NEW YORK — Peter Workman, the founder of Workman Publishing, whose knack for landing best-selling trade books like ‘‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’’ and ‘‘The Silver Palate Cookbook’’ made his company one of the few remaining independent book publishers in the country, died last Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 74.
The cause was cancer, a company spokesman said.
Mr. Workman was known in the publishing world as a genially offbeat entrepreneur of nonfiction, with an on-base percentage — in publishing terms — worthy of Cooperstown: one of every three books issued by Workman sold 100,000 copies or more. His successes included blockbusters like ‘‘The Official Preppy Handbook’’ in 1980 and Patricia Schultz’s ‘‘1,000 Places to See Before You Die’’ in 2003, as well as lesser-known but perennial sellers like Richard Hittleman’s ‘‘Yoga: 28-Day Exercise Plan,’’ the company’s first published book, which is still in print.
Mr. Workman also created Brain Quest, a popular learning card game for children, and the Page-a-Day desk calendar, said to have been the first of its kind, with its 365 tear-off pages and a different image on each page. Workman Publishing first marketed it in 1979.
Publishing about 40 books a year, Mr. Workman was known for working closely with authors and editors (more so than they might like; he often changed cover designs and details at the last minute) and for promoting his book list relentlessly.
When the cartoonist B. Kliban’s first ‘‘Cat’’ book was published in 1975, for example, sales were anemic until Mr. Workman sent his staff to the Madison Square Garden cat show to peddle copies and had poster-size versions of Kliban’s richly detailed cats printed for bookstore displays.
In 1984, Mr. Workman published ‘‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting,’’ a practical guidebook to pregnancy, written by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, Sharon Mazel, and Sandee Hathaway. It too sold poorly at first, until Mr. Workman sent the authors to speak at physicians’ and nurses’ conferences, and offered discounts to bookstores for multiple sales. It has sold more than 15 million copies and inspired a veritable library of books about pregnancy.