By Dianne Edwards

Being part of the New Mexico Book Co-op doesn’t cost its members anything, and that’s not the only reason why over 900 authors, publishers, and booksellers are happy to be members. The New Mexico Book Co-op was founded by Barbe Awalt and Paul Rhetts along with 200 local authors. “Traditional publishers don’t seem interested in selling books anymore; they have a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude,” says Rhetts. “We don’t want your money; that’s not what the Co-op is about. We want avenues to sell books.”

The energetic couple also runs an alternative publishing house called LPD Press which specializes in Hispanic art and culture of the southwest. Both entrepreneurs have also been on the organizing committee for the New Mexico State Library Lecture Series and Awalt is the moderator of the Series. “There is a myth that we don’t sleep,” jokes Rhetts. The next lecture in the State Library lecture series will be on September 19 at 4pm in Santa Fe and will feature LPD Press authors Father Thomas Steele, Charlie Carrillo, and Barbe Awalt.

Rhetts and Awalt have worked together in public relations and publishing for 35 years. When they moved to New Mexico 17 years ago from the Washington corridor, they decided to focus on the traditional and contemporary Hispanic art of santos (wood carvings of saints) and santeros (the carvers). Awalt explains, “There is very little on historic santeros and nothing on contemporary ones. We thought it would be one shot; we didn’t set out to do a lot.” However they found their niche in the Hispanic culture and have pursued it ever since.

The first book they wrote about contemporary New Mexico santeros is entitled Charlie Carrillo: Tradition & Soul/Tradicion y Alma. “Our fi rst book is still getting almost as much attention as our new ones.” With the encouragement and literary support of LPD Press, Carrillo has authored three books himself. He received the 2006 National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship. As acknowledgment of their role in Carrillo’s success, Rhetts and Awalt will travel to Washington with him to accept the award in September.

Attentive care of the authors is vitally important to the success of the partners. “One of the things we do is keep a very close relationship with every one of our authors,” Rhetts says. “We have an intimate relationship with them so that we can mutually take advantage of marketing and selling opportunities. If we put two and two together, the author is happy and we are happy. I don’t know how we would engineer some of this stuff if we didn’t have a relationship with our authors. We have gotten the reputation that we are very aggressive at selling books. And very easy to get along with.”

For the forthcoming books in the Rio Grande Books imprint, Rhetts will run a vigorous public relations campaign that will include notices to over 18,000 customers and book sellers.
“A majority of our books are sold directly to the customer,” he says. “We go to trade shows, to events, to Spanish Market, Indian Market, gallery openings. We have a huge database we’ve created over the last 15 years of people who have come to our talks and lectures, and we use the Internet a lot. We are very happy to sell through stores but we know that to make this successful, we can’t pretend that that is the primary vehicle to sell books.”

Two years ago Rhetts and Awalt spearheaded a project to rent a space at Cottonwood Mall during the 2004 and 2005 holiday season as an alternative to the normal book selling experience. They were roundly discouraged by various publishers and that was enough to set Barbe on a determined path to prove the nay-sayers wrong. The endeavor flourished and the New Mexico Books & More store sold 5,500 books during that brief period, donating all profits after expenses to libraries and schools and literacy programs.
Rather than trying to pass on all their knowledge and experience to in-house apprentices, Rhetts and Awalt feel passionate about sharing their wealth of knowledge through the Book Co-op. They arrange workshops and lunch meetings designed to share information about publishing, marketing, and selling books. Topics have included copyright issues, how to get books into the large chain book stores and contacts with local printers.

Recognition has graced the efforts of these two hard-working book lovers throughout their career together. They, their authors, and their books have won countless awards. And now, just announced in late June, Rhetts and Awalt have been named as 2006 Laureates for the Mother Teresa Award, recognizing their contribution in bringing to the world the beauty of Hispanic New Mexican art through their books and their magazine Tradicion Revista; the awards ceremony will take place at the New Mexico State Fair on September 7 at 5pm.

Dianne Edwards can be reached at