A Tale of Two Books

July 2003
by Steven J. Phillips

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The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson employs scientists, researchers, educators, and specialists in everything from ichthyology and herpetology (fishes and reptiles) to botany and mineralogy. When I came to work in 1994 as the museum’s new–and first–publications manager, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the task of selecting that all-important first book topic.

To narrow the possibilities, I decided to take an approach that had served me well during the five years I ran a small press in Colorado. I tested.

I made mock-up covers for 15 possible book topics and mounted them on foam-core. Then I had museum volunteers set up a table and ask our visitors what books they’d be most likely to buy, how much they’d be willing to pay, and what they wanted the books to look like.

Results indicated that our first publication should be an inexpensive, four-color book on hummingbirds. The topic of hummingbirds was also an excellent fit for our museum because we operate a world-renowned hummingbird aviary. We thought we had a winning topic. And we did. The Secret Lives of Hummingbirds continues to sell as well today as it did when it was first published in 1995. The book is now in its fifth printing, having sold more than 60,000 copies. The vast majority of these sales have come from non-bookstore retail outlets, such as nature shops, gift shops, national and state park visitors centers, and nonprofit organizations. Surprisingly, our museum gift shop has accounted for o…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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