Talk about a long tail: Seattle independent Sasquatch Books posted a 14% growth last year, and the driving force behind that increase was not a new book, but an old one—a very old one—about living off the land. The Encyclopedia of Country Living: The Original Manual for Living off the Land and Doing It Yourself was created in the early 1970s, a contemporary of the Whole Earth Catalog. Its contents—including instructions on everything from milking a cow to raising chickens—is even older than that, since author Carla Emery’s goal in writing the book was to preserve the knowledge of a generation of homesteaders and family famers who were dying. The Encyclopedia of Country Living is now in its 10th edition, and has sold 650,000 copies to date. It’s a happy success story, and one many publishers, big or small, would envy.
Emery began compiling the book, originally titled An Old Fashioned Recipe Book, around 1974. She self-published it, mimeographing it on pages of differently colored paper. “It looked to be bound together with telephone wire. It was the super-funkiest thing you’ve ever seen, but it was kind of cool,” remembers Sasquatch publisher Gary Luke. Emery distributed chapters in a serial fashion, and the book gained a following. In the late 1970s, Bantam picked it up and published it as a trade paperback. But then, says Luke, times changed. “The ’80s happened. People were less into living off the land.” Sales of the book dwindled, and Bantam let the rights go. Then, in the early ’90s, Emery contacted Sasquatch and asked if the house would publish a revised edition of the book. Luke thought, “We’re in the Northwest; the hippie thing hasn’t died here yet,” and Sasquatch signed on. The publisher renamed the book and updated it—although, as Luke noted, some aspects of it didn’t need revising, since “how you milk a cow is how you milk a cow.”
Sasquatch has seen steady sales of Country Living since the early ’90s. Sales spiked at the end of the ’90s, as people responded to Y2K paranoia; they also rose after September 11. “Every time there’s been some sort of threat to the country, to the American sense of security, sales of the book rise,” says Luke. And in the current recession, Country Living is thriving. New urban homesteaders and urban farmers are buying it, and Luke says there’s also a strong loyalty to the book among people who home school. Sasquatch advertises Country Living in The Utne Reader, but as for any major ads, promo or publicity, Luke says, “The book is a little bit on auto pilot in the sense that there are many core constituencies.”
Emery passed away in 2005, but Sasquatch continues to publish spin-offs of Country Living, single topic books on growing vegetables and canning.