Monday, January 7, 2013

Spotlight on Author/Publisher Tony Dierckins

I'm not sure of when I'd first become aware of Tony Dierckins. I'd heard of his first best seller The Duct Tape Book through the media years ago, but the names of the authors didn't register at the time. But this past year his name came up on more than one occasion as a local publisher who made good and lived here in the Northland. While doing Christmas shopping I noticed his book Lost Duluth prominently displayed on an endcap and made up my mind to see if I could reach him for an interview. He's a man with ample advice who understands what's involved in today's publishing world. My only regret is that I didn't snap his picture when we met.

EN: How did you first get into publishing?

Tony D: I went to work for a small publisher located in the western suburbs of Minneapolis in 1988, right after finishing undergraduate school. The owner was a petty, abusive little man. When I started publishing books, he was my role model for how not to run a publishing house.

EN: Tell me the story again of how Who Packed Your Parachute? came to be?

TD: Long before that became a book, co-author Danny Naslund and I attended graduate school together. He has a very absurdist sense of humor. We had a running gag going about “working on our résumés.” You know, “I’m working on my résumé—are you supposed to capitalize ‘larceny’?” Stuff like that. Later, when Tim Nyberg and I started Bad Dog Press, which often parodied self-help books, I realized Danny and I had in our heads a rough draft for a parody of What Color is Your Parachute?

EN: Were you surprised when your Duct Tape book achieved national acclaim? What were the keys that made this book a stand-out? Have any of your other humor books reached this kind stature?

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TD: Well, Tim Nyberg (co-creator) and I both believed that the basic joke—you know, essentially “instead of doing it right, do it with duct tape—was already an inside joke to most Americans, so the success of that book we half expected. We did not expect that we would end up putting out a half dozen books and about ten years of Page-A-Day calendars. I basically ended up writing the same joke about 2,000 times. The key to that book, I think, is the “one-joke-per-page” format along with the simple fact that it was the ideal gift book for a man of just about any age. As far as “stature,” the Duct Tape projects very much eclipsed our other humor efforts. And remember, that was the 1990s, when the internet was in its infancy. A lot of the stuff we put between pages then would end up as a website today. There aren’t many humor books similar to those we did 15 years ago being published today.

EN: You stated that a lot of writers (and wanna-be writers) have unrealistic expectations when they come to you for advice. Where do these ideas come from and what are the biggest misconceptions they have?

TD: The basic misconception is this: all you have to do is publish a book and it will magically sell millions of copies and allow you to quit your job and write full time—that is, if you have time to write with your new glamourous lifestyle and celebrity friends. A lot of it comes from the media. People read, for example, that a former president got a $20 million advance for a book deal and assume that all book deals come with a huge cash advance. They don’t understand it’s all about marketing and publicity and distribution—no matter how good a book is, it won’t sell if no one knows it exists. I have actually had potential self-publishing clients ask me what color clothes they should wear on “Oprah” and when they should “expect” to see their book on the New York Times’ bestseller list. No one seems to understand that writing is just plain hard work, and publishing a profitable book in this day and age is even harder.

EN: You also write serious books about regional history. When did local history become a passion for you? Who or what were your chief influences?

TD: I was pretty tired of the humor thing by the late 90s. When I left a teaching job at the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2001, I dusted off an idea for a regional guidebook focused on all things locally owned or free. It was called True North and I added some things I had discovered about Duluth that I thought reflected the idea of “true north.” Some of those tidbits were history related, like the fact that the lift bridge didn’t lift at all for the first 25 years it existed, and that sparked an interest. Soon after that, I stumbled across the lithographic postcard collection of Duluthian Jerry Paulson, which gave me the idea for Zenith: A Postcard Perspective of Historic Duluth—a full color history book. I had help researching by Maryanne Norton, whose own passion for Duluth’s history was contagious. The research for that project pulled me deeper into Duluth history, and I found myself endlessly fascinated by the stories—and felt compelled to share them with others. Today, besides helping others self publish, my work life is pretty much consumed by this region’s history, and I’m never bored by it.

EN: Do you still collaborate with Tim Nyberg? What are the benefits of collaboration?

TD: No, Tim and I dissolved our partnership in the late 1990s—but it was a very friendly split and we remain in contact. He still does the Duct Tape thing (Tim and his brother-in-law Jim Berg are “Jim & Tim, the Duct Tape Guys”), but has many other interests and is a fine visual artist—who has a hard time keeping his sense of humor out of his art! I find collaborating difficult, likely because I am a writer first, and to me that’s very much a solo endeavor (and why I stopped writing plays.) It was much easier with the humor books, because those were made up of brief bits that had their own “schtick” to follow. So that was fun, and it wasn’t just working with Tim but also with Danny Naslund and Scott Pearson (Rubber Chickens for the Soul). But Danny’s real love is teaching and songwriting and Scott is a fantastic science fiction writer and copy editor. Humor was not something we aspired to professionally, so working on those books with friends that shared a sense of humor was very fun.

EN: Where can readers find out more about your books and follow what you are up to?

TD: At Zenith City Online []. Zenith City is an online publication celebrating historic Duluth, Western Lake Superior, and Minnesota’s Arrowhead. We publish about 10-15 stories a month, plus each day I write a “This Day in Duluth History” piece. The site includes a fully researchable history archive with ten categories and approaching 1,000 topics and histry-related resources for readers. There you will also find Zenith City Press, which publishes regional books with a historic emphasis written by myself and others. Our latest book, Lost Duluth, was written by myself and Maryanne Norton and released this past May; in the spring of 2013 we will release Tall Ships in the Zenith City.

1 comment:

My Inner Chick said...

Great Interview. Superb questions.

I wonder if he'd publish my book when I'm finished!

I'm looking for a publisher.

I thought I'd send it to Oprah, too.

I want to quit my day job.

Love this!