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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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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