Six years ago, our children’s ABC book about nature, Letters of the West, was released. I got the book idea around the time our daughter turned one, and my baby blues was starting to subside. Now seems like the perfect time to look back. What we have learned since the book hit the shelves?
Origin story: the book that came out of baby blues
Tragedy plus time equals comedy. We’ve heard that one. Whistling past the graveyard is another. Songs, stories, art, distractions, especially creative distractions, are suvival techniques. They can be cautionary tales. Almost always they are marketing tools (guilty). My own low-moment story happened when baby blues hit me really heard. With the 2008 crash, I was unable to find work. But amid the darkness light appears unexpectedly. And that became the way out.
How did John and I come up with the book idea? By now most have heard the story: I was reading Awake to Nap by Nikki McClure to our nearly one-year-old daughter. I really enjoyed the book’s artwork. It reminded me of John’s nature artwork. Maybe we could do an ABC book about nature?
John liked the idea and set to work. We researched flora and fauna, which was fun. Many subjects for letters were traditional: D for deer, C for cougar.
But we used a few that we hadn’t seen before: kinnikinnik, pairie dog.
In the end we surprised ourselves with using Mount Hood for the beginning and ending: A for Alpenglow and Z for Zigzag, as in Zigzag, Oregon.
Talk Latin to me
John wanted to put the Latin words in the book. What? Really? Later, our publisher liked that idea as well. Turns out others like that too, even if just scholars use it now. After all, we thought, it was a living language once that little children spoke as they were getting into their school togas back in Rome.
X is for Xeriscape
I am proud of X for Xeriscape. Xeriscape is a low water landscape garden design. Why this works for the book:
- Not all of Oregon is a lush, green, tree-scape. Much of the state is desert. I wanted to acknowledge that.
- Low-water landscape design is relevant because of global warming. Conserving water in the desert is a practical approach.
- These abecedaries (what, you didn’t know that ABC books have their own designation?) almost always use xylophone or X-ray for the letter “X”. I wanted to be more original. Ok sure, xylophone is Greek for “wooden sound,” and that’s not too far from the nature theme of our book. But I wanted to do something different.
The 2008 economic crash, and rising from the ashes
John finished the artwork in 2010. Meanwhile the economy was moving through a slow recovery, as a result we had our doubts of getting published. John researched self-publishing, but that could be expensive. He researched other options such as Create Space. We opted not to go that route.
I worked with my solo business advisor Jackie B. Peterson at Portland Community College’s Small Business Development Center. She thought the artwork was fantastic and urged us to market it.
Signed by Portland-based publisher Craigmore Creations in 2013
In 2013 we finally decided to send book submissions to publishers. We got a response within the first three sent out. Next thing we new, Portland-based publisher Craigmore Creations offered us a a very nice book deal.
Getting a book published is the height of most anyone’s career; an aspiration of many but achieved by few. The validation speaks loudly. Just someone picking up the publication costs, having the muscle to market it, and handle distribution is a dream. And it helped. We were nominiated for the 2014 Oregon Spirit Award to boot! Pretty damn good for first time authors!
But it doesn’t pay the rent, even if our title was the top seller for August 2015 of all Craigmore Creations titles at that time.
Regardless, Letters of the West, An ABC Book of the Many Plants, Animals, and Other Curious Features of the West (the full name) continues to find new fans.
Things I didn’t know (oopsies)
Since getting published, I’ve learned a couple things about the the book’s subject matter. Things I was not aware of:
- Juniper is actually invasive. I didn’t know this. Personally, I’ve always loved juniper: the smell, how the tree looks, and it reminds me of camping trips as a kid. According to Oregon Invasive Species, juniper trees started becoming a problem starting in 1936 as a result of how grasslands are managed.
- Yucca plants are not exactly invasive but can be a nuisance. They have extensive root systems and difficult to remove according to Gardening Know How.
Naturalist Numbers, the counting book, is next
Letters of the West takes place on land, if you will. Naturalist Numbers, the forthcoming book, features many ocean-dwellers. Five out of the ten subjects are sea creatures. This is interesting to note. Many marine animals have uneven features, or so it would seem: seven fins of the flying fish, five teeth of the sea urchin. Five to a million arms of the sea star.
Additionally, from a marketing perspective, it may be challenging to sell both books together. Letters of the West is perfect for KOA Kampground at Mount Rushmore. Naturalist Numbers, however, might sell better at a KOA on the California coast. Remains to be seen!
Do you have a copy of our book? Thoughts on it or the next book? Leave a note in the comments.
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Michelle Walch writes about women’s health, healthy aging, and rural health and aging. She also plays theremini.