The title “best-selling author” now can be added as a credential before the name of Steve Brusatte.
The Ottawa native and Scotland-based paleontologist has seen his book “The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World” ranked ninth on the New York Times’ science book best sellers list. Now in its eighth printing, the 400-page hardcover nonfiction tome was published April 24, Brusatte’s 34th birthday.
“I just hoped that it would make some kind of impact, that it would sell a decent number of copies and get a few good reviews,” he said in an email interview. “What's awesome is that the book has been selling well on Amazon, in the big bookshops like Barnes and Noble, and in independent bookshops like Prairie Fox Books in Ottawa. And it's been doing pretty well in the U.S., United Kingdom and particularly in Canada.”
“The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs” is geared to adults, and explains how the ancient creatures developed and ultimately ceased to exist. Brusatte describes the volume as “an adult pop science book.”
“It's gotten as high as the number five nonfiction book in Canada, which blows my mind and is far, far beyond my wildest dreams for the book.”
Brusatte may be completely flattered, but there was a strategy to getting “The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs” on the best-seller list.
“My U.S. editor (Peter Hubbard at HarperCollins publishing firm) set a goal for us to get on the July New York Times science list. … We figured it would be really hard to get on the list because science books are really popular during the run up to Father's Day, and because we just have a hardcover and no paperback, and often paperbacks sell better because they are cheaper,” said Brusatte, discoverer of 15 dinosaur species and a reader in vertebrate paleontology in the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh (equal to an associate professor at a United States college).
Brusatte's publisher said working on the book has been a highlight of his career.
"It’s a book that has been needed for many years but it took someone with Steve’s unique combination of talents and experience to pull it off — a pioneering front-line scientist who is equally at home in the lab as he is doing fieldwork in the most remote and rugged terrain; a truly gifted writer with an innate sense of narrative, able to seamlessly weave together timelines that are hundreds of millions of years apart; and a passionate communicator whose excitement enlivens every page," Hubbard said. "Ottawa should be proud of its native son.”
“We pushed really hard on the publicity front. The publicity team at HarperCollins (led by Maureen Cole) put together a genius marketing strategy. They arranged for a couple of interviews on (National Public Radio) and for me to write a few articles for some online publications like Salon and Entertainment Weekly. We also caught a few really important breaks: ‘Jurassic World’ came out in June, so people around the U.S. had dinosaurs on their mind.”
Brusatte got additional exposure when a feature about dinosaur fossils in Scotland aired on the June 24 edition of the television show “CBS Sunday Morning” and “CBS Evening News” (cbsnews.com/video/isle-of-skye-a-hotbed-of-dinosaur-discoveries/). He was interviewed, but the book was not mentioned.
Nevertheless, “The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs” (featured in an April 21 Times article) gained traction with high-profile, positive reviews in the New York Times, Washington Post (which was reprinted in the Chicago Tribune) and the London Times. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a dinosaur buff, wrote about the book on the Fox News Channel website (foxnews.com/opinion/2018/06/30/newt-gingrich-there-are-dinosaurs-real-ones-outside-your-window-just-look.html).
Success for “The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs” hardly surprises Jane von Mehren, a literary agent at Aevitas Creative Management, which marketed the book.
“The first time I heard Steve Brusatte talking about dinosaurs, what struck me was his ability to communicate complicated ideas with clarity and passion. That ability combined with the truly amazing discoveries he and his colleagues have made over the past 20 years explain the success of the book,” she said via email.
”I believe that Steve Brusatte is one of those scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan who will reach many, many people, even those who don’t think they are the least bit interested in science or dinosaurs.”
“The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs” has received near-unanimous positive reviews, including ones from respected scientists and science writers.
“I’ve been very lucky. The book also has a lot of reviews from readers on Amazon, and these are mostly positive, but of course, there are some people who have some criticisms, and even some readers who hated the book. A small percentage, but they exist,” Brusatte said.
“Negative reviews always take a little bit of wind out of me, but I know that any time you write or create something, there will always be some people who don't like it.”
A former Times reporter and teen columnist, Brusatte admits he’s been in a “whirlwind” since the book dropped. Interviews, lectures and book signings have been constant, yet he knows they can help sell books.
“I know how hugely fortunate I am that so many things broke my way, the good reviews, the good timing with ‘Jurassic World,’ getting some prime spots on television and radio. I am very lucky to have this chance to talk about science to such a big audience, and let's be honest, I may never get that chance again,” he said.
“So I'm trying to eat it all up. I'm trying to do every interview, every lecture, every reading, every signing, every podcast I can before the gravy train inevitably comes to a stop.”
“The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs” is available in bookstores, including Prairie Fox Books, and on digital formats.
“I was expecting one or two printings as a hardcover, and then hopefully catching some fire when the cheaper paperback comes out (probably next spring). But eight printings is just totally nuts. I'm not sure exactly how many copies have sold, but definitely in the tens of thousands so far,” Brusatte said.
Author will present local program
Ottawa native Steve Brusatte will discuss his book “The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World,” at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 21, at Hank’s Farm Restaurant, 2973 N. Route 71, Ottawa.
Sponsored by Ottawa’s Prairie Fox Books, 722 La Salle St., the event will include a buffet-style dinner featuring roast pork, a salad bar and dessert. Tickets are $35 a person for the dinner.
“Doing the Prairie Fox event … will be the cherry on top of this big crazy sundae. I can't wait to talk about the book to folks back home and to sign copies for a lot of my friends and family,” Brusatte said in an email interview.
Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the event, but those buying copies when buying tickets will save 20 percent on the cost of the book. Ticket costs, including the dinner, program and book, will be $60.
All ticket purchases are through Prairie Fox Books, prairiefoxbooks.com and on Facebook, and can be paid for in person or over the phone at 815-433-7323.