A few years ago, I got to wondering how many different states were covered by my Who Pooped? series, and it led to a blog post that is now obsolete, as the series has grown since then. This post updates and replaces that one.
In the beginning, each book in the series was for a specific national park, and most of those national parks were tucked securely in a single state (Yellowstone does span three states, however). As the series progressed, the books covered more ecosystems than specific parks, and sometimes those covered multiple states. That got me thinking: what states does this series cover?
So far, the series covers 19 states in 20 books — some books cover multiple states and some states have multiple books. The number of national parks, national conservation areas, national monuments, national recreation areas, and national forests is significantly larger than that. I haven’t compiled that list lately. A project for another day!
- Who Pooped on the Colorado Plateau?
- Who Pooped in the Sonoran Desert?
- Who Pooped in the Park? Grand Canyon National Park
- Who Pooped in the Cascades?
- Who Pooped in the Park? Death Valley National Park
- Who Pooped in the Park? Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
- Who Pooped in the Park? Yosemite National Park
- Who Pooped in the Redwoods?
- Who Pooped in the Sonoran Desert?
Overall, yesterday wasn’t a great day. My tea shop‘s main computer died during a Windows 10 update, our wi-fi went utterly wonky, my phone stopped making or accepting calls, I spent a bunch of time on legal documents trying to collect back wages from a former employer, and the kitchen sink backed up. Plumbing is the worst.
Today, on the other hand, had a stupendous start! I was catching up on some emails, and pulled out my latest royalty statement from the lovely folks over at Farcountry Press. As I am wont to do, I started tallying up the sales numbers for each edition of Who Pooped in the Park. The total sales for the series to date? A whopping 500,853 copies!
Over half a million. I’m gobsmacked. The mere fact that I got to use the word “gobsmacked” today makes this a great day! I’m feeling so magnanimous that AT&T and Microsoft are hereby both forgiven for yesterday’s fiascos.
When I was focused on writing specialized technical books about closed captioning, selling a few thousand copies was enough to make me happy. Ten thousand was a lofty goal. And then—just for kicks—I wrote my first book for kids. The Yellowstone edition of Who Pooped in the Park came bursting out of the gate, earning out the advance in just a few months. That edition is by far my best-selling book, being the only single title of mine to have sold over 100,000 copies.
The other Who Pooped books have followed with mixed success. A few still haven’t sold out their first printings. A few (I’m looking at you, Grand Canyon edition) have had really stellar sales. My non-poop books have also had mixed success, but I’m working on that!
When I talk to other authors of children’s books, they want to know my secret. Is it shameless self-promotion? Is it mad skills at writing and/or illustrating? Is it having the best agent in the whole wide world? While all of those things would help, here’s what I think made Who Pooped work:
- Being in the right place at the right time with the right idea. There’s just no substitute for this.
- Having a title that makes people pick up the book, and content that makes them read it.
- The right publisher. Farcountry doesn’t have many contacts in schools and libraries, but their deep connections in national parks and gift shops were, in my opinion, critical to the success of these books.
- The right editor. I’ve had a lot of different editors over the course of my writing career, and I think having Kathy Springmeyer’s advice as I worked on my first children’s book was invaluable. The single best piece of advice she ever gave me was to have my kids read the manuscript out loud to me and look for places where they stumble over words or the dialog doesn’t sound natural.
- Persistence and fearlessness. I was lucky. I only got turned down by one publisher on Who Pooped in the Park? before Farcountry picked it up (your loss, Globe Pequot Press!).
- Asking for help. Nature writer Gary Ferguson gave me a lot of good advice in the beginning, and scat & track expert Jim Halfpenny proofed my original manuscript for me. Using the publisher’s industry contacts has put me in touch with a deep pool of experts. Using those contacts made my books better.
- And, of course, shameless self-promotion. After you’re successful, the media calls you. When you’re getting started, you have to call them.
Agents can make a big difference, from what I hear. I can’t tell you firsthand, as I’ve never managed to land an agent myself. Here’s where I need to be more persistent. I’ve been turned down by a couple of dozen agents, but I have friends that have sent out hundreds of query letters before getting to yes. I’ll get there…
I will be signing copies of the Yellowstone edition of Who Pooped in the Park at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone Park on Friday, August 5 and Saturday, August 6. If you’re going to be in or near the Park, stop by and see me! I will be in the lobby, right outside the gift shop, 11:00 to 6:00 Friday and 11:00 to 4:00 Saturday.
The Old Faithful Inn is one of my favorite places to sign books. Since there’s no wi-fi there—and no cell service to speak of—everybody is focused on the world around them instead of their phones. That, of course, includes me. Sometimes, when there’s nobody looking at my books, I’ll just jot down random thoughts. A lot of the ideas for my new book (Gary’s Guide to Successful Book Signings) came from the Old Faithful Inn. I’ve made plenty of book signing observations from Yellowstone Park, so I’ll skip those this time, and just ruminate on the differences in recent book signings.
The Who Pooped signings in the big national parks generally draw nature lovers, and most of the people that stop by the table are in no hurry to be anywhere. The idea of a book about poop throws a few people, but most are intrigued by it. The crowds at the NYC bookstores that hosted my Who Pooped signings (Book Culture and Bank Street Bookstore) were definitely different. By the time I was done reading, they were ready to buy a book (hopefully) and hit the road. Very few people wanted to just hang around and chat. Quite a few people—including bookstore owners—found the subject matter offputting. My publicist was told by two different stores that animal poop isn’t an appropriate subject for their stores. Luckily, the stores that hosted me were open-minded and fun, and the people at the Central Park Conservancy thought the book was a cool idea.
The Myths & Legends signing in NYC was a whole different world. It was about storytelling and drinking tea. The people who came hung out to chat and ask questions. The store owners prepared different tea samples for different stories from the book. It wasn’t like a national park book signing where I wait for people to stop at the table. I just stood and told stories. If you’ve never visited the Monkey Cup in New York City, stop and see them. It’s worth the visit!
Next week, I head to New York City on a book tour. The schedule still isn’t completely nailed down—why have a final schedule a week before the trip?—but I’d love to have you join me at one of these public events that we do have finalized. All of the events are completely free and no reservations are required. I’ll be signing books at all of them.
Who Pooped in the Redwoods, which is on its way to your favorite stores and websites, is the 19th book in the Who Pooped series. Just like its predecessors, it is focused on the wide open spaces, especially national and state parks. The next book, which I’m hoping will be out by Christmas, is going in a completely different direction.
We’re moving the series from the big national parks to a small city park, a paltry 843 acres in the middle of the largest population center in the United States. That’s right, the next book will be set in New York City’s Central Park!
I’m not going to give away too much just yet, as I just signed the contract last week and things may change a bit. I will tell you a few things, though:
First, this will be the first Who Pooped book that won’t feature Michael and Emily. I’m introducing a new family that lives in New York City, and the book will focus on the adventures of the kids in Central Park, without Mom and Dad there playing teacher the whole time.
We’re also changing the art style a bit, going for a more urban and edgy look.
But what animals can I include when the book is set right smack in the middle of a huge city? A lot! Central Park is teeming with wildlife, including rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, rats, chipmunks, opossums, bats, starlings, herons, geese, gulls, crows, pigeons, frogs, turtles, and more!
With the release of the Central Park book, I will finally have a book set in every state where I’ve lived*, and we’re filling in some of those big gaps on the east coast of the U.S. Here’s what the coverage map will look like:
* Trivia for the day: I was born in New York state.