HOW BIG AL REMODELED A BOOK DEAL: THE MARKETING OF 'HOME IMPROVEMENT' CO-STAR'S TOME, 'HOUSE BROKEN'

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For Richard Karn, who plays a man of tools on ABC's "Home Improvement," a potential book deal needed some marketing remodeling.

Some months ago, over a working breakfast with Harper Entertainment editors at a Burbank, Calif., country club, Mr. Karn described how the selling of his new book took a wrong turn. He was talking about problems with Hyperion Books, a Walt Disney Co. unit.

"[Hyperion] just didn't have an idea what the book should be," said Mr. Karn, who plays Tim Allen's sidekick, Al, the fictional co-host of his fictional show "Tool Time." "They wanted the book to be more about me. They wanted it to be autobiographical."

Disney produces ABC's "Home Improvement," and its publishing unit earlier had published Mr. Allen's hit book. So Hyperion was Mr. Karn's first stop.

But "they were blinded by that" earlier book, Mr. Karn told Advertising Age.

The deal never happened, and Mr. Karn moved on to Harper Entertainment, a new imprint developed by Harper Collins last year.

THE RIGHT FOCUS

The imprint focuses on entertainment-driven books associated with TV shows, theatrical films and celebrities. Two years ago, it put together a deal with singer Jewel for a book of poems called "A Night Without Armor," which landed on The New York Times' best sellers list.

For Mr. Karn, his book "fit in with this whole new entertainment division," he said.

Leaving the witty observational books to Mr. Allen and other comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser, Mr. Karn wrote about the funny and frustrating times remodeling his San Fernando Valley house. Family insights are a highlight, including one about his father, a building contractor.

It's a type of book Harper has been longing to do as it seeks new niches in the entertainment-publishing field, according to Harper executives.

So, at the breakfast meeting with Harper Entertainment editors and co-writer George Mair, Mr. Karn suggested a title, "How I Remodeled My Home for Just Under Three Times the Original Bid."

He then immediately recanted.

"That makes it a 'how-to' book," Mr. Karn recalled. "We should make it more accessible. It's a good read instead of a 'how-to' book."

REVISED TITLE

Eventually, a new title was decided on: "House Broken," with the subtitle "How I Remodeled My Home for Just Under Three Times the Original Bid."

"You need one of two ingredients for a good book," said Lucy Hood, senior VP-entertainment publishing at Harper. "A compelling message -- one that makes sense coming from the celebrity or one that will touch or amuse the audience," she said.

With Mr. Karn, she said, "We try to personalize a celebrity that you may not see in 'Home Improvement.' "

Particularly insightful are Mr. Karn's dealings with building contractors, which illustrate the contrast of the real-life adventures of Mr. Karn the actor and that of the fictional on-screen character, Big Al.

"Those people would see me and start to laugh," Mr. Karn said. "They'd say, 'Can't you do this yourself?' Then they were worried I would be judging them."

Harper decided that May would be the perfect month for the book's release, for several reasons.

Selling periods around Mother's Day and Father's Day, as well as Christmas, are the best times to sell a book, said Mario DiPreta, executive editor of Harper Collins.

Additionally, May is when season-ending series episodes appear on TV.

COINCIDES WITH SERIES FINALE

That brings us to the biggest reason for this book -- the conclusion's of "Home Improvement's" nine-year run on ABC.

"The timing couldn't be better," Mr. Karn said.

In addition to the normal book tours, videotaped features of his house have run on TV magazine shows, such as "Access Hollywood."

On May 17, Mr. Karn will be featured in an ABC.com online chat.

Harper hopes the "intrigue' of Mr. Karn's personal life, as well as the situations he describes -- similar to the Cary Grant 1948 comedy, "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" -- will be enough to sell consumers on buying the book.

"What's wonderful is that Big Al is a delightful character, and so is Richard," Ms. Hood said. "Hammering nails is how he grew up, and now in remodeling his

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