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Watching the Ripples Spread

Columbia Missourian, October 8, 1998

By NICHOLAS GARZIA -- Missourian staff writer

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New York is the publishing capital of American, but the work of one mid-Missouri company is making Rocheport the publishing capital of Missouri.

    Brett Dufur founded Pebble Publishing four years ago and chose to locate his small business to Rocheport.

    "It's a perfect town for what we're doing," Dufur said. "It's so centralized in the state and close to Columbia you can't beat the location."

    It's also close to the state park that originally enticed Dufur to take a chance in the publishing business. Before graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia’s Journalism School in 1994, he was a reporter for the Columbia Missourian and started to work on a guidebook to the Katy Trail, called The Complete Katy Trail Guidebook. After graduation, he completed the book and decided to publish it himself.

    "I had studied abroad in Mexico and Costa Rica, so I had traveled enough to have a pretty good idea what made a good guide book," Dufur said.

    With the help of a printer in his home town of North Kansas City and a friend who marketed the book as part of his master's project in marketing, Dufur was able to initially print 2,000 copies of his "The Complete Katy Trail Guidebook."

    "When the book came out, the trail was underwater," Dufur said in reference to the floods in the spring of 1995. "But surprisingly, that didn't seem to matter because we sold 2,000 copies in the first two months."

    With a second printing, he sold a total of 4,000 copies during the first year. The support and interest in his guidebook hooked him into what has become his passion ever since.

    He attributed much of the success of the guidebook to the popularity of the trail and immense charm of the towns it passes through.

    "Let’s face it, it’s not like someone is going to get lost on the trail. What the book does is get beyond the 185-mile gravel strip across our state, and introduces the reader to the many amazing and interesting people and towns they are going to discover along the way."

    "Visiting these small river towns is almost like going back in time . . . there’s a slower pace of life there, that many people can appreciate," Dufur said.

    The guidebook became the cornerstone in Dufur's publishing enterprise, and, the 192-page book, now it its fourth edition, continues to be the most popular guide to the Katy Trail State Park.

    When Dufur looked for a place to put his business in place, he remembered one of the towns that struck him most when he was writing his book.

    "When I was doing the guidebook, I was thinking about which town I wanted to live in," Dufur said. "Then one night right at dusk I was in Rocheport at the tunnel taking pictures, and there was a friendly lady who lived in town taking a leisurely ride on the trail, and my mind was suddenly made up."

    So Dufur chose Rocheport’s relaxed pace, proximity to the Missouri River, and towering bluffs to establish his business. His location has led to another Katy Trail related book, called The River Valley Companion-A Nature Guide, which is what Dufur refers to as ‘the nature guide for the rest of us.’

    Three years of hard work went into the book, which he co-authored with fellow Pebble author Brian Beatte, also of Rocheport. Many others also lent their own particular knowledge of Missouri flora and fauna to make it a very complete guide.

    "It is an extensively illustrated book identifying the most commonly seen birds, trees, wildflowers, animals, plants, bugs, fossils, and butterflies seen along the trail. There’s even sections on geology, how to read the river and how to read the sky," Dufur said.

    Dufur has seen interest in his Missouri books grow from around the state, and even from around the country.

    "People will call to order the guidebook from, say, Colorado or California, and they’ll ask, ‘How’s the trail?’ and I say, ‘Let me look out the window and I’ll tell you.’ They sure get a kick out of that."

    "In fact, that’s why I went with the name Pebble Publishing. In a day and age when Corporate America is trying to sell personal attention, I found our size to be our strength," Dufur said. "So why hide that."

    Dufur said the small size of the company is its greatest asset. He can promise the personal attention that larger companies cannot.

    However, Pebble Publishing’s staff of three, along with a dozen freelancers is large enough to handle any size project, whether that’s working on an updated edition of one of this books, like Exploring Missouri Wine Country, or working on a freelance 4-color brochure or web site design for a client.

    "I really believe what makes us successful is that we can write it, design it and get it to the printer. We believe in high speed, low drag," Dufur said.

    Pebble Publishing now offers 10 Missouri-related titles, ranging from Wit & Wisdom of Missouri’s Country Editors and A to Z Missouri: Dictionary of Missouri Place Names, to Forgotten Missourians Who Made History, Missouri Ghosts: Spirits, Haunts and Related Lore, Exploring Missouri Wine Country, and their latest book: Show Me Mountain Biking.

    When asked how he decides to do a book, Dufur refers to Joan Gilbert's Missouri Ghosts: Spirits, Haunts and Related Lore.

    "(Gilbert) had a book she wanted to write all her life, so I decided to take a chance," Dufur said. "I’ve never really given ghosts too much thought. But that sure changed after working with Joan. Even if you’ve never believed in ghosts, this book will have you looking over your shoulder. What makes her book special is she’s found ghost stories from around the state, that even happened to people that refused to believe in ghosts, but who had no other possible solution for some truly incredible happenings. The interest her book has generated has completely eclipsed my wildest expectations."

    Dufur said he enjoys the different roles of writer, editor and publisher. The variety helps his business and keeps him challenged.

    "You just really have to diversify to succeed," he said. "The trick is you shouldn't over diversify. The thing that makes me satisfied is that we're going to stay small. Our challenge is to stay as small as we possibly can. We are diversifying, but are still essentially staying within our niche."

    For the 1999 season, Dufur is working on a new book to Columbia entitled Daytrip Columbia, as well as Show Me Romance, authored by Kate Kogut, of Columbia.

    In addition to books and freelance work, Dufur recently purchased Missouri Gold Booksellers, from Bill and Virginia Higdon, of Columbia. Missouri Gold Booksellers is a discount, mail-order distributorship of more than 450 Missouri related books, which caters to schools, libraries and individuals.

    Dufur also recently purchased the Missouri Wine Country Journal, formerly published by the Wein Press of Hermann. This upscale, four-color magazine is published each spring and fall, and showcases Missouri wine country to enthusiasts from around the country.

    As a business person, a trade for which Dufur has no formal training, he said he's still learning.

    "I consider this my living business degree," he said of his work with his company. "Sometimes it's really frustrating, but I wouldn't give it up. The highs are too high. It's definitely a lifestyle more than a job."

    In the frustrating times, he looks to the greatest Missouri writer for encouragement.

    "Mark Twain has a saying that I always keep in mind: 'All you need to be assured of success in this life is ignorance and confidence.' I really took that to heart," Dufur said.

    Part of the way Dufur equates his success is in the way many people appreciate his books.

    "I met one couple that told me they moved to town [Rocheport] after reading my guidebook," he said. "That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard. That's what I love about our name (Pebble Publishing). It reflects my belief that what I’m doing here is reaching people – like with a pond, if you drop in even a tiny pebble, you will see ripples."

    One of those ripples made it all the way to his heart. When writing and photographing the book Best of Missouri Hands, a publication that highlighted the work of many Missouri artists, he met Tawnee Brown, the daughter of one of the artists. They are to be married in October.

    For the long run, Dufur is planning to move his business from the top of Second Street to a 102-year-old building in the center of Rocheport. He plans to be there for a while, carefully steering his business into the future.

    "To stay interested, you have to find a way to challenge yourself," Dufur said of his work with Pebble Publishing. "It's the kind of thing I enjoy, and if I end up doing this all my life, I'd be tickled pink. The one thing I'm sure about, I'll always be publishing Missouri books... a thousand books await."

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Pebble Publishing, Inc. & Missouri Gold Booksellers

www.pebblepublishing.com        pebblepublishing@gmail.com

Phone: (573) 698-3903     Fax: (573) 698-3108

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 2, Rocheport, MO 65279

Physical Address: 205 Central Street, Rocheport, MO 65279


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