Betty Eppes: From ‘Ballsy’ Journalist to Talent Agent
Fourth in a series on extraordinary women in Costa Rica.
“Ido not represent superstars because there’s no challenge in it; you just pick up work someone else has done and continue on,” says talent agent Betty Eppes, an energetic U.S. Southerner from Louisiana. “I like to work with beginners.”
For the past five years, Eppes, 67, a former journalist and editor, has been successfully running a talent agency from her home in the coffee town of Atenas, northwest of San José, where she settled in 1999. At the moment, she represents 10 clients from different countries and walks of life, including artists, a humorist, photographers, researchers, writers and speakers.
Eppes promotes people such as Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based riverboat pilot and speaker Robert Love, whose concern is the threatened Mississippi River, as well as Dr. R.L. Lewis, a specialist in biomedical research.
Among her Costa Rica-based clients are Dr. Eugenia Ibarra, an anthropologist and historian with the University of Costa Rica (UCR) in the eastern San José suburb of San Pedro, who researches Nicaragua’s Miskito indigenous culture. Eppes also managed Swiss fine art photographer John Dessarzin’s first exhibit in the country, entitled “Fauna Rica.” Sponsored by the Swiss Embassy, Dessarzin’s works were displayed at San José’s National Gallery throughout February (TT, Jan. 26), after an inauguration attended by 200 guests from all over the Central Valley.
It Just Happened
Eppes had no intention of becoming an agent; it just happened to her, she says. In 2002, she helped her longtime friend Ellen Evans, a watercolorist from the U.S. state of Ohio, now based in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, to arrange an exhibition at a renowned gallery in Ohio, through which the watercolorist was able to sell all of her work. Eppes was then recommended by word of mouth among Evans’ friends and in no time found herself with 10 clients, which for her, she says, is far too many.
To promote a client, Eppes says she must be convinced that his or her work deserves attention, and there must be deep respect between client and agent. She says at least two of her clients have the potential to become superstars, but when they reach that status they will need to find a full-time agent.
Eppes normally takes on a client for one year, doing initial work on a volunteer basis, and almost entirely by phone and e-mail.
During her 41-year career as a journalist and editor in the United States, Eppes made many friends and set up enough contacts to establish a network of valuable connections. She does not hesitate to ask those contacts for advice or help in promoting her clients.
“Networking is key; I cannot praise its values enough,” the agent says. “Connections are more valuable than gold when it comes to publicity.When used to maximum potential, they are all a person needs to achieve a reasonable level of success for either works of art or special talent.”
Eppes says she loves working as an agent because the people she represents are so different from each other.
“I would not accept any job that is not an almost impossible challenge – otherwise life would be boring,” she adds.
Highly motivated, outspoken, determined and independent, Eppes is a habitual early bird who sleeps no more than four to five hours a night. She learned at a young age that only two things can happen in life: one either succeeds or fails. And to learn from one’s mistakes, one can’t take failure personally.
No Farmer, She
Born and raised on a Mississippi farm, “where payday came but once a year,” Eppes was the fifth of seven siblings in a family she describes as land-rich and cash-poor.
Though her parents called her a quiet, introspective child, Eppes was known for making announcements that she did not want to be a farmer or a farmer’s wife when she grew up, because in her opinion farming was too much like “rolling dice.”
By the age of 8, she had gained recognition at school for a handwritten, 28-page story discussing the risks of being a farmer. The success sparked a conviction in the young girl that she was destined to be a writer.
Later, Eppes’ plan to study law at the University of Mississippi ended in a conflict with her father, who considered law school inappropriate for his daughter.
In defiance, Eppes left home and married at a young age. The marriage failed, leaving Eppes to bring up her three children on her own. After successfully working in real estate for several years, she decided to return to her vocation, writing. Efforts to establish herself as a novelist were ineffectual, so Eppes looked for another outlet for her writing.
As singles champion at her tennis club in Baton Rouge, Eppes had noticed that no newspaper in the city carried local coverage of the popular sport. In 1974, she wrote six tennis columns and took photographs to illustrate them, personally submitting her work to Jim Hughes, then the executive editor of Baton Rouge’s largest daily, The Morning Advocate.
Hughes recognized her as a special kind of writer to add variety to the paper’s popular sports section. Eppes offered to write a weekly column and take her own photographs, as long as she would be able to do the job from home.
“Though he called me a ‘ballsy broad,’ he met my terms,” she recalls with a laugh.
Eppes’ tennis column for The Morning Advocate enjoyed great popularity, and for the next 16 years she continued to write for the daily, also covering travel stories and celebrity profiles. Among her interviewees were entertainers James Mason, Michael Jackson and Bob Hope, as well as the famously reclusive novelist J.D. Salinger.
Her interview with Salinger, who had refused to talk to journalists for years, was translated into eight languages, and was republished in the summer 1991 issue of The Paris Review, a literary magazine based in New York City.
In 1984, Eppes became the CEO and publisher of the monthly Baton Rouge Magazine.
When she took over, the magazine was operating in the red, but Eppes made a profit with her first issue. The following year, she bought the publication and successfully sold it in 1988. She continued to serve as a restaurant critic and travel writer for The Morning Advocate through 1990.
New Orleans, where Eppes had lived for several years, did not turn out to be the perfect retirement spot, but she learned about Costa Rica through one of her employees at the magazine. After a visit to the Central American country, she decided to make Atenas the headquarters for her retirement.
“Costa Rica is a beautiful place with a pleasant climate – I love it,” Eppes says.
“There is plenty to do and see here, and I make many friends of different nationalities and with common interests. But there are two things I’m never getting used to: the poor concept of customer service and the optimistic Costa Rican attitude to promise more than can be delivered.”
An avid quilter and bookworm, Eppes visits the United States several times a year to see family and friends and to do agent work.
With numerous future projects on her agenda, she has just one special wish: “that I will always be able to participate in things that are interesting and challenging.”
Betty Eppes can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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