Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Viva la Guia

From Cloud Nine over Ohio, Kenn writes: Lisa White, my editor for the last several years at my publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, e-mailed me a short while ago with some very good news.

First, some background. From the time my field guide to North American birds was published, in October 2000, I had this ambition to bring out a version of the book in Spanish. I'd been living in Arizona, traveling a lot in California and Texas and Florida, and I knew that I heard a lot of Spanish being spoken on the street. The latest census figures at the time showed that something like 28 million U.S. citizens spoke Spanish at home. Of course, I knew that most of those individuals were bilingual, and could use an English-language bird guide if they really wanted to. But my whole aim was to get more people interested in birds. So I figured, why not give them a bird guide written in the language in which they were most comfortable?

The opportunity came a few years later. The publisher decided to change the cover design of the book (the first edition had had a Scarlet Tanager on the cover), and they gave me the opportunity to make changes to the interior of the book as well. Since they were having to reprint it anyway, they gave me the go-ahead to get the book translated into Spanish, to bring that edition out at the same time as the new English printing.

It was, I admit, a time-consuming and expensive project. I found a great translator, Patricia Manzano Fischer, who works on bird conservation in Mexico. We enlisted great help from the Mexican ornithologist Hector Gomez de Silva. Still, I had to edit all the Spanish text to fit the page layout, and I put up the money to pay for the translation myself. I definitely lost a lot of money on this project, but I wasn't trying to make a profit, I was trying to make a difference. And we've had some great feedback from the border regions and from northern Mexico, indicating that thousands of people are actually using the book and getting a lot out of it: students, biologists, park rangers, naturalists, teachers. At least in some measure, the Guia de campo Kaufman a las aves de norteamerica is achieving its goal of bringing more people into an appreciation of birds.

The first printing came out in 2005 and has been selling slowly and steadily since. What Lisa White told me today is that this book, this Spanish-language bird guide, is about to go back for a second printing. Right now the economic climate is really tough for publishers, and it means a lot to me to know that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt believes in this book enough to invest in another printing.