The best thing you could do for this category is get rid of it," says Margo Baldwin, publisher of Chelsea Green Publishing Company in White River Junction, Vt. "The environmental movement has died, yet the issues are key: people, politics, food, civil rights, feminism and current events." While it's true that interest in celebrating Earth Day has abated in the four years since Time magazine devoted an entire issue to the holiday's 30th anniversary, the environment and how best to manage it continue to be hotly debated.
For Janet Silver, publisher of adult trade books at Houghton Mifflin, the category is just too broad. "The environment and nature aren't necessarily the same thing. Nature is natural science or books about place; environment books are about the human impact on nature." On top of that, nature and environment titles can run the gamut, from The Trout Pool Paradox: The American Lives of Three Rivers (Houghton, Apr.) by George Black to Mobil Travel Guide's new America's Byways series, which debuted in February with four guidebooks highlighting nature and history along America's roads.
The category faces other challenges, as well, not least of which that books outside the evergreen subject of birding can be a tough sell. "Environmental publishing is a fairly mature domain, and the market for serious book-length works is not only limited, but increasingly specialized," says Don Reisman, publisher of five-year-old RFF Press in Washington, D.C.
What can publishers do? They've already begun to do it—adapt.
The Call of the Wild
Few publishers have undergone as extensive a transformation as Chelsea Green, which spent a year renewing its mission and cut back its publishing program to five books in 2003. This year it will triple that, with a list that encompasses works of "Authentic Living," as Baldwin prefers to define the nature and environment category, such as The Limits to Growth (June) by Donella Meadows, Jorgen Raders and Dennis Meadows and Voices of the Land (Mar.), a collection of essays on the need for greater stewardship of the land, edited by Jamie Crelly Purinton, with striking photos by Charles Lindsay.
Another mid-sized press that has embraced change is 44-year-old nonprofit Mountaineers Books in Seattle, Wash. Its catalyst was last spring's controversy over Subhankar Banerjee's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land and a planned exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution. The book not only spawned congressional debate, but also snagged a half-million-dollar grant from the Lannan Foundation for a series of traveling exhibits of Banerjee's photos and the donation of 10,000 books.
"That experience," reports publisher Helen Cherullo, "certainly has reinvigorated my feelings about what you can accomplish with a book. If you produce a book and only sell 1,800 copies, you're not doing your job. You have to reach out and get people engaged." She's excited about doing just that with Defending Wild Washington: A Citizens' Action Guide (Apr.), edited by Edward A. Whitesell and written by his students at Evergreen State College, which she regards as a model for other schools and regions to follow.
Other publishers, too, are seeking a new generation of writers and readers. According to senior publicist Katie Monaghan, Picador made a conscious decision to publish Mark Lynas's High Tide: The Truth About Our Climate Crisis (June) as a paperback original "to reach a younger, activist readership, who may hesitate to buy a hardcover." In addition to sending Lynas on tour to "green" cities such as Seattle and Portland, Ore., Picador is planning a promotion on college radio stations. University of New Mexico Press is experimenting with Web advertising on Google. "When someone searches for 'wildfires,' a link to Thomas J. Wolf's In Fire's Way: A Practical Guide to Life in the Wildfire Danger Zone  will pop up," says sales and marketing manager Glenda Madden.
Despite the ambiguities inherent in today's marketplace, RFF Press has decided to increase its publishing program to 15—20 titles a year. According to Reisman, "That gives us an economy of scale and market presence that we didn't have with three to five books. We have a commitment to get high-quality, credible information into the policy debate. The audience for some of our books might be limited, but the number of people affected by good and bad policy decisions is not." One of RFF's lead titles examines environmental decision-making under the Bush and Clinton administrations: Painting the White House Green: Rationalizing Environmental Policy Inside the Executive Office of the President (June), edited by Randall Lutter and Jason F. Shogren.
At Stillwater, Minn.—based Voyageur Press, the mission has long been "the appreciation and preservation of our natural environment and our national heritage." But the unexpected success of last fall's single-subject exploration of The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty by Kenneth Libbrecht, photos by Patricia Rasmussen (copies in print: 50,000), has forced Voyageur to rethink how best to accomplish that. In November, the house will release a mini-gift edition (5" x 5") of The Little Book of Snowflakes, with new photos and text by Libbrecht. Publicist Dorothy Molstad calls the pair of books "the model for coming attractions." That's not to say that the press is abandoning its traditional roots. Other forthcoming titles include The Encyclopedia of Deer (June), photos and text by Leonard Lee Rue III; and Out There: In the Wild in a Wired Age (Mar.) by Ted Kerasote, an exploration of the desire to get away from it all but to stay within reach technologically.
Nature's Artistry—Illustrated Books
One area that seems to have been hardest hit by the evolution of the environmental book marketplace is photography. The problem, explains Trafalgar Square managing director Paul Feldstein, is that "a lot of the market is not through bookstores, except in California. You really have to work all the natural history museums and zoos. You have to do all the legwork and find the nontraditional outlets—alternative energy, natural history and environmental preservation places." For him, that extra effort is worth it for titles like BBC Books' "gorgeous, gorgeous" annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year series. The new volume, Portfolio 14 (Nov.), is culled from 20,000 images. Even if a picture is worth a thousand words (or, given inflation, several thousand), most readers want more than just pretty pictures. "It's really tough to publish a book of nature photography. The pressure is the same across the industry to keep prices down, and it must have a story," says Thames & Hudson president Peter Warner. Jean-Jacques Annaud's Tiger, Tiger (Sept.), in which author Karine Lou Matignon discusses the ambivalent relationship between people and tigers, will get a boost from the release of Annaud's new film, The Brothers. The book includes photos of tigers from the movie.
While the nature category lends itself to heavily illustrated books, most do have equally important text, like wildlife expert Sara Oldfield's look at ecosystems, Deserts: The Living Drylands (MIT Press, Sept.), with photos from the Bruce Coleman Collection, or conservationist and lawyer Jim Blackburn's The Book of Texas Bays (Texas A&M Univ. Press, Oct.) with photos by Jim Olive. In fact, for Ann Triestman, senior editor at the Lyons Press, one of the challenges of working on a photographic book chronicling an organic farm, Harvest (Nov.) by Nicola Smith, photos by Geoff Hansen, was not making it a coffee-table book: "I want people to be able to read it in bed."
At Firefly Books, president and publisher Lionel Koffler tells PW, "we specialize in illustrated books for the educated person, perhaps retired, who's an eco-tourist." He finds it difficult to keep prices down in the face of pressure from retailers for higher discounts. For example, Frozen Oceans: The Floating World of Sea-Ice (Oct.) by David Thomas, with 250 color photographs, is priced at $45; and Earth from Space: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (Oct.), an oversized book with 300 pictures using satellite imaging, is $49.95. "Our experience in the last few years," says Koffler, "is if we have a book on nature, we can sell 11,000 to 14,000 copies at $40. We felt that $40 was a reasonable price, but all our customers are looking for higher discounts. When I started, it was 40%, now it's closer to 50% with co-op and hidden factors." However, a change in trim size can sometimes help: Little, Brown was able to make A World of Butterflies (May, $22.50), photos by Kjell Sandved and text by Brian Cassie, more affordable by going to a chunky format.
Watch the Birdie—Guides And Narratives
Birding has long been a nature mainstay. "One of the cornerstones of our nature program is our birding list. We continue to find that birding is expanding," says Stackpole Books nature editor Mark Allison. Like birds themselves, the books come in various shapes and formats, from Lang Elliot's two-volume book-and-CD guide, Know Your Bird Sounds (Mar.) to Princeton University Press's massive reference published in collaboration with the American Birding Association, The Birdwatcher's Companion to North American Birdlife (June) by Christopher W. Leahy with illustrations by Gordon Morrison. Even birding biographies can be strong, such as William Souder's Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and the Making of The Birds of America (North Point, May).
But it's not just mid-sized houses or university presses that are finding that successful publishing can be for the birds. "Our strongest titles are in the birding arena," says National Geographic editor-in-chief Kevin Mulroy. Given the sales for last year's large-format reference edited by Mel Baughman, National Geographic Reference Atlas to the Birds of North America, Mulroy is planning to create a series of smaller backpack-sized guides. "We're starting with four next year, and the first two titles are for birds of California and Florida. We'll keep on doing four a year until we cover all parts of the country," he says. At Houghton Mifflin, "the Peterson Field Guides are a staple of our line," says Silver. The newest addition, last month's The North American Prairie, includes not just birds, but various types of flora and fauna.
For those who like animal-watching in their own backyard, Catherine J. Johnson and Susan McDiarmid offer tips on attracting everything from sapsuckers to bats in Welcoming Wildlife to the Garden (Hartley & Marks, June). Eco-roofs, which are planted with grass or flowers, can attract wildlife as well as reduce pollution and insulate a building from heat and cold. In Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls (Timber Press, May), with illustrations of green buildings in Europe, where the concept began, Nigel Dunnett and Noël Kingsbury provide one of the few book-length discussions of this topic.
The fact that the environment is everywhere, including automobile-filled cities, is the subject of bike messenger Robert Hurst's The Art of Urban Cycling: Lessons from the City (Falcon, Apr.). Other Falcon titles encourage readers to get out of the city to view nature, like The Easy Tree Guide: Common Native and Cultivated Trees of the United States and Canada (Aug.) by Keith Rushforth. Sometimes it takes a microscope to really see, a point made by Kathy B. Sheehan et al. in Seen and Unseen: Discovering the Microbes of Yellowstone (May). Dan O'Neill retells the story of an entire landmass that can no longer be seen at all in The Last Giant of Beringia: The Mystery of the Bering Land Bridge (Westview, May).
Occasionally, the call of the wild can be so subtle that it's not heard for years. Trevor Corson, author of The Secret Life of Lobsters (HarperCollins, June), gave up graduate work at Princeton to return to an island off the coast of Maine where he summered as a child and apprentice himself as a lobsterman. "I particularly like the fact that he was very serious about his studies," says executive editor Hugh Van Dusen.
For some people, part of the attraction is the thrill. In The Cloud Garden: A True Story of Adventure, Survival, and Extreme Horticulture (Lyons Press, Aug.), botanist Tom Hart Dyk and Paul Winder describe being kidnapped and held hostage for nine months, all in pursuit of orchids. In The Fellowship of Ghosts: A Journey Through the Mountains of Norway (National Geographic, July) novelist Paul Watkins recounts a solo adventure in the colder climate of Norway's Rondane and Jutunheimen mountains. Biologist Bernd Heinrich finds drama in watching geese in The Geese of Beaver Bog (Ecco, May).
Others turn to nature for solace. A simple walk takes on spiritual overtones in Stephen Altschuler's The Mindful Hiker: On the Trail to Find the Path (DeVorss, May) or Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Steve Zikman's Chicken Soup for the Nature Lover's Soul (HCI, Mar.), with a foreword by the president of the Audubon Society. New Jerseyite Phyllis Strupp was so inspired by the desert that she started Sonoran Cross Press to publish her work on The Richest of Fare: Seeking Spiritual Security in the Sonoran Desert (June). Thomas R. Dunlap argues that environmentalism is religion in Faith in Nature: Environmentalism as Religious Quest (University of Washington Press, June), and John E. Carroll writes of eco-spirituality in Sustainability and Spirituality (SUNY Press, Aug.).
Eco-spirituality often contains the seeds of political activism. In The Earth Path: Grounding Our Spirits in the Rhythm of Nature, eco-feminist Starhawk offers what Harper San Francisco senior editor Eric Brandt terms "a call for spiritual awakening" as she revisits themes she first wrote about 25 years ago in The Spiral Dance. Brandt hopes to bring her ideas to a younger generation: "She has a big online presence and speaks at many universities." The connection between spirituality and the Earth is also a strong component of Ed McGaa's Nature's Way: Native Wisdom for Living in Balance with the Earth (HSF, Mar.).
Forces of Nature: The Environment And Political Activism
"Many publishers continue to release upbeat nature titles that perpetuate our nostalgia for an idealized natural world. These images run counter to our everyday experiences," says Lantern Books publisher Martin Rowe. He seeks out activist writers like Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella, editors of Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals (May) and Craig Rosebraugh, a member of the Earth Liberation Front, whose Burning Rage of a Dying Planet: Speaking for the Earth Liberation Front, is also due in May. Rowe cares almost as much about how he publishes as what he publishes, and is a member of the Green Press Initiative (www.greenpressinitiative.org), which advocates printing on recycled paper and ultimately seeking out non-tree alternatives.
As Republicans and Democrats square off for the November election, Island Press publisher Dan Sayre is optimistic about the attention it will bring to environmental books. "We expect that while the environment will not be the primary issue of this year's campaign," says Sayre, "it will be debated, and that debate will help sell books." In today's politicized climate, he adds, "what has worked for Michael Moore and Al Franken at the general trade level we believe will also work for IP authors with new books dealing with 'big-picture' environmental issues." Among the books he singles out are Paul and Anne Ehrlich's work on overpopulation, One with Nineveh: Politics, Consumption and the Human Future (May) and Norman Myers and Jennifer Kent's account of the threat posed by consumption, The New Consumers: The Influence of Affluence on the Environment (July). Of course, not all environmentalists approach conservation from a left-leaning perspective. Physicist James Trefil, for example, argues that the earth is not a fragile place in Human Nature: A Blueprint for Managing the Earth—by People, for People (Holt, May). And Senator Pete V. Domenici advocates for more nuclear power plants in A Brighter Tomorrow: Fulfilling the Promise of Nuclear Energy (Rowman & Littlefield, Oct.), which will launch with a 30,000-copy first printing.
The Bioneers organization has joined forces with the Sierra Club to show that the problems facing the environment are not necessarily insurmountable; much can be achieved by implementing small-scale changes like adding vegetables that kids grow themselves to school lunches. The first two books in the Bioneers series bring together essays edited by founder Kenny Ausubel and J.P. Harpignies: Ecological Medicine: Healing the Earth, Healing Ourselves (May) and Nature's Operating Instructions: The True Biotechnologies (Sept.).
While concern over global warming continues to be a key theme of the environmental movement, Pulitzer Prize—winning journalist Ross Gelbspan lays at least part of the blame for the crisis on the media and environmental activists in Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists, and Activists Have Fueled the Climate Crisis—And What We Can Do to Avert Disaster (Basic, July). According to publicity and advertising director Jamie Brickhouse, Gelbspan's book will launch with an author interview on PBS's Now with Bill Moyers and an appearance at the Democratic National Convention. An online marketing campaign and a promotion on NPR are also planned. Gelbspan is also one of the contributors to Jim Motavalli's collection about climactic hot spots, Feeling the Heat: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Climate Change (Routledge, Mar.).
"We've moved beyond one-note alarms and manifestos to wanting to understand how the world got to be the way it is—not just the physical reasons but the social and cultural forces at work," says former editorial director of North Point Press Rebecca Saletan. In The Whale and the Supercomputer: On the Northern Front of Climactic Change (North Point, Mar.), Charles Wolforth studies the effect of changing Arctic weather patterns on the Inupiaq Eskimos and on Western scientists. In Crown of the Continent: The Last, Great Wilderness of the Rocky Mountains (Riverbend, Sept.), Ralph Waldt shows what is at stake if the Bush administration goes forward with plans to drill for oil and gas along the Rocky Mountain Front.
Paul Roberts worries about a different kind of interruption in The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World (Houghton Mifflin, May), which publicist Gracie Doyle regards as every bit as meaty as Eric Schlosser's 2001 exposé on fast food, Fast Food Nation. "There are a lot of books that have come out on energy; Paul's is the only one exploring every side of it," says Doyle, who is looking to build on pre-pub publicity that included appearances on Fox News, CBS Evening News, NPR and CNN, with a series of panel discussions when the book comes out. Also on the energy front, Steve Lerner examines a community situated between two oil plants in Diamond: A Struggle for Environmental Justice in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor (MIT Press, Nov.).
Although Stackpole may not be known as an activist press, even it is joining the fray with its new Farley Mowat Library, which brings back into print the works of one of the 20th century's leading conservation advocates. "Getting these classic books back out fits in with our nature program," says Allison. The first three are due in September: The Snow Walker, on which the Canadian film is based; Sea of Slaughter, about exploitation of the northeast seaboard; and the memoir And No Birds Sang.
For university presses especially, highlighting local concerns is important, although many other houses take up the banner with books like W. Hodding Carter's Stolen Water: Saving the Everglades from Its Friends, Foes, and Florida (Atria, July) and Paul Lamer's Give and Take: How the Clinton Administration's Public Lands Offensive Transformed the American West (High Country News Books, Mar.).
"As a state-supported institution, we have a responsibility to publish titles that focus on our region," says Megan Scott, marketing manager of University of Iowa Press, which publishes Suzanne Winckler's Prairie: A North American Guide (Apr.). In addition to joining the Green Press Initiative, the press has worked hard to educate Iowans about the dangers of an invasive species of garlic mustard and created a blow-in postcard on the subject with the help of the Sierra Club and Iowa's Department of Natural Resources.
The University of California Press, which launched its California Natural History Guides in 1959, has one of the oldest environmental publishing programs. The guides went through a redesign last year and next month's Tracy I. Storer, Robert L. Usinger and David Lukas's Sierra Nevada Natural History, which has sold 100,000 copies since its 1963 publication, has been completely revised. New to the series is a subset on Californians and Their Environment, which debuted last month with David Carle's Introduction to Water in California. The subseries, notes life sciences executive editor Doris Kretschmer, "is part of an important trend in natural history writing today—that we can't talk about nature without also talking about humans."
Of course, the environment doesn't just belong to people in the West or Northwest. To counter that notion, the University of Georgia Press is working on a new series about the Southeast, tentatively called Southern Environments. "The Southeast is one of the country's richest and most biologically diverse areas, yet very little has been written about it," says director Nicole Mitchell. Part of the inspiration for the series, which will launch next year, comes from the success of Ted Levin's Liquid Land: A Journey Through the Florida Everglades, due out in paperback in September. Other upcoming regional titles include John Lane's Chattooga: Descending into the Myth of Deliverance River (Apr.) and John Tallmadge's look at urban ecology, Cincinnati Arch: Learning from Nature in the City (Oct.). Many of the University of North Carolina Press's books also concentrate on the South, particularly the four-state region, with books like Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland (Mar.) by William David Webster, James F. Parnell and Walter C. Biggs Jr.
Even if Chelsea Green's Baldwin is right that the environmental movement has died—or evolved—certainly the breadth and depth of these new books offer hope that nature and environmental titles have not disappeared with it. Today's publishers are adapting missions and lists to meet the changing needs of outdoors enthusiasts, as well as those concerned about the political implications of dwindling natural resources.