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Tristan Publishing in St. Louis Park

Tristan Publishing is telling stories and touching lives

Julie Pfitzinger
St. Louis Park Magazine
February 2013


There is no app in the electronic universe that can replicate the heartwarming feeling of opening a well-written book filled with joyful, reassuring and powerful words of hope and inspiration. A book has the ability to touch someone’s life in a deep and meaningful way. This is a story told many times over by Brett and Sheila Waldman, founders of Tristan Publishing, and it is one they are happy to share.

Chapter 1

To fully appreciate the story of Tristan, publishers of popular titles including PEEF the Christmas Bear, A Cup of Christmas Tea and The Next Place, it’s worth going back to the beginning, to Brett Waldman’s childhood in St. Louis Park where his father, local publishing icon Ned Waldman, launched Waldman House Press in 1978 around the family kitchen table. However, Brett’s introduction to the book business actually occurred several years earlier.

“My dad and my uncle started their business, The Bookmen, in 1962,” says Brett of the well-known Minneapolis book distribution company. “There’s a story that when my parents brought me home from the hospital, they stopped at Bookmen. My dad left me in the car and went inside. Our controller, Viola, stood up from her desk, asked where I was and told him to bring me inside.”

Brett and wife Sheila radiate positivity and enthusiasm, and he laughs as he tells the story. “I literally grew up in the book business. I’d pack boxes, put stickers on books, sweep, all kinds of things,” he says. “We used to hand-count our inventory. I’m not that old, but I have the grandpa stories.”

Fast-forward a few years, and Brett was working with his father at Bookmen and Waldman House Press. Waldman House Press was launched in 1978 and was the publishing house behind titles including the classic A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg and Warren Hanson, which has sold 1.7 million copies to date. The Waldmans reveled in their role in the bookselling community, so it was particularly bittersweet that in 2002, the 40th anniversary of Bookmen, they decided to sell to Ingram, a larger book distribution company.

Chapter 2

The conclusion of the Bookmen chapter led to the beginning of the next. Brett Waldman launched Tristan Publishing (Tristan is his middle name), eventually landing in a humble warehouse space in Golden Valley, not far from where the company is located today.

Brett and Sheila, who now live in St. Louis Park’s Fern Hill neighborhood, met shortly before the sale of Bookmen and vividly recall their first book show six months after the launch of Tristan, using Sheila’s card table and carrying only one title, the auspiciously named Beginning by Warren Hanson. A year later, they purchased Waldman House Press from Brett’s father, significantly expanding their list of titles.

“To carry on my dad’s legacy in the publishing business is a great honor,” says Brett of his dad, who passed away in December 2011 at the age of 78.

Chapter 3

The plot thickens as Brett and Sheila began to build their own company, book by book.

Sheila, who had worked in corporate America, is now “vice president of relationships” at Tristan; the pair, who literally receive thousands of manuscripts each year—typed, faxed, emailed and even handwritten—say they are honored by all the stories they are privileged to read, but they nonetheless adhere to a very methodical three-step process to decide which books will become part of the Tristan family.

First and foremost, the story must fit their mission “to touch hearts and lives,” says Sheila. “If we experience what we call ‘sweet tears,’ we know we’re on to something.”

“From there, we have to love it so much that it’s hard for us to tell someone how much we love it,” Brett says. He says that he and Sheila are careful not to discuss a manuscript until both have spent time with it, although they admit that “nine out of ten times” they agree on whether it has a future at Tristan.

Aside from reaching people emotionally, the duo knows they also have to base decisions in reality—will the book resonate with enough people that it will sell? Since the Waldmans pride themselves on attention to detail for each title—from images, photos and design to embossing and paper quality, not to mention marketing—the investment of time and money is significant.

Asked about the state of the publishing business, Brett admits it is a world which has “changed radically.” He says the Tristan team, which also includes controller Roger Challman and customer relations manager John McCarthy, is keeping their eye on electronic publishing, but they don’t feel their books belong in that milieu just yet. s Sheila says, “An app doesn’t bring a tear to your eye.”

For Brett, who acknowledges that he has the book business running through his veins, the future of Tristan Publishing continues to be all about touching lives and marveling over stories from readers who share with the couple, via letters or at book events, how much one of the Tristan titles has meant to them.

“We have people come up to us holding one of our books in their hands and telling us how the story has impacted them,” Sheila says. “Our lives have been blessed by so many people who allow us into the most intimate moments of their lives.”

“We have come so far, yet we feel like we’re just at the beginning,” Brett says. “We just want to continue to touch people through our books. It’s our passion and it’s such a blessing.”

Ruth Bachman

Growing through the Narrow Spots (February 2013)

This month, Ruth Bachman officially joins the Tristan family with the publication of her first book. She says the support and encouragement the Waldmans have provided throughout the entire process has been “amazing.”

A cancer survivor who lost her dominant left hand to malignant soft-tissue sarcoma almost 10 years ago, Bachman hopes that her story, with its powerful imagery, will inspire others to “breathe in the grain of sand in their own lives and allow it to irritate some aspect of their experiences,” for as she says, “in an oyster, the irritation of a grain of sand is what produces the pearl.”

A gifted speaker who has been sharing her survival story for several years, Bachman discovered that crafting the book proved to be more challenging than she expected and she credits the Waldmans for allowing her to participate in every step of the creative process.

“I gave them 10 CDs of photos, which they painstakingly went through. I’m not someone who can look at 1,000 pictures and choose 20, so they were so helpful,” she says. “Their goal is to create the finest product they possibly can, and it shows in their attention to detail.”

View Biography

Joan Steffend

And She Sparkled: Peace In Peace Out

Joan Steffend still sounds surprised that Brett and Sheila Waldman were so enchanted with what she calls her “autobiographical metaphor” and saw the spark in her first book, And She Sparkled.

“Really, I had no idea that I was writing anyone’s story but my own,” says Steffend, a former KARE-11 news anchor. “It’s been so gratifying to have so many people come up to me at book signings and say, ‘I can’t believe you wrote my story.’ ”

With the publication of Peace In Peace Out, part journal and part inspirational book, Steffend, a co-founder of the nonprofit Peace Begins with Me, has become even more convinced that the Waldmans, with whom she has now worked shoulder to shoulder for more than three years, have “wide-open hearts” and care deeply about not only their readers, but their authors as well.

“They really do consider all of us part of their family,” Steffend says.

View Biography

Jodi Hills

Ten titles including Slap on a Little Lipstick … You’ll be Fine, Home and I Am Amazed

Not only does prolific artist and writer Jodi Hills feel like part of the Tristan family, she also values her friendship with the Waldmans so much that her 2010 title, friend, features fun photo-booth shots of the trio on the back cover.

“We really are friends. We’re not just saying the words, we’re living them,” Hills says. “It’s work that we’re doing, but we’re having fun, too.”

Connecting with fans of her books and her artwork also serves as a source of inspiration for Hills. “The best compliment for me is when people share their own stories with me. It’s a beautiful gift,” Hills says. “In this life, we are all trying just to have a good day and be happy.”

View Biography

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