When northwest Oregon native and journalist LeeAnn Kriegh moved to Bend in 2012, she fell in love with the trees and birds, flowers and critters. Wanting to learn more about them, she began sifting through nature guidebooks, but wasn’t satisfied by what she found on local bookstore shelves.
“There wasn’t a book available that took the approach I was looking for,” Kriegh said. “I had all the field guides, the Audubon guides, those sorts of books. And they’re wonderful and necessary, but they didn’t tell me stories or help reel me in or teach me the basics — and that’s what I wanted to do.”
Kriegh’s book, “The Nature of Bend,” which was released in 2016, makes her one of about 40 Central Oregon authors who have their titles available at local bookshops and libraries. A smaller slice — around half a dozen — have written books with outdoor themes, such as guidebooks to nature or recreation.
But for many like Kriegh, having one’s name on the spine of a book is a crowning achievement — being a published author. And Kriegh encourages others to do the same. Publishing a book isn’t an impossible, pie-in-the-sky dream. It’s a workable goal that can be achieved through pragmatic steps, according to multiple authors and publishers.
Look before you plunge
You should be ready to make a serious time commitment toward the topic you’ll dedicate a book to, Kriegh said. She spent an estimated 2,000 hours working on her full-color guidebook, which she dedicated to 350 species. That’s about 20 hours each week for 2½ years, including weeks off, she said.
“More broadly, it’s a big undertaking, and you have to have a big passion for your subject,” she said. “Otherwise, it’s going to go into a drawer.”
Kriegh, 46, initially set off on the traditional publishing route by sending a detailed proposal to a book publisher. While she waited, the full-time copywriter who owns WordDoc, a writing and editing business, began plugging away at the book. Half a year passed before the publisher declined Kriegh’s proposal. Central Oregon seemed too small a market, she recalled them saying.
“You wouldn’t think that would take six months to decide,” Kriegh said with a laugh. During that time she decided she wanted to keep complete control of all the book’s elements — how it was going to look, the voice she would use, how it would be distributed, rather than court another publisher.
She opted for self-publishing, which means not only would she pick up the check for printing, but she would also assume the editing, marketing and distribution responsibilities usually handled by a publisher.
Kriegh coordinated with more than 40 photographers, both professional and amateur, who donated about 650 images to her book. She also conferred with local naturalists and scientific papers for the fun, engaging details she was after. Kriegh outsourced layout duties to a designer.
“It was a fun challenge,” she said.
Kriegh established her own publishing company, Tempo Press, and ordered two print runs from a small Illinois press.
“(Establishing) Tempo Press was just for fun, so there would be a nod to my beloved dog (Tempo) on the spine,” said Kriegh, adding that she funnels all book proceeds through her writing and editing business.
Across two print runs, the wholesale cost of an individual copy ranged from $4 to $7. The book retails for $20. Kriegh says she sold thousands, but wouldn’t give a specific number. She’s heard a lot of positive remarks about the engaging way she’s presented facts and anecdotes about these species that “help people feel connected and put a smile on their faces.”
Kriegh is currently working on “The Nature of Portland,” a similar book she hopes will appeal to an urban audience. She’ll stick with self-publishing and will again visit bookshop after bookshop, introducing herself and persuading staff to stock her book.
“The whole goal of the book was to get people more interested in nature,” Kriegh said. “The more you know about a species, the more you care about them and work to take care of them. … I’ve heard people say they take the book out with their kids, for instance, and that just means the world to me.”
An untapped niche
At Dudley’s Bookshop Cafe, “The Nature of Bend” is propped face-out in the “Local Interest” section, which includes guidebooks, Central Oregon histories and other genres tackled by local authors. More than 40 titles cram the section.
Owner Tom Beans said Central Oregon’s community of published authors, particularly those who deal in nonfiction with an outdoorsy bent, is “fairly robust.”
“I get approached on average at least once a week by a local author wanting us to carry their book,” Beans said, adding that they usually take the book on consignment. “We’re happy to do it.”
Along with “Nature of Bend,” other locally themed guidebooks, such as Jason Chinchen’s “Central Oregon Bouldering” and Kim Cooper Findling’s “Bend, Oregon Daycations,” are steady sellers. Dudley’s sells three to five of most guidebooks each week — and more during summer.
“It speaks to Bend itself and what people are interested in. The challenge for local authors of fiction is a whole other animal,” Beans said. “If the ultimate goal is to sell copies, nonfiction is the much easier way to go,” Beans said. “No matter which subject you’re writing about, there’s someone out there interested. And in the case of guidebooks of Bend, there are a lot of people interested.”
A natural, local connection
Bend resident Lucas Alberg made signing a book deal look easy. Maybe that’s because he’s experienced in both professional writing and marketing. Alberg, 39, has worked as Hydro Flask’s public relations and communications manager since 2012. While visiting an outdoor trade show in Salt Lake City several years ago, Alberg introduced himself to employees staffing the booth belonging to Wilderness Press, an outdoor publisher. The accomplished runner told them about his idea for a guidebook dedicated to Central Oregon trail running.
“There really (wasn’t) a one-stop resource for trail running here,” said Alberg, noting how unlikely that was given Bend’s robust running community. “I was running on all the trails anyway, and I’m also a math geek. I’ve always pored over maps, trying to find new routes to see what’s around the corner. I had exhausted all the trails.”
The Wilderness Press representatives were intrigued and told him to send a book proposal. Alberg returned to Bend and fired off the proposal he had already prepared with help from a friend who had written a few Northwest mountain biking guidebooks. For good measure, Alberg also sent it out to a couple other publishers. Tim Jackson, the senior acquisitions editor at AdventureKEEN, which publishes the Wilderness Press imprint, received Alberg’s proposal. Jackson sifts through about 100 solicited and unsolicited submissions each year. He acquires about 12 to 15 new books. He also commissions 20 or so revisions of titles with enduring relevancy. Alberg’s proposal stood out, Jackson said. The nine-page document was “an example of the more professional, organized and very detailed outline we receive,” Jackson said, adding that Alberg’s previously published articles, most recently in Bend Magazine, spoke to his reliability and skill. Alberg also sent sample chapters, which detailed 6- to 8-mile loops at Smith Rock State Park, Whychus Canyon Preserve and the Big Obsidian Flow Trail.
“It was very nicely done,” Jackson said.
Alberg spent about eight months compiling descriptions of 50 Central Oregon running loops appropriate for particular seasons. Wilderness Press’ in-house cartographer took the GPX files Alberg created with his smart watch while running the loops and turned them into the book’s maps. Jackson handled some editing duties while a copy editor handled the nitty-gritty and a marketing manager took care of promotion. Wilderness Press released “Trail Running Bend and Central Oregon” and sent Alberg on a small book tour around the state. It culminated with a reading at Powell’s City of Books in Portland. Afterward, Alberg was asked to sign a register of visiting authors, some of whose titles have appeared on The New York Times’ best-sellers list.
“It was truly an honor,” Alberg said.
A parent to young children, Alberg has recently finished a children’s book that he has begun shopping around. He’s also planning for a memoir about his time as Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia during a period of violent upheaval. But he demystified the possibility of book authorship when he sought to tackle the feasible, straightforward nature of a guidebook.
“I just hope to leave a legacy that helps and inspires my family and (others),” Alberg said. “Running is a way for me to connect with nature and to live and feel healthy both in the body and the mind. With this book, I hope to provide others with the path to do the same.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7816, firstname.lastname@example.org