What Really Happened?

Brad Dimock calls the run he made through the rapids in a replica of the Hyde's sweep scow "violent and unnerving." "We had helmets and lifejackets, full knowledge of the river, and friend trailing in a motorized rescue boat. The Hydes had none of that. They had wool clothes, leather jackets, and each other."

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Fretwater Press Negotiates the Rapids of Publishing Politics

Whether taking an NPR correspondent whitewater boating or negotiating a co-promotion with W.W. Norton, Brad Dimock goes with the flow.
About 70 years ago, newlyweds Glen & Bessie Hyde disappeared in the Grand Canyon while attempting a record-setting honeymoon rafting trip -- the fastest river trip on the Colorado River, the first through every rapid, and the first by a woman. They made it 600 miles before their boat was found, full of their belongings, just 46 miles from the canyon's end. A massive search failed to turn up any sign of them, and the greatest legend in whitewater navigation was born.

Author and publisher Brad Dimock was so intrigued by the mystery that he spent two years researching facts and legends about the Hydes, and even built a replica of the Hyde's sweep scow--a descendant of a Mississippi flat boat, dubbed "a floating coffin" by one river boatman--and took it down the Colorado River. A twenty-five year veteran whitewater guide, Dimock now thinks he knows what really happened.

His new book about the Hydes and his attempt to replicate their trip is Sunk Without A Sound: The Tragic Colorado River Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde from his own Fretwater Press. (www.fretwater.com). His first book was a 1998 collaboration (with Vince Welch and Cort Conley), The Doing of the Thing: The Brief, Brilliant Whitewater Career of Buzz Holmstrom, which won the National Outdoor Book Award and an "IPPY" Award from this publication.

Dimock was born in Ithaca, New York, went to college in Arizona, and then proceeded to squander his education for more than twenty-five years as a commercial boatman in Grand Canyon, Utah, Alaska, Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. He has written for numerous magazines and has stories in several anthologies.

"I stumbled into writing, editing, graphic design, and publishing at about the same time, when I took over as editor-in-chief of a journal called the Boatman's Quarterly Review," says Dimock. "I found the graphic and layout and pre-press work as fascinating as the writing and editing. This was a little over ten years ago when the digital wave was sweeping the publishing world, and I was in the perfect position to ride that wave."

When his interests began to focus more on publishing than on his former career as a whitewater boatman in the Grand Canyon and around the world, he jumped right into self-publishing the Buzz Holmstrom book. "To be quite honest, it never occurred to me to seek a 'real' publisher for the book, and miss all the fun of publishing," says Dimock.

Buoyed by the success of the first book, Dimock launched into researching the Glen and Bessie Hyde story. During his nearly thirty-year boating career, he had specialized in telling his clients about the history of the rivers and their surroundings, so the transition from boatman to writer and researcher was a smooth one.

"After about two years of research and writing I was again at the point of needing to publish, and again, it never occurred to me to look for a big publisher. I had about 200 images I had scanned on my travels, a completed manuscript, and was still captivated by the ever-more-exciting opportunities my Macintosh, PhotoShop, and InDesign were offering me for layout. At the same time the new POD technology was getting very affordable, and I wanted to try a set of galleys that looked like a real book, which I did."

"I mean, why would anyone give away the most exciting part of creating a book?"

With the new book published, Dimock has pledged one full year to promoting the book. "That is certainly the hardest part of the whole process for a relatively shy guy like myself. It involves being utterly relentless and shameless in pursuing every channel you can imagine, keeping hopes unrealistically high and expectations extremely low, and being ready to jump on any opportunity that so much as peeps over the horizon. It seems that about 95% of what I do has no visible payback, but patience and perseverance are the key to getting anywhere in this business." Brad Dimock with one of the suspected Glen Hydes. The skeleton was found near the South Rim of Grand Canyon with a .32 caliber bullet in the skull.

According to Dimock, there are three main factors involved in the success of a book: the quality of the product; the marketing skill and energy of the author/publisher; and, blind luck.

"We have all seen lame books make it big and great books die on the launching pad. In my case, I did the best I could to make the writing, graphics, and actual book the best I could. I have been utterly relentless in promoting it in every channel that I can imagine. And I have been extremely lucky that, through no skill of my own, the book has caught the eye of several major media outlets--NPR, NBC, Discovery, History, and Travel Channels."

Sunk Without a Sound got a nice publicity boost when NPR Correspondent Howard Berkes and Producer Cindy Carpien joined Dimock on the Colorado River this summer to hear the tale and seek some answers to the mystery. Their two-part Morning Edition report played on Aug. 23 and 24, pushing the book to #23 at Amazon and lighting up sales at his own Fretwater Press website. A Discovery Channel piece is scheduled to run on Sept 12.

The NPR spot has brought on another interesting development in Dimock's promotion plans. It turns out that another book on the Hydes was recently published: Grand Ambition, by Lisa Michaels has just been released by W.W. Norton. Michaels' book is a fictional account of the Hyde's journey, a love story that delves more into personalities than intrigue. When Dimock learned about the book, he contacted Norton's publicity department with the idea of co-promoting the two books.

"They were understandably cool to the idea," recalls Dimock. 'Why,' they asked, 'would we want to devote our limited promotional funds to someone else's product?' What they did not expect was that a small unknown would have a good enough product, the full-time energy to promote it, and the luck to land some high-profile publicity that even the big publishers are envious of."

Suddenly, the co-promotion concept looks far more realistic. Dimock's publicity is helping Norton sell their product (Grand Ambition is mentioned in the NPR website piece, and both books spiked at Amazon after the NPR piece), and from what may have originally appeared to be a one-sided proposal, a win-win proposition has emerged. Norton finally approved a fax campaign to booksellers about the Glen and Bessie craze mentioning both books, with a synopsis of the mystery and quotes from reviews. The one-two punch of both books also spawned an article in the Los Angeles Times this summer.

When asked what it's been like to make the transition from a physical, outdoor job to the relatively sedentary workday of an independent publisher, Dimock waxes poetic. "I still do spend a majority of my time on the river--if only in my mind as a historian. It was an extremely physical job, being outdoors all the time and sleeping under the stars over half the nights of the year. I am not quite sure what snapped, but somewhere between the beginning of the first book and the production of the second, I moved almost entirely indoors, sitting behind a computer, a steering wheel, or a microfilm reader for long hours, with my main outdoor activity being the hike to the mailbox, and schlepping boxes of books to the front room for the UPS man. Oddly, this seems just fine and perfectly natural. I would hate to have it the other way--being cerebral until I am fifty and then deciding to go be extremely active long past my physical prime."