Evangelical Publisher Goes Fly Fishing

A recent Judson Press offering helps illustrate the far-reaching popularity of fly fishing books. They've just published ALL I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MINISTRY I LEARNED FROM FLY FISHING, by Myrlene L.J. Hamilton.

The author weaves together her love of ministry with her passion for fly fishing in this spiritual guide for those called to pastoral ministry. An experienced pastor, with positions in fly fishing states like Washington, Oregon, Alaska and California, Hamilton's "fish stories" bring a unique approach to this field of publishing.

Judson Press is the publishing arm of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.


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The Lyons Press: Fishing for Great Literature - and Niche Marketing Success

Nick & Tony Lyons use marketing savvy to keep their press vibrant in a changing world

Nick Lyons is an independent publisher and a fly fisherman--two of the world's most challenging pursuits, you might say, and he'd probably agree. "Fly fishing is my curse," says Lyons, who founded Lyons Press in 1984. "I love it, and I've written about it for 35 years."

To look at the Lyons Press list, it appears he loves being a publisher, too. Reflecting the interest and expertise of its founder, Lyons Press originally focused on publishing outstanding fly fishing books. In time the company's list was broadened to include books on golf, skiing, backpacking, hiking, natural history and adventure. They published Jon Krakauer's first big mountaineering book, Eiger Dreams, and many other classic outdoor adventure titles.

In 1997 Tony Lyons, Nick's son, became president and publisher. Under his leadership, the company changed its name from Lyons & Burford and launched an expansion effort that nearly tripled the size of the company in three years and raised their annual offering of titles from about 60 to 200.

One major breakthrough was partnering with large sporting organizations to publish "branded" outdoor books. L.L. Bean, Field & Stream and The Orvis Company have all published series of books with Lyons, and all are doing very well. Reprints of older, nostalgic outdoor titles and books originally published in England have also broadened the backlist. "Tony has taken over, and really made great things happen, both with the number of new books and the accuracy of his choices. The company is in good hands," says Nick.

In January 2001 the press was acquired by The Globe Pequot Press, another strong publisher and distributor of travel and outdoor books, with a current backlist of more than 3,000 travel, sports, and recreation guides. This alliance has proven very beneficial, giving Lyons Press additional coverage it needed to expand.

"Niche publishers like ourselves must spend a lot of time, money, and energy on specialized marketing to succeed. I repeat, you must do it to succeed," stresses Lyons. A great breakthrough that came from the Globe Pequot alliance was their network of field reps working hard to reach areas like the Rocky Mountain region, calling on specialty shops ranging from convenience stores to sporting goods, clothing, and tackle shops.

Lyons lists specialty catalogs and the Internet as other lucrative areas of opportunity for independents. The popularity of his favorite sport has even led to fly fishing book wholesalers, handling some 300-400 active titles.

"So far, it doesn't seem to be an exhaustible field," says Lyons, though he notes things have leveled off somewhat after a huge upsurge that coincided with the popularity of the movie version of A River Runs Through It. Fly fishing books are being written by women, by mid-lifers, by celebrities and unknowns. "It's the kind of sport that's quite difficult to learn, and those that take it up usually stick with it."

"We've had a very nice run, but it's been a lot of hard work from a marketing standpoint. We've done what the big houses don't do, which is take the extra effort to attract the specialty market, making contacts and building relationships. Also, we've worked very hard to get the right review list. We identify the book reviewers that know fishing, and also the sports writers who are likely to write about books."

Lyons is also proud of his company's editorial efforts, which also requires extra effort compared to that of big houses that deal only with well-known authors. "It's a different game altogether when you do such specialized books as we do. We have to be very careful."

Some of the big sales successes over the years have come from great writing; others have come from well-presented, needed information. The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom, a dramatic story of escapees from a Soviet labor camp who trek through the Gobi Desert and over the Himalayas, and the 144-page Practical Fishing Knots have both achieved six-figure sales numbers.

Nick Lyons's most recent editing project is a treasury of "fishing yarns" by one of the godfathers of fishing literature, Robert Traver. Traver is the nom de plume of John Voelker, who stepped down from a State Supreme Court bench in his fifties to concentrate on fishing and writing, and is best known for Anatomy of a Murder, which was made into a popular movie starring Jimmy Stewart. Lyons edited Traver's Trout Magic while at Crown in 1974, and the two became friends.

Traver on Fishing ($29.95 hardcover, Sept 2001) is a joyous look at angling, with introductions to the colorful characters who shared his favorite fishing spots, especially his own "Frenchman's Pond" in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It is a beautifully produced book and a perfect tribute to Voelker, who died in 1991 with eleven books to his credit. Last year, Lyons edited a similar book of Hemingway's writings on fishing.

An excerpt from Nick Lyons's introduction to Traver on Fishing:

"John's themes are especially poignant and challenging today, when fly fishing has become so high-tech, such big business: keep the roads to your private pond unimproved, respect the myriad mysteries of the natural world, avoid cities, avoid deceit and pretension, don't put too much trust in technology, lie only to protect your favorite spots."

From Trout Madness:

"The true trout fisherman is like a drug addict; he dwells in a tight little dream world all his own, and the men about him, whom he observes obliviously spending their days pursuing money and power, genuinely puzzle him, as he doubtless does them. He prides himself on being an unbribed soul. So he is by way of being a philosopher, too, and sometimes he fishes not because he regards fishing as being so terribly important but because he suspects that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant. Under his smiling coat of tan there often lurks a layer of melancholy and disillusion, a quiet awareness-and acceptance-of the fugitive quality of man and all his enterprises. If he must chase a will-o'-the-wisp he prefers that it be a trout. And so the fisherman fishes. It is at once an act of humility and small rebellion. And it is something more. To him his fishing is an island of reality in a world of dream and shadow...Yet he is a species of unregenerate snob, too, and it pains him endlessly even to hear the name King Trout linked in the same breath with bass, pike, muskies, or similar representatives of what he is more likely to lump ungenerously as members of the lobster family."

Though the Lyonses choose their titles and authors carefully, they are adventurous when it comes to literature about the outdoors. "I just love fiction," say Nick, a former professor of English at Hunter College. "We've even published poetry." Examples: Big Water: Poems by John Engels puts the dramatic life of anglers and their waters into verse. A new fiction release, The Run to Gitche Gumee ($22.95 hardcover, Nov 2001) by veteran novelist Robert F. Jones is part outdoor adventure novel and part war memoir, with "ribald humor, eccentric characters, and a deep understanding of both human nature and the natural world."

"It's a very strong combination, human emotions and the outdoors. There's an appeal for stories about individual effort and exploration. We're fascinated to read about the testing of one's limits, the testing of one's skills," says Nick.

Thankfully, Nick and Tony Lyons continue to push the limits of outdoor adventure publishing, and are committed to bringing an exciting world of literature to their readers.