Winning Over Skeptics: PW Talks with John Englander
"I think I overcame any stigma that it does not have a major publisher behind it. In fact, when people hear it is self-published, they respond with disbelief."John Englander is an oceanographer and world ocean explorer with training in geology and economics. He has served as CEO of the Cousteau Society and the International Seakeepers Society. His first book, High Tide on Main Street, received a starred review from PW, with our reviewer saying: “[Englander] provides a cogent and sobering glimpse at the effects of the rise in sea levels.... Few who read this challenging primer will venture to disagree.” We talked with Englander via e-mail about his decision to go DIY, and the realities of climate change.
Why did you decide to self-publish High Tide on Main Street?
I attended a seminar about self-publishing by Dan Poynter and was intrigued, but also realized it would be a lot of work to do on my own. So I still talked to a few publishers ranging in size from niche market to large mainstream. I was not comfortable letting them drive the editorial perspective. I kept getting the message from them that I needed to have an intended audience focus [either] on the scientific community or the “green” environmentalists. My idea was quite different. The story of sea level rise needed to be told with the latest science, discreetly citing the technical literature to give it credibility, but in a voice that spoke to the general public. As an unknown author, I was being offered such a small royalty and advance that traditional publishing did not have much financial appeal. The publishers were eager to hear what audiences and market niches I could bring to them as potential buyers of the book. Since I had many networks and mailing lists, I figured that I might as well try it on my own.
Once you decided to self-publish, what was the process like?
I read a few books about self-publishing and looked at some options. In the end I used CreateSpace. Though I considered using CreateSpace for editing and design, in the end I contracted all that out myself. I found my own editor and cover designer and just gave CreateSpace a print-ready PDF. By the time I was done, I would estimate that my out-of-pocket costs approached $10,000. Once the book was uploaded and perfected, CreateSpace facilitates numerous marketing channels. If I want to buy quantities for my own direct sales, the price per book is very reasonable, about $4 each.
What were the biggest problems of self-publishing?
Having to do it all myself. Not having anyone else invest their money and experience in this venture. The lack of any organizational structure or timetable. It can be overwhelming.
What has the reaction been to your book now that you have self-published? Has it stirred any controversy? Have you had feedback from people in the scientific community working on climate change?
I fully expected to be attacked by some of the climate change skeptics and even some scientists, who can be rather picky about which facts are used or how they are characterized. To my surprise, the book has received rave reviews from everyone and virtually no attacks to date. I get many e-mails each week telling me how profoundly the book has affected readers, how it clarifies all the disparate climate issues. The feedback is really touching and humbling. While I had big aspirations, I find the reaction even beyond what I imagined.
Looking back on your own experience, what are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
For the positive you get to determine everything, the title, the cover art, the approach, the length of the book, and you get a much higher portion of the sale price of each book. The negatives are that you have to do everything yourself or find competent, cost-effective contractors to do the various tasks, and [you] have to fund it all on your own.
Your book is about a scientific topic that is very controversial. Do you think it will be viewed differently from traditionally published books about similar topics?
If the book were viewed as “self-published,” it might be more suspect. Beyond my own bio, there are several things that have helped give it credibility. A strong cover. Getting a well-known person, Jean-Michel Cousteau, to write the foreword.... I then solicited blurbs and received over a dozen that were exceptional, many from people with significant organizational affiliations. The extensive references cited also help provide credibility for those who know to look for them. Also, I created my own publishing imprint, “The Science Bookshelf,” that is the publisher of record, similar to the boutique imprints now used by major diversified publishing houses. With all of those elements, I think I overcame any stigma that it does not have a major publisher behind it. In fact, when people hear it is self-published, they respond with disbelief.
Along the same lines, what special difficulties did you face self-publishing a book about climate change, a reality that many people refuse to believe?
The book took me almost four years to research and write. Knowing the controversy about climate change, I was determined to tell a compelling story, with rigorous references, and be able to defend it. Still, I was nervous that it might be attacked. That likely made me work extra hard. I have a good reputation and want to keep it. Fortunately, the facts speak. My evidence has won over many skeptics. Also, we should realize that public attitude about climate change is changing. Recent surveys show a majority of Americans are now persuaded that it is happening and that humans are a large factor.