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Taking a Title to the Dogs and Beyond
Bridget Kinsella -- 6/5/00
"D sn't it have an appealing cover?"
asked Margaret Maupin at the Tattered Cover.

A quick search on Amazon.com under the subject heading "dogs" yields more than 8,000 titles, which is no surprise considering the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that there are 53 million dogs owned by Americans. The sheer number of dog lovers gives an edge to a book with a canine theme, but no one predicted the huge success of The Hidden Life of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (Houghton Mifflin), which has sold 500,000 copies in hardcover since it came out in 1993. Now the same publisher has high hopes for Colter: The True Story of the Best Dog I Ever Had by Rick Bass.

"Not that we expect it to do that well, but it's not a bad place to look for inspiration," said Lori Glazer, Houghton's publicity director. "We just have this feeling that this is really going to work. You never know what dog lovers are going to do."

Bass, the author and essayist with 16 previous titles to his credit, has a substantial following, and, Glazer said, when you add the dog hook as well as an author tour (a rarity for the Montana dweller), it helps fuel the pre-pub buzz. Glazer declined to divulge the print run for Colter, but said that she expects the book will go back to press several times, as most Bass titles do. She noted that he is an author with a growing audience and after his last national tour, for the novel Where the Sea Used to Be in '98, he greatly increased his appeal beyond the Southeast and Northwest regions where he has always been popular. "This book comes off the heels of that," she said.

The Tattered Cover in Denver already has Bass booked. "It's not a dog book. It's Rick Bass writing about his dog," said Margaret Maupin, buyer at the Tattered Cover. "I think that Rick is such a good writer that it supercedes the subject." The New York Times apparently agrees with Maupin's assessment of Bass, since last month he was featured in its "Writers on Writing" series. The subject Bass chose was, of course, his beloved Colter.

Colter is as much a book about appreciating nature and life as it is the story of a reluctant hunter who pursues birds to appease and nurture his "goofy little knot-headed," "genius" chocolate pointer. Bass received pre-pub raves, including a star from PW (Forecasts, May 8), and is a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. The blurbs on the book come from some renowned names in the nature/animal genre, and include Hidden Life of Dogs's Thomas, and Snow Falling on Cedars's David Guterson.

Walter Vatter, the Houghton publicist assigned to Colter and an admitted "dog person," said the story of Bass and his dog is the kind that lends itself to word-of-mouth promotion--particularly in certain circles. "When I was in the dog run this morning in Washington Square Park, I was telling people about it," he said. Houghton is pursuing all avenues of promotion, including coverage in Bark magazine, aka "The New Yorker of the Dog World."
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