Tristan Publishing in St. Louis Park
Tristan Publishing is telling stories and touching lives
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.
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.
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.
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.”