PW Talks with John Englander
By Adam Boretz
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
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
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. ■