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Rural Missouri Magazine

On the trail of success
Author Brett Dufur finds niche publishing Missouri books

by Bob McEowen

Brett Dufur
Brett Dufur pauses at a bench along the Katy Trail near Rocheport. Self publishing his first book, “The Complete Katy Trail Guidebook,” gave Brett the experience to launch Pebble Publishing, which specializes in books about Missouri.


Although Brett Dufur is an experienced mountaineer he’d never climbed on ice and snow before this past July 4th weekend. But that didn’t stop him from grabbing an ice axe and attempting to scale Washington’s 14,000-foot Mount Rainier.

Such fearless optimism is no surprise to anyone who knows Brett. He’s been tackling mountains in his professional life for nearly a decade. One only needs to visit the new storefront offices of Pebble Publishing in Rocheport to see how far he’s climbed.

Eight years ago Brett graduated from college with little more than degrees in Latin American studies and journalism and a love of the outdoors. Today, at age 30, he’s the author of several guidebooks, the head of his own publishing company and, arguably, the leading purveyor of books exclusively about Missouri.

“We’ve created a niche where none existed,” Brett says of the publishing company he created with his wife, Tawnee.

Brett didn’t set out to start Pebble Publishing. He was just looking for work when he graduated from the University of Missouri in 1994. Instead of taking a job, he decided to combine the travel experience he gained guiding backpackers in Mexico with his journalism skills and write the first guide to the Katy Trail, the 225-mile hiking and biking trail that was unfolding across Missouri at the time.

From the beginning the Boone Electric Cooperative member envisioned something more than mileage charts, lists of campgrounds and descriptions of bed and breakfast inns.

“I tried to explain to people that there’s more to the Katy Trail than just this 12-foot-wide gravel strip for 225 miles. I tried to give readers a taste for the different communities they’re going to pass through, all of which have very unique personalities of their own.”

With his research completed and his book written, all that remained was to get his work into print. Brett decided to publish “The Complete Katy Trail Guidebook” himself.

“I think there’s two kinds of people,” Brett says. “There’s the kind that start a business knowing exactly what it’s going to take and the other kind, like me, who don’t have a clue and just stumble and fight their way through a sort of workingman’s Ph.D.”

With the sixth edition due to be released, Brett’s book is the definitive guide to America’s longest rails-to-trails project. It has sold more than 30,000 copies and is carried by most bookstores in Missouri as well as national booksellers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.

Brett’s success quickly attracted the attention of other writers. “I was suddenly giving a lot of other authors advice on how to get their books published,” he recalls. “So I said, ‘Hey, I’ll act as the publisher and we’ll get your book out.’”

Thus Pebble Publishing was born. Named to leave no doubt of its size, the business operated from Brett’s apartment, with boxes of books stacked behind the sofa and used as furniture.

Pebble Publishing’s second project was “99 Fun Things to Do in Columbia and Boone County,” followed by “A to Z Missouri: A Dictionary of Missouri Place Names” and “Wit and Wisdom of Missouri’s Country Editors.”

After publishing books by other Missouri authors, Brett again put his own words on paper, co-authoring “Forgotten Missourians who Made History.” He then wrote more guidebooks, including “Exploring Missouri Wine Country” and “Show-Me Mountain Biking.” Current publishing projects include books about Lewis and Clark’s 1804 exploration of the Missouri River. It’s a topic Brett knows well from four months traveling the river on reproductions of Lewis and Clark’s boats.

Whether it’s writing his first book, starting a company or climbing a mountain, Brett often charges in first and discovers the pitfalls and challenges of a project as he goes along.

Occasionally he stumbles. His foray into magazine publishing ended when the Missouri Wine Country Journal folded two years ago. His “River Valley Companion,” a field guide to plants and animals in mid-Missouri, languished on the shelf until he stripped the covers and renamed it the “Katy Trail Nature Guide.”

For the most part, though, Brett’s act-first approach has worked. In addition to distributing 15 titles under the Pebble Publishing banner, the company also distributes other books, including a high school textbook on Missouri history recently adopted by the St. Louis School District.

Missouri Gold Booksellers, a division of Pebble Publishing, carries more than 500 books about Missouri or written by Missouri authors. What had previously been a mail order and Internet-based business recently became a brick and mortar operation when Pebble Publishing relocated its offices and opened a retail bookstore in a historic building located a block away from Brett and Tawnee’s Rocheport home and in sight of the trail which launched the enterprise.

It’s a big step for the couple, who are expecting their first child in October.

“We’ve purposely tried to stay very small,” Brett says. “We realize the niche we want to stay in, publishing books on Missouri, is only so big and you don’t want to get carried away.”

In fact, one might wonder how long a business can last specializing in books only about Missouri. But Brett’s not worried.

“When you look at our bookstore and you see 500 different Missouri-related books you realize, well, I will be writing books on Missouri as long as I’m around,” he says. “There’s a never-ending fountain of ideas in the state.”

For more information write Pebble Publishing, P.O. Box 2, Rocheport, MO 65279; call 1-800-576-7322 or visit www.pebblepublishing.com. You can also visit the bookstore at 205 Central St. in Rocheport.

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