Blue Panda Publications has always been an ESP–Especially Small Publisher. To think about publishing a bestseller on RLP–Really Large Publisher–terms is ridiculous. There’s no way we can cope with hundreds of thousands of copies for one of our books in a season. It would cause total havoc. But, in our own way, we do have bestsellers. We publish travel books for experienced travelers and travel narratives for women, and the titles have sold steadily over the years. Our four Travel Resource Guides are Travel and Learn, about educational vacations around the world, now in its fourth edition; Free Vacations & Bargain Adventures in the USA, in its third edition, about volunteer vacations and low-cost trips; Family Travel, about ranch vacations, camping, and dinosaur digs; and Active Woman Vacation Guide, with stories by adventurous women of yesterday and today and information about companies that offer quality outdoor trips. Our travel narratives include a biography, Amazing Traveler Isabella Bird, and Adventures in Japan, a book about a trip through northern Japan following Bird’s 1878 footsteps 120 years later. I research and write the books, my partner and husband Christopher Sarson designs them on his computer, and we hire a cover designer, copy editor, and indexer. I do most of the PR and promotion. While Free Vacations and Travel and Learn have each sold about 9,000 copies over the years, our bestseller is Amazing Traveler Isabella Bird, which first came out in 1994. We have sold about 12,000 copies and are about to reprint. Like each of our other books, it had a promotion plan. We always send out media information both by mail and e-mail, do radio and if possible TV, and use PMA’s Books for Review, which has proved helpful, as well as library mailings, which are hard to judge. To promote this title, we also designed a presentation for libraries in Colorado, and for a year performed in different libraries, sometimes to standing-room-only crowds and othertimes to a handful of homeless men coming in out of the cold.
Have Ink-Stand, Will Travel
Amazing Traveler is a book close to my heart. I first discovered Isabella Bird when I picked up her book about traveling in 1873 Colorado, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains; I found it at a church book sale in New Jersey. From the first page, I loved her writing, her energy, her enthusiasm for travel, and her courage. I was determined to write this woman’s biography. Isabella Bird was the daughter of a minister. Proper English ladies usually stayed at home but she gallivanted off to Colorado, Hawaii, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, Russia, Persia, Turkey, and more, wearing long skirts and carrying her pen and ink-stand. At the age of 70, she galloped through the Atlas Mountains of Morocco on the Sultan’s white horse. Throughout her life, she suffered from a bad back and was frequently ill, but that never deterred her from travel. Isabella Bird married at 50 but her husband died five years later, and she supported herself and a sister with her writing. She wrote 10 popular books about her adventures, was the first woman Fellow of the all-male Royal Geographical Society, and, despite the risks she took, died peacefully at home in Scotland in 1904 at the age of 73.
Reagan, Sinatra & Bird
Whenever I talk about the book, I find the story of Isabella Bird’s life is an inspiration to modern women, because they tell me so. This plain, stout, British woman, who was 40 when she rode through snowstorms in Colorado and went on her most adventurous trips when she was in her 60s, is an exciting example to women today, particularly older women, of how much they can achieve despite the strictures of society. She is a strong and yet sympathetic figure with a wonderful aptitude for adventure, a superb ability to write, and the charm of not taking herself too seriously. Kitty Kelley, the author of biographies of Nancy Reagan and Frank Sinatra, wrote about the book: "A spectacular biography! A must read for women entranced by strength and independence, and for men who want to understand such exotica!" This was the one time I made a real effort to get pre-publication comments from well-known authors of biographies. I was thrilled to get such a positive response from Kelley, and it was a great help in all the promotional efforts. Blue Panda sold 3,000 copies of Amazing Traveler the first year, and we reprinted 6,000. It got excellent reviews, an award from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association, and great follow-up stories. In 1998, we brought out a second edition with a new format, new cover, new introduction, additional photographs, and all the reviews and stories. The new edition is selling steadily, mostly by word of mouth since we do very little promotion now. Several people expressed interest in making a movie about Isabella Bird’s life–I see British actress Judi Dench as Isabella Bird–but so far nothing has materialized. I’m researching another forgotten woman traveler, Marianne North (1830-1880), who not only traveled the world but painted excellent pictures of nature and the environment. Marianne North wept when she saw redwoods being cut down in California. Her gallery at Kew Gardens, England, displays more than 800 of her paintings. Marianne North’s life makes a great story. Blue Panda will publish it in 2003, and the press hopes to have another bestseller on our terms so that we can continue to be an ESP.
A Short Isabella Bird Sampler
"I am doing what a woman can hardly ever do–leading a life fit for a man." Isabella Bird in Hawaii "He is a man whom any woman might love but who no sane woman would marry." Isabella Bird on her romance with Rocky Mountain Jim in Colorado "I took my revolver out of the holster, and very slowly examined the chambers, though I knew well that they were all loaded. This had an excellent effect. The threatening tribesmen fell back, and began dispersing." Isabella Bird in Persia "I still vote civilization a nuisance, society a humbug, and all conventionality a crime." Isabella Bird at home in Scotland