As publisher of the small publishing program of a nonprofit organization–Appalachian Mountain Club Books–I understand the value of publicity in creating buzz for a new title. But with many priorities competing for my staff’s limited time and resources, I confess we don’t always have the time to go beyond the standard press release and advertising. This past year, however, I realized that effective–and unusual–opportunities for publicity sometimes come when you least expect them. I was given the chance to publicize a backlist title that is close to my heart, and taking full advantage of this opportunity required extra time and effort. In fact, when I say I climbed mountains to publicize this title, I am speaking quite literally.
AMC Books publishes outdoor recreation guidebooks for the Northeast, as well as a few nonfiction titles, including mountaineering histories and adventure narratives. When Rebecca Brown submitted her proposal for Women on High: Pioneers of Mountaineering, I was excited and energized by the stories of early women mountaineers who boldly defied social convention to climb the world’s highest peaks. I signed it, and Women on High developed into a riveting portrait of women whose courage, tenacity, and independence of spirit are inspirational even today. The hardcover was released in November of 2001 and enjoyed favorable reviews, plus recognition by the National Outdoor Book Awards and Banff Mountain Literature Book Awards. I felt good about the attention the book received, but, as happens, the buzz started to taper off, and I wondered what more we could do to bring attention to this great title.
During the development stages of the manuscript, Rebecca and I had had lively discussions about retracing some of the climbs in the book–perhaps an ascent of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak at 15,781 feet and the first peak reportedly climbed by women–in period clothing, including wool skirts, hobnailed boots, and alpenstocks. I never considered the idea feasible. Planning such an expedition was a major undertaking, and certainly more than AMC Books’ budget could support.
Who, Me? Climb the Highest Mountain in Europe?
Then, in September of last year, as we prepared to release the paperback edition of Women on High, a co-worker showed me a recent issue of Couloir magazine (a publication devoted to outdoor adventure) that featured an article about extreme skier Alison Gannett. In the article, Alison referred to Women on High and expressed her desire to recreate the climbs of the pioneering women featured in the book. I visited Alison’s Web site to learn more about her and found an impressive list of her many accomplishments as an extreme skier and mountaineering guide. To my delight, the site highlighted Women on High as an inspiration to Alison. I decided to give her a call to talk about the book.
It was one of the best phone calls I ever made. Alison told me that she planned to recreate the earliest ascents detailed in Rebecca’s book with some fellow extreme sportswomen, highlighting and continuing the story of irrepressible women bucking convention and participating in traditionally “male-centered” sports. One thing led to another, and by the end of the conversation, we had decided to plan an expedition together, with author Rebecca Brown joining the team.
Sure, I thought after hanging up the phone, let’s climb Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe, in heavy, awkward clothing, similar to what the early women mountaineers wore. It will be fun, and great for book sales. What was I thinking? But I knew that such opportunities–not only to generate great publicity for a special book, but to participate in a historic mountaineering expedition with a group of amazing women–don’t come every day. I plunged ahead.
Sponsors Sign On
In January of this year, nearly two years after the hardcover was released and four months after we published the book in paperback, the Women on High: Return to Mont Blanc expedition and publicity campaign was launched at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City. While we were there, we found great interest in the expedition from the outdoor community, and soon enough, sponsors started to sign on. We received overwhelming support and sponsorship from numerous outdoor-gear companies, including Patagonia, Fox River Socks, MSR/Cascade Designs, and Eastern Mountain Sports, and a commitment for an author tour after the climb. Alison made plans to film the expedition for a documentary that would be entered in film festivals. The expedition was turning into a full-fledged media tour, and we were already creating quite a buzz for this backlist title.
Rebecca and I spent the next three months training for this technically challenging climb, taking winter skills workshops offered by the AMC and learning techniques for avalanche and crevasse rescue. At the same time, Alison and I worked to confirm sponsors, pitch media, and finalize expedition details.
In April, Rebecca and I met Alison and Susan Medville, another extreme skier, in Chamonix, France, where we joined the other two women on our expedition team. We spent a week training, acclimatizing, honing our mountaineering skills, and filming the documentary. We each chose a character from Women on High with whom we would identify when we wore our period clothing costumes for photo shoots and filming. We would celebrate these women’s accomplishments by following in their footsteps and bringing their stories to life–and hopefully draw much-deserved attention to this inspirational book.
On Top of the World
Finally, on April 27, we were ready to attempt the summit. Uncertain weather conditions made it impractical and unsafe for us to climb in our period costumes, so we dressed instead in the modern gear that our sponsors had generously donated. The contrast in comfort and performance between the wool skirts we’d worn on our practice climbs earlier in the week and the high-tech gear we wore on the actual climb was striking, and it made us appreciate the remarkable accomplishments of those early women climbers even more.
At 3:00 a.m., roped together, crampons on, we began our climb from a hut high on the mountain, not knowing if we would be able to climb all the way to the summit that day. The air thinned as we climbed higher and higher, and each step seemed a great effort. We simply kept putting one foot in front of another, thinking of the challenges Maria Paradis and Henriette d’Angeville–the first two women to summit Mont Blanc–had faced when climbing in the early 1800s.
Eight hours after we began climbing, we reached the summit. Exhausted, exhilarated, we had a new understanding of the incredible women mountaineers who had come before us. We were standing on top of the world (on top of Western Europe, at least) with clouds forming below us. We unfurled our “Women On High” expedition banner, took photos, and thought for some moments about the little-known pioneers who had stood here in triumph nearly 200 years ago.
When we returned to the hut that evening, we learned that we were the first ones to summit Mont Blanc via the Col du Midi, Mont Maudit route this year–we had accomplished a “first” of our own!
Following the expedition, we received requests for interviews from national radio programs, large-market newspapers, and national magazines, as well as for speaking engagements. An author and film tour is planned for both coasts this fall, with more media to follow. No mere publicity “stunt,” this mountaineering expedition successfully went “above and beyond” and is generating a critical amount of buzz for Women on High, and we’re pleased. While I hope that an international mountaineering expedition isn’t necessary to publicize every AMC Books title, I will always remember this remarkable experience and be sure to keep an open mind to new and fresh ideas, because you never know just how far–or high–they may take you.
Beth Krusi, publisher of Appalachian Mountain Club Books in Boston, was previously the owner and manager of an independent bookstore and a member of the New England Booksellers’ Advisory Board.