A no-brainer: Americans love their pets. Moreover, they put their money where their hearts are.According to a March 2009 article on PetConnection.com, U.S. consumers spent more than $43 billion on food, supplies, medicine, and health care for their pets in 2008, making that business the eighth largest in the country, ahead of the candy and toy industries. Consumers now spend more than $18 billion annually on pet food alone.
Yet publishing in the pets category is not quite the no-brainer it was a few years ago. Even this reliable market is somewhat saturated. St. Martin's editor Daniela Rapp says, "The sheer number of dog books submitted and published has led to a certain level of fatigue about these projects. This attitude seems to be limited to publishers, the sales force, and buyers for individual accounts and so far hasn't expanded to the consumer. By now I am familiar with the groan ‘Not another dog book!' in the sales reports, but in the end these books still find their audience."
Make no mistake; this category comprises largely dog books, even though cats are more common pets in the U.S. (about 82 million cats to 71 million dogs by the American Veterinary Medical Association's 2007 count). "Of the animal books we publish, dogs do seem to be the most popular," says Leslie Stoker, publisher of Stewart, Tabori & Chang/Abrams Image, which will offer photographer Daniel Borris's Yoga Dogs in March 2011.
"If books about pets are successful, Meg Daley Olmert's Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond helps explain why," says Merloyd Lawrence, who heads an eponymous imprint at Da Capo. "It looks at our deep bond with animals from many points of view—biological, evolutionary, and historical. It's not about one dearly beloved pet, but about how and why the whole human race became drawn to animals and how animals became drawn to us." There are more than 11,000 copies of the title in print, about 6,500 in hardcover; the paperback was published in March 2010.
Rapp of St. Martin's agrees: "There's a strong track record for books that combine animal behavior and the natural sciences." In October, St. Martin's Griffin will publish The Wolf in the Parlor: The Eternal Connection Between Humans and Dogs by Jon Franklin, which earned a starred PW review on its 2009 publication by Holt.
Published in August, Spiegel & Grau's Through a Dog's Eyes: Understanding Our Dogs by Understanding How They See the World is up to 47,000 copies in print. Its author, Jennifer Arnold, the founder and executive director of Canine Assistants, a nonprofit that trains and provides service dogs, has appeared on Good Morning America and The Diane Rehm Show. "The book's success is so gratifying, not only because its message is so important but because the publication was in many ways a team effort. PBS, Milk-Bone, and Delta joined forces to promote the book (on TV, in print, online, and even in-flight) and a documentary based on it," says Julie Grau, the book's editor and publisher of Spiegel & Grau. An extremely successful expanded e-book version was one of the house's first adult multimedia e-books.
Two New World Library titles—Kevin Behan's Your Dog Is Your Mirror: The Emotional Capacity of Our Dogs and Ourselves (Jan.) and Allen and Linda Anderson's Dogs and the Women Who Love Them: Extraordinary True Stories of Loyalty, Healing and Inspiration (Nov.)—explore similar territory. According to editorial director Georgia Hughes, "We're not just telling funny pet stories anymore but demonstrating the profound effect an animal has on a person's life and vice versa."
Rupert Sheldrake's Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals was first published in 1999, and the trade paperback edition, published in September 2000, has more than 150,000 copies in print—what publishing manager Heather Lazare terms "a perennial backlist success." Coming in April 2011 from Three Rivers is an updated and revised edition, with added case histories and results of Sheldrake's experimental studies—including the story of a parrot who can say what his owner is thinking.
Another reprint gives fresh life to the title that launched the dog psychology book craze 17 years ago: out this month from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's paperback arm, Mariner Books, is a new edition of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas's The Hidden Life of Dogs, with a new afterword by the author. (See her "Why I Write.")
Marley has a lot to answer for. John Grogan's wildly successful 2005 tale, Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog, spawned a new genre—pooch memoirs. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt executive editor Susan Canavan observes that while such books still sell well, "they've proved they're not recession-proof." She also notes that the audience for these books is very tech savvy, and that authors who are successful—such as Susannah Charleson, whose Scent of the Missing: Love and Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog the house published in hardcover in April and plans to release in paperback in early 2011—are often those who make productive use of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media technology. Still, finding a book that stands out in this increasingly crowded category, says Canavan, "is like catching lightning in a bottle." In October, HMH will publish Pukka: The Pup After Merle by Ted Kerasote, a follow-up to his bestselling Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog. Kerasote will embark on a 10-city tour for the book, which includes more than 200 beguiling photos of the titular yellow Lab.