GUIDEBOOKS: Navigating Our Way Around the Pitfalls of Publishing and through Nature's Landscape

Have you ever been hiking in the woods and come across canine scat and wondered coyote or dog? Or found deep imprints in the snow and wondered just how fresh are these mountain lion tracks?

No? Well then, have you ever been browsing the books at your favorite bookstore and wondered What made this publisher buy this book? What kind of query letter did this author write? Would this agent be interested in my manuscript

Guidebooks are indispensible whether we’re navigating our way through the jungles of publishing, or wondering about the creature that might be lurking in the bushes just a few feet ahead of us. If we want to get published, we have to study the business. If we want to write about the natural world, we have to pay homage to the experts by bowing to their years of field experience and reading their field guides.

A year ago, wildlife biologists spent days studying possible signs of gray wolves on the High Lonesome Ranch in northwestern Colorado (read “Prodigal Dogs” by Michelle Nijhuis, High Country News). Wildlife biologists are in the “business” of studying scat and tracks. They’re experts at it.  It's their job.  When I wrote In Search of Kinship, I rarely wrote a chapter without referring to the Audubon Society's book Grasslands.  And while working on Sweetwater: A Mountain Cabin, a Life Unfolding, I referred again and again to Plants of the Black Hills and Bear Lodge Mountains.

When I spent a month alone in a remote cabin on the edge of the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area in Wyoming, the first books I packed to take along were my field guides. In addition to Grasslands, here are a few of them: 

Animal Tracks (Peterson Field Guides) by Olaus J. Murie; Rocky Mountain Wild Flowers (National Museum of Natural Science) by A.E. Porsild; Field Guide to North American Rocks and Minerals (National Audubon Society);
How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine and Crafts by Frances Densmore.

Agent Chip MacGregor’s January 17 newsletter praises Jeff Herman's GUIDE TO BOOK PUBLISHERS, EDITORS, AND LITERARY AGENTS 2010 (Sourcebooks). “This book can help you understand the industry,” he writes. “If you're interested in a career in writing, pick yourself up a copy.”
He also highly recommends Chuck Sambuchino's GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS (Writers Digest Books).

I just bought a copy of THE WRITERS GUIDE TO GETTING PUBLISHED by Kalmbach Publishing for $8.95, and the shipping was free.  All three of these books have information on publishers, agents, editors, query letters, book proposals, and current market trends.  And no doubt, they're just beginning to provide information for authors on how to negotiate our way through the tangled new landscape of e-books and iPads and Kindles.  More on that in the next blog.


Gail Storey said…
Page, I totally relate to your comment about whether the tracks are coyote or dog--I have to keep reminding myself to look up at the mountains instead of being so fascinated by tracks! A good analogy for the rest of your post.
Gail, like you, my eyes are often glued to the trail, instead of the horizon! Thank you for the comment!
Thanks for the post, I have made a point of always getting a guidebook for wherever we are headed on vacation each year. Thanks for the reminder to reach out to the community around us to help us discover things we might miss.
Page Lambert said…
In some ways, Sheila, the readers who leave their words here are my cairns, marking the trail for both of us. So thank you!
Karen said…
Page, I'm impressed with the appearance and info of your blog. Found you through the LinkEds and Writers comments on LinkedIn. Happy writing!
Page Lambert said…
Karen, thanks so much for taking the time to find your way to Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words. I'm looking forward to meeting everyone at LinkEds and Writers. Best of luck with your March writing goals!

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