Whats it like to build a field guide sans publisher

Crimson-fronted Parakeet
Crimsin-fronted Parakeet detail

What motivated us to want to do a field guide book in the first place.

Many things vied for the primary motivation of producing these books. I guess I would have to say an interest in documenting the species of the region was probably the most obvious example but others occur. The idea of combining art and science was a top one and the pleasure of building something from nothing is always a joy.

In Noels case honouring Alexander Skutch always underlined everything he contributes to the project.

What made us decide to self publish?

All the motivation in the world may not always help when it comes to enticing a publisher. We discussed it at length in the beginning and still raise the topic from time to time. In the end it was decided to take any time we would use to find a publisher to ”pitch” our idea to and put that time instead to actually producing content. 

Another reason for our decision to self publish was certain ideas were central to how we envisioned the books and the feeling in our little group was that we didn’t want to forgo those central ideas in any negotiations with a publisher. Thats not to say that a relationship with a publisher is adversarial, far from it. In fact publishing companies and their attendant editors are very good at making raw product better. We just wanted to be getting on with it. If a publisher approached us with some ideas we would of course be excited. That excitement though would mostly be about not having to spend time finding them in the first place. 

What didn’t we know when we started out?

Lots! Much more than we initially thought. 

The amount of time self publishing and everything that includes may or may not equal the amount of time it might take to find a willing publisher.  Waiting to put pen to paper until a publisher was found meant we could at this time have nothing to show for our efforts, content or a publisher.

We certainly didn’t know to what extent getting the word out would take. Nor were our time estimates for just about every aspect realistic. Just working out and refining our various editing duties meant going backwards a few times. 

Actually building the interactive book took us by surprise and ended up taking up a huge amount of our day. Asset management blindsided Noel and myself although Carey saw it looming on the horizon very early on.

Learning how to effectively utilize the various ebook and website authoring tools was something new. 

Becoming a effective writer was not on the radar.  I naively thought that since I was the guy doing the paintings why would I have to write anything.

The graphic design as a skill set was already in my quiver but the sheer amount caught us off guard. Doesn’t this stuff just sort of happen?

Having to learn to survive and get along with Apple and Kindle was unexpected. I liken it to sleeping with an elephant, its fine as long as it decides not to roll over and if it does it can be  the start of a bad day.

What did we have to become good at?

Again, lots! Top of my list was to continually strive to be better at the paintings. To improve my own personal painting editing skills. Bird anatomy, feather layout, shape and line where always scrutinized to see where things could improve.

As mentioned writing. Both Noel and I had to as his writing was central to the project and I was tasked to look after all the peripheral material not to mention learning how to communicate with reviewers and such.

Noel had to find ways to integrate writing into his busy life and embrace writing in a second language, no small feat in my opinion.  

Getting half way decent with web design as well as blogging never mind learning all the tools necessary for those tasks. Asset management and backing up really jumped up the queue when we realized just how much stuff we soon had in hand not to mention the different categories of stuff.

Learning to be ruthless and critical of everything we produce and not letting preciousness and ego get in the way. To be able to work on something for days and if the team as a whole decides after the fact it just won’t work to just move on with out any hurt feelings.

Keeping a constant finger on the pulse of the ebook publishing world is something we have to strive for, its essential since things change fast.

What do we wish we had done differently?

More lots! Its an ongoing learning experience and we expected to have to learn, adapt and back up when we had to. We would have adopted our current more precise method of editing the paintings much earlier. 

Same goes for writing templates, those evolved over time as we saw a need to change, improve and refine things. 

Sticking to the designed style sheet earlier on rather than fixing things at the back end.

What do we still not know?

Tough one, if we know what we didn’t know then we would be in a state of knowing that. Which would mean…oh never mind.

We still don’t know how the work will ultimately be received. There are indications of course and the sales are always a welcome indicator but its more than that. Its the opinions of the professionals, ornithologists birding guides, journals and serious birders that count here.

What are we happy about so far?

We still don’t know if we will approach a publisher for a paper/hardcover version or not. Nor do we know if we will give it a go ourselves, its entails a huge effort but thankfully the book printing industry is adapting to the new paradigm fairly well. It still teething pains but is growing.


We’re happy with the ways we’ve devised on how we now do this. With sensible methods and templates in place dropping content into a usable format is simpler and cleaner. 

We’re very proud of this first release and knowing we’ve made something special that wasn’t there before just inspires us to continue. 

Finally we are grateful that we can contribute to the wonderful body of work already out there. We hope that our efforts add to folks experience of some of the more common birds of Costa Rica.


San Isidro de Generale, June 2019


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