When Doubleday stopped publishing The Plantation Cookbook --the Junior League of New Orleans cookbook--Britton Trice, owner of the Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans, saw a niche that needed to be filled. After all, it was always his store's bestselling cookbook.
"The bean counters at Doubleday thought a couple thousand copies wasn't good enough and let it go out of print," Trice told PW. "I begged the Junior League until they let me pick up the rights, and I published it in 1992. Since then, I've reprinted it three times, with 17,000 copies so far."
Soon after Trice started publishing Plantation, he began noticing what people were paying for first-edition and collectible books. With the help of friend Herb Yellin, owner of the small Los Angeles publishing house Lord John Press, who became "a sort of mentor," Trice voyaged into the world of limited editions. "My first thought was, 'This will be easy,' but it turns out to be a second full-time job," said Trice, who named the company B.E. Trice Publishing. "Just the design work that goes into production gives me a lot more sympathy for production people in publishing. It's amazing how many small details can and do go wrong when you're putting a book together."
The first step in Trice's first-edition process is choosing the author and title. Trice established relationships with visiting authors because the Garden District Book Shop, dubbed "New Orleans' Signature Book Store," is a constant on book-signing tours. New Orleans's famed Anne Rice seemed like the perfect fit for his first selection. In 1994, her Taltos became his inaugural project.
While he has loyalties to Louisiana writers, Trice's main criteria in choosing titles are "Do I love this book?" and, most importantly, "Will it sell?" Trice collectibles range from $150 for cloth-covered books to $275 for the deluxe, full-leather or three-quarter leather, numbered copies. All copies are signed and numbered or lettered.
"It's about preference and salability. It's more filling a niche, but it worked out that it was authors I've met over the years—Anne Rice, Jim Burke, Richard Ford," said Trice. "The first Richard Ford book I did came out and immediately won the Pulitzer, which certainly helped sales." After choosing an author, Trice pays the sub rights department of the publisher a fee and either prints the book himself or buys the book block. Then comes the fun part for Trice.
"The design part is the best because it lets me use my artistic side, instead of the business side I use for the bookstore," said Trice, who works with local artists on cover images and endpapers. "One of my favorites was Michael Crichton's Airframe, about the airline industry. We made a slip case out of brushed aluminum for an airplane theme."
Trice doesn't usually consult the authors of the books, who receive part of the licensing fee as well as six to 10 personal copies from Trice. He's gone to a few authors and asked their opinions of images, but, according to Trice, they usually leave it in his hands. Clive Barker was an exception. The 21st and latest edition to be published by B.E. Trice is Clive Barker's Coldheart Canyon.
"Clive usually works pretty closely with me because he'll have a specific image he wants to use, or he'll create an image for his own book," Trice said. "But not that many authors are so multitalented that they can be an artist or photographer as well."
"I have had a wonderful experience working with Britton," Barker told PW. "He understands and loves books, and he produces wonderful limited editions. I think in a world where stuff is mass produced, the uniqueness of something becomes doubly important."
One of Trice's biggest thrills since he began the publishing endeavor was the limited edition of Cormac McCarthy's Cities of the Plain. "It was exciting. He's known as such a recluse because he doesn't sign much," said Trice. "I flew out to El Paso to meet with him and have him sign the books and, true to his word, the meeting was short and sweet." It paid dividends, however. Cities of the Plain was one of Trice's most successful editions, selling 50 deluxe copies and 300 numbered copies. Most of his editions sell half those numbers.
Trice bought Garden District Book Store nine years ago, and it quickly became one of the most successful stores in the area. Formerly the Maple Street Book Shop in the Rink, Trice changed the name to Garden District and expanded the 400-square-foot store to its current 2,500 square feet. The store's well-received autographings have not only increased the number of signed editions available on the store's shelves but helped Trice meet authors he later published. And so will his limited editions. Trice believes he must be even more selective in choosing future books to publish because he sees a softening in the market. But to the delight of many collectors, that won't stop him.