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A Publisher Who Is Pressing the Competition

June 19, 1987|HARRIET STIX

INVERNESS — Last fall, fledgling publisher Philip Fradkin took his first book, "Broken Shore: The Marin Peninsula in California History" by Arthur Cuinn (Redwood Press: $9.95) to the Northern California Booksellers Assn. trade show. The book was, in fact, not due to reach bookstores until January, and on the first morning of the fair Fradkin had only covers to display until his partner, Dianne Brent, rushed in with some copies that had just arrived from the printer by express mail.

It was, he thought, a shaky start for his campaign to compete for attention with the "slickly organized efforts" of the major publishers. Across the way, for example, Prentice Hall had set up several tables of titles--with "Delicious Sex" perhaps the most provocative and certainly more eye-catching than "Broken Shore."

But surely, Fradkin thought, he could get some publicity out of this, and he shot off an essay on his "humble beginnings" in the publishing world to the book sections of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times. When they showed no interest, he sent it to Publishers Weekly, which did.

Promotional Efforts

Getting his story printed there was just the beginning of his promotional efforts, he said. "I quickly put a mailing together--I love to do mailings--and sent it to bookstores with a cover letter saying, 'It was nice meeting you at the book show, this is what I had to say, I hope you order, these are the distributors.'

"It draws their attention to the title, and myself as an editor. I got inquiries from all over the country. Suddenly I was a guru, a rather ignorant guru."

Fradkin defines himself as "a person who writes, publishes and sells books, writes book reviews, and has taught writing." Reading, according to his resume, is a "major interest," and judging from his book-crammed house at the Pacific edge of Marin County, so is buying books.

For the last year, though, publishing has been the "major interest." Starting up a small press is a lot easier now than it was 10 years ago, Fradkin said, because there are more small publishers around. "A small book publisher can come in and fill a vacuum, and can operate without a lot of overhead," he said. "It doesn't take any equipment to start a press."

Fradkin, 51, started out to be a journalist, not a publisher. He grew up in Montclair, N.J., and went to Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. After service in the Army as a draftee, he came to California in 1960.

He was drawn to the West by what he saw as an "image of freedom and independence."

He promptly found a job as a general assignment reporter and display advertising salesman at the little San Carlos Enquirer, moving on to reporting jobs at a small daily in Turlock and then a mid-sized daily in San Rafael.

From the mid-'60s to the mid-'70s, he was a reporter at the Los Angeles Times. "I had a wonderful time, but the (newspaper) format is restrictive in how and what you can say," he recalled. "I am happiest in the medium of books."

The first book he wrote, "California, the Golden Coast," was published by Viking in 1974. His second, "A River No More: The Colorado River and the West" (Alfred A. Knopf, $15.95), came out in 1981.

In 1975, he left The Times to become assistant secretary of the California Resources Agency for a year during the first administration of Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., and then Western editor of Audubon magazine. Since 1980, he said "I have mostly worked for myself. What you can surrender is security, but my needs are very small. I would rather be at the top of my very small hill than halfway up someone else's large hill."

Writes and Teaches

He writes books and magazine articles, mostly on environmental subjects, teaches off and on at the Mass Media Institute of Stanford University and the graduate school of journalism at UC Berkeley, runs his Redwood Press and works part-time in a bookstore.

Currently, he is writing a book about land in the West--working title, "Sagebrush Country"--and is about to redo another one, on fallout from the Nevada test site. He got into publishing, he said, as part of what he described as "the distressing experience" of disagreeing with his publisher on the direction of the fallout book.

Also, he said that "in talking to editors and agents in New York when I go back there, I find a prejudiced, stereotyped vision of the West. They would like to produce things within that context.

"My love of the West is (because) the region is so great, and my knowledge extensive. I am not seeing people back East willing to deal with it on those terms. They have the view of the New Yorker (cover) of everything diminished West of the Hudson."

He has a more directly personal motive, too: "My drive is to become independent. No matter how benign employers are, they are taking your life and effort and giving a minimum amount in return."

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