James Gurney's series of illustrated fantasy adventure stories, beginning with 1992's Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time, produced a generation raised on Gurney's highly realistic paintings of an entirely unreal subject: namely, a world in which intelligent dinosaurs and humans coexist discovered by a Victorian scientist and his son (a nod to the science fantasy's most obvious influence, Jules Verne). Still, it was a surprise to the author-artist-blogger and his longtime publisher Andrews McMeel when his recently released second volume of art instruction, Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, became a bestseller for AMP immediately upon its release in December 2010, selling out its 10,000-copy run in just two months.
"We could see from the sales velocity that the first printing of 10,000 would run out in a little over two months," Gurney said. "In early February, I heard from a frustrated customer who received an e-mail from Books-a-Million saying ‘my order for Color and Light and Imaginative Realism [Gurney's first instructional volume] has been cancelled by them.' Another customer told me that she wanted to get the book, but that it was either a one- to two-month delivery or $80 for the book.... [J]ust before the second printing arrived, new copies from Amazon's private sellers ranged from $150 to $400."
Because of backorders, the second printing of 5,000 copies was gone in a day when they landed in early April. Another 10,000 copies are set to go on sale May 23, and a fourth run is under consideration. The demand has put Color and Light at the top of Amazon's bestselling books on painting; #2 is Gurney's Imaginative Realism, his first painting instruction book, released in 2009.
Based on Gurney's most popular blog posts, Color and Light was shaped largely by input from Gurney's blog readers. In fact, Gurney, who posts daily at GurneyJourney.blogspot.com (which initially started to document his tour for 2007's Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara), didn't realize he had a book on his hands until blog readers let him know; one fan told him, "If you wrote a book on painting, color, and picture making, it would be the biggest thing since the Loomis books, and possibly Harry Potter."
In February 2008, Gurney took the idea to his readers in a post called "How About a Book?" Some balked at the idea: "This kind of direct connection with artists and audience cannot be reproduced in book form," said one. While Gurney himself wondered "why would someone pay for what has already been published for free," he knew how much books meant to his career: "I owed my education to art instruction books." Having "noted the gaps in existing books on the subject," Gurney asked his readers "what things they wanted to see, or not see, in a how-to art book by me."
AMP, the original distributor of the first Dinotopia and publisher of its sequels, was thrilled with Gurney's crowd-sourced editing process, as they didn't have much experience in the art instruction category. "We were all glad to know that each post was reviewed by over 3,000 motivated readers, who were not shy with their opinions," said Gurney. A disagreement between Gurney and AMP over the book's cover art was decided by the votes of blog readers, who chose from six proposed images. "The readers decisively chose a cover we had underestimated, and they were right," Gurney said.
Gurney credits the success of Color and Light to a number of factors, including AMP's "superb job" with production and marketing; they arranged to have 30,000 copies of the poster bundled in ImagineFX magazine, the leading digital art journal. ImagineFX, as well as International Artist, American Artist, and Prehistoric Times have published serialized content from the blog and book. And Gurney continues to promote the book on his blog, where two contests are currently underway. "But the real credit," Gurney said, "goes to the blog readers. This has been a grassroots story. Many of the original Dinotopia readers are now 20-something art students. They got the word out through their blogs and forums."
"Blogging was a revelation to me as a writer," said Gurney. "Because of its ‘linky' nature, blogging is a form of publishing, where one person's success helps another. The Internet has fostered a spirit of openness and mutualism that has never existed before in the history of publishing."
Gurney plans to mine the blog for two more volumes of art instruction. He is also looking forward to Dover Publications' enhanced rerelease of his first three Dinotopia books commemorating the series' 20th anniversary, beginning with A Land Apart from Time in the fall.