The last week has been "an incredibly wild ride" for Vicki DeArmon, marketing and events director at Copperfield's Books, which has six stores in Sonoma and Napa counties in northern California, and author of World's Ugliest Dogs, just out from Lyons Press/Globe Pequot ($12.95, 9780762792559). The 25th annual World's Ugliest Dog Contest, held at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma and produced by DeArmon for the past seven years, was held on Friday, and Walle, a mutt from Chico, was crowned top ugliest dog of the year. "I've done a token of outreach, and the media has gotten bigger every year," DeArmon said. "But this year it went way off the charts. I've probably slept four hours in five days."
On Saturday, the day after the contest, DeArmon, Walle and Walle's owner, Tammie Barbee, took a flight to New York for Walle to appear on the Today Show both yesterday and this morning--with a mention of the book yesterday and, hopefully, an on-camera appearance by DeArmon this morning. "I had to call work and say I didn't think I'd be in on Monday," she said with a laugh. At the same time, Good Morning America and World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer ran segments on the contest, Fox is booking something, Jimmy Kimmel will have Walle on his show Wednesday for a beauty makeover, and media as diverse as the Huffington Post, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and Parade have mentioned the contest. Media from around the world have called, chomping for comment. "I thought it would be only 15 minutes of fame, but it's going a little longer," DeArmon commented. "It's captured the imagination of the world. In hard news times, it's the kind of story that makes people laugh."
The media explosion is in part because of the appearance of the book, which DeArmon called "a small, cute book, my whimsical take on the contest" that includes many pictures and profiles of dogs and owners over the years. "The book is fun and lets the chuckles last for the rest of the year," she added. In a kind of tag team effort, Sharon Kunz at Lyons has pitched the book while DeArmon has pitched the contest--and their dogged work has paid off. "It's a PR person's dream come true," DeArmon said. "You're pitching them all the time, and now they're calling you. It's like winning the lottery after buying a lot of tickets."
The only downside of the media explosion is that DeArmon had begun booking "pawtographing" appearances at independent bookstores--which could enliven the dog days of summer--but that effort had to be put on hold for at least a few days. Her first bookstore pawtographing is scheduled for tomorrow night at Copperfield's Montgomery Village store in Santa Rosa.
DeArmon emphasized that the contest and the ugliest dog concept is a case of the bark being worse than the bite. "There are some fiercely wagging tails at the contest," she said. "We love these dogs." Many of the supposedly ugly dogs are cute, she continued. Walle, this year's winner, is "probably the cutest ugly dog we've ever had." (Judge Brian Sobel said Walle--part beagle, basset and boxer--"looked like he's been photoshopped with pieces from various dogs and maybe a few other animals." For a hilarious, loving video of the contest, click here.)
The genesis of World's Ugliest Dogs came on a flight to last year's BEA, when DeArmon sat next to former Cody's Books owner, now literary agent Andy Ross, who encouraged her to write a book about the contest. "For six months, he hounded me, and I mean hounded," she said. DeArmon finally agreed, Globe Pequot bought the proposal and then DeArmon scrambled to finish it in two months so it could appear in time for this year's ugliest dog contest.
DeArmon has been working on a novel, which she called "my thing," and hopes that tale will have its day so "I won't be known as the dog lady forever." --John Mutter