. The Great Galveston Disaster and When the Heavens Frowned are Firebird releases, and so far, booksellers haven't frowned on this division's no-returns policy.

To date, Isaac's Storms is Pelican's strongest selling book, with about half of its 5,000

first printing sold. Small numbers compared to Larson's bestersellerdom, but the sales already exceed Pelican's goal, which was to set a first printing that could fulfill orders for a book for two years.

And it isn't the last moment in time to wring some sales out of this fascinating storm. Entertainment Weekly spotted the multi-tie-ins, and its mention of these titles in a recent issue has also led to reorders. Better yet, September will mark the 100th anniversary of the hurricane, with media attention and local events expected to bring a new wave of sales for the Pelican titles as well as Larson's front-running book, which gets a trade paperback release this coming

August. --J.Q.

Tale From the Forest

Many book editors will tell you their authors drive them up a tree. But Harper San Francisco editor Liz Perle really came close: for the upcoming April release The Legacy of Luna, The Story of a Tree, Perle had to hike some three hours into the forest to conduct an editorial meeting at the base of a 1,000-year-old California redwood, and talk via walkie talkie with author Julia "Butterfly" Hill , sitting on a platform 180 feet up.

Hill descended from the home she called Luna on December 18, 1999, two years after she first went up to protest the destruction of the redwoods. She came down a celebrity, featured in Time and People and by every major TV and radio network, the recipient of several honorary degrees and the object of more than 500 pieces of fan mail a day.

Yet, according to Perle, it's not the aura of fame that makes Hill's book truly significant. "This is a title that covers three important bases," she said. "It's a real-life, hair-raising adventure like The Perfect Storm. It's also a landmark civil action: Julia saved Luna and the trees around it when no other tree-sit had ever succeeded before. She is the Rosa Parks of her generation. Finally, this is a business story--one woman against the huge Maxxam Corporation and its strip-logging policies."

The Legacy of Luna is a very personal memoir. It is also an insider's look at how the environmental movement works--who joins it, how it's organized (or not), how a tree-sit is supplied, and why people take on noms-de guerre like "Butterfly." "When you see someone in a tree trying to protect it, you know that every level of our society has failed," Hill writes. "The consumers have failed, the companies, the government."

As an author, Hill now hopes to appeal to the public in a different way than she did in her tree. She will go on a national 10-city tour that will coincide with Earth Day, hold events at schools (kids are among her greatest fans), churches and festivals, and appear on The Today Show and NPR's Fresh Air, among other media. A feature in Elle is due in March. Said Hill: "The action in Luna cut across every barrier, every race, every religion, every age. I want to do the same in the book tour. I hope to bring a message of information and inspiration that will encourage people to become consciously active."

Selling books made of regular paper was not Hill's idea of being consciously active in the cause of forest conservation, and before signing the contract with Harper SF, she insisted the paper be recycled--and investigated the options herself on her cell phone from Luna. The book will be printed with soy-based ink, an additional help to recycling, and all author proceeds will go to the Circle of Life Foundation, which she helped found to promote sustainability and preservation.

"It's often the simplest act in life," Hill said, "that make the greatest change."

--Roxane Farmanfarmaian

'Train' Returns to Texas

It's no wonder that eyes light up in Texas at the news that the University of North Texas Press is now picking up the mission to keep the trilogy begun by Jane Roberts Wood's 1987 debut novel The Train to Estelline in print.

Loosely based on the experiences of Wood's mother as a young teacher on a sprawling West Texas ranch in the early 1900s and initially released in 1987 by Texas small press Ellen C. Temple Publishing, Train swiftly landed on the Dallas Morning News's hardcover bestseller list and remained there for over a year.

And the five-car train that Wood arranged with Burlington Northern Railroad to carry family members, mayors across the route, and friends (including actress Jean Stapleton and syndicated columnist Molly Ivins) from Fort Worth to a salute in the small Panhandle town named in the novel's title has been burnished into the colorful annals of Texas book lore.

But thanks to Barbara Unger, owner of the since-closed House of Books independent store in Dallas, the state-wide excitement Train ignited was noticed by Carole Baron, who then headed Dell. "We had Jane in for a signing," Unger remembers. "I had met Carole at the ABA, and suggested her to me likely interest in acquiring paperback rights. But Jane didn't know Carole, and asked me to call her. I did, and a year later Delta's softcover was also a Morning News bestseller.

Neither Wood, Unger nor Baron, however, were aware then that Train would evolve into a trilogy.

"Readers kept asking what happened to Lucy, my central character," Wood said, "so I continued her story as a newlywed living in Arkansas in A Place Called Sweet Shrub. But in Dance a Little Longer, I returned the couple to Texas, to the town of Anson, and followed their survival during the Depression and the death of their young son." The latter title, she adds, comes from an old Bob Wills song beloved in Texas.

Delacorte published Sweet Shrub in 1990, and it was followed in 1993 by Dance, which was celebrated in the town of Anson at its annual "Cowboy Christmas" tribute. And before Dell put the two titles out of print there last year, combined cloth and paperback sales for each were in the 23,000 range, while those for Train in Delta's now-out-of-print softcover and Temple's still available hardback total 44,000.

University of North Texas Press publisher Fran Vick believes there's still plenty of sales left for Wood's trilogy and, in a letter to reviewers, compared the trio's appeal to that of Jan Karon's Mitford series. The house has started out with 2,5000-copy print runs for each trade paperback in the trilogy.

The reprints could get an extra boost if the film adaptation of Train g s, as planned, by Betty Buckley of Blue Skies Pictures, who has picked up the option from previous holders Disney and Hallmark. Best known as producer of PBS's Emmy-winning Wishbone, she sees the novel as "essentially about hope" and inherent with "wonderful roles for women." Sounding like the diehard fan these books seem to attract, Buckley notes the film's development is "my life's work."

--Bob Summer

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