Bill Sherwonit: The Selling of Animal Stories

Printed copies of Animal
are now in warehouses scattered across the U.S. (and also available
in electronic form). And so it begins: the selling of Animal Stories. Actually, the selling—or marketing—of the book
began months ago, even as I was working with a copy editor on polishing and
improving the manuscript.

One of the first steps was to find a strong cover image. The
initial cover art sent to me by Graphic Arts Books (GAB) staff was
disappointing. A photo of moose lying in an open field seemed too busy. And too
pastoral. I was reminded of cows lazing in a pasture. I was happy, though, that
the publisher sought my opinion. If this image didn’t work for me, I asked
myself, what exactly did I envision? After looking at the covers of some other
wildlife books, I knew what I wanted. First, a “clean,” dramatic image seemed
essential. Preferably it would be a close-up, something that suggested an
intimate encounter. And if at all possible it should be a picture of an uncommon
animal, taken in the wild (but of course one that I write about in the book).
The two animals that immediately came to mind were wolverine and lynx.

Editor Kathy Howard liked my suggestion that I contact some of the
Alaskan nature/wildlife photographers I know and see what they had to offer, so
I reached out to a half-dozen or so, explaining my desires. In a matter of
days, lots of excellent images poured in, featuring wolves, bears, moose, Dall
sheep, musk ox, porcupines, and more. No one submitted a wolverine picture. But
Denali-area resident Tom Walker provided some stunning close-up photos of a
lynx. They were exactly the sort of images I’d imagined. Happily, the GAB staff
wholeheartedly agreed. Kathy sent me a draft cover designed by Vicki Knapton and
I knew we had a winner. The image is striking and seems likely to draw
attention even from a distance. Already, several people who’ve seen the cover
have praised the image. I couldn’t be happier with the wrapping that encloses
my essays.

At about the same time I hunted for a cover photo, I began seeking
endorsements/blurbs for the book. I wanted a mix of Alaskan and “outside”
authors and made a list of possibilities. Those included national “A List”
authors known for their writing about wild nature, like Barry Lopez, Terry
Tempest Williams, Mary Oliver, and Gary Snyder. I’d met Williams and Snyder,
but only briefly, and had no personal connections to either Lopez or Oliver.
But all are among my favorite writers, people whose body of work I deeply respect
and whose writings (whether prose or poetry) have inspired me and, I’m certain,
informed my own. I didn’t get endorsements from any of them, but I did receive
a lovely personal note from Barry Lopez, no small thing.

In the end, I got a perfect mix of endorsements from people whose
work I greatly admire. These include Alaskans Eva Saulitis, Nick Jans, and Gary
Holthaus and two others who, curiously enough, both happen to live in New
Mexico: Sharman Apt Russell (whose books include a new favorite of mine, Standing in the Light: My Life as Pantheist,
which illuminates and feeds my own pantheistic leanings) and Tim Folger, editor
of the Best American Science and Nature
series. I thank each of the five for their time, support, and
generous comments.

Even while chasing down the cover photo and endorsements (and yes,
working on the edits to my essays) I turned to other matters: author events and
a list of book review possibilities to share with marketing manager Angie
Zbornik. Using my list and one that she had put together, Angie sent copies of
the book to a substantial number of publications. Still awaiting those reviews
. . .

We put together an initial schedule of five local events, with
more to come. These include talks and readings at the Alaska Professional
Communicators monthly meeting on Oct. 2; the Loussac Library’s Wilda Marston
Theater on Oct. 16; the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center (which will feature
a conversation with retired wildlife manager and now Alaska Dispatch News
contributor, Rick Sinnott) on Oct. 23; and the Eagle River Nature Center on
Nov. 9. Somewhere down the trail, I will also give a 49 Writers Reading and
Craft Talk (still to be determined).

One other event merits special mention: over the past couple of
years I’ve felt an ever-stronger pull toward the Anchorage Unitarian
Universalist Fellowship (AUUF for short), a group of people who’ve warmly
welcomed me into their community. With the encouragement (and I suppose you
might say blessing) of Minister Gary Holthaus (also an accomplished author,
essayist, and poet and a good friend who’s among those to write an endorsement
for my book) and others in the fellowship, I will have my personal “book
launch” at the AUUF on Oct. 5. This means a great deal to me and I eagerly
anticipate that special event.

So, what else? Social media, of course. Though I don’t personally
spend much time on Facebook (nor do I tweet on Twitter), with Angie’s
invaluable help I now have an “Animal Stories by Bill Sherwonit” Facebook page. If you haven’t gone
there, consider checking it out; and if you feel it’s worthy, please “like” the
page. This, I have learned, is all part of the process. I’ve actually found
myself enjoying the periodic updates and sharing excerpts from the book.
Naturally I’ve also updated my own website,, and I’m putting together some group emails
that I’ll send around to family, friends and colleagues, to inform them Animal Stories has been published.

Of course I’ve also used this series of postings on the 49 Writers
blogsite to help spread the word about Animal
, while offering what I hope are helpful insights into the writing
and publishing process. As many others have written, both here and elsewhere,
nowadays authors bear what seems to be an ever-bigger part of the
marketing/selling load. Most writers are in this for the writing itself, the
craft and art; but especially among those of us for whom writing is both
vocation and avocation, the publication of books (or essays or other short
literary forms) and finding an audience for our stories is indeed a business,
and an essential part of the writing life. 

A transplanted New
Englander, nature writer Bill Sherwonit has made Anchorage his home since 1982.
He’s contributed essays, articles, and commentaries to a wide variety of publications
and is the author of more than a dozen books. His newest,
Animal Stories:
Encounters with Alaska’s Wildlife, will
be published this fall by Alaska Northwest Books. His website is
Scroll to Top