Beating the Big Guns

Tucsonan Thomas Wiewandt captures top publishing honors.

In the fall of 2001, The Weekly had the foresight to review Thomas Wiewandt's encyclopedic treasure, The Southwest Inside Out: An Illustrated Guide to the Land and Its History, published by Wild Horizons Publishing.

It was not only reviewed favorably, but was rated in the "must have" category for bibliophiles.

Turns out The Weekly's praise was ahead of its time, as this labor of love that took more than 12 years to produce has been named Best Book of 2001-2002 by the Arizona Book Publishers Association, beating a wide mix of Arizona-published titles. Some 25 judges--editors, booksellers and librarians--poured over tables full of entries before bestowing the top honor on the Tucson photographer/author. David challenged Goliath and won.

"Given the diversity and quality of winning entries in this year's competition, I was stunned," Wiewandt says. "This industry, especially book marketing and distribution, is heavily biased against the small player, so it's gratifying to know the little guy can come out on top."

It happened before. Last summer, The Southwest Inside Out took Gold Honors in two national competitions for book publishing excellence: Best Science/Environmental Book in the Publisher's Marketing Association Ben Franklin Awards and Best Environmental/Ecology/Nature Book in the Independent Publisher Book Awards competition. Each of those national competitions drew between 1,000 and 1,500 entries to be judged. The book was also a finalist in the Writer's Digest Reference Books category and was named locally as Best Southwest Book of the Year 2001.

"As an educator, professional photographer and a book-lover, I decided to publish independently to ensure tighter creative control over the use of my images in print," he says. "I wanted to produce a new view of the Southwest, a holistic overview of our natural landscapes with a synthesis of geology, ecology, history and pre-history written to be read for enjoyment. My aim was to produce a book with the visual and educational appeal I would have treasured as a child."

Wiewandt said the go-it-alone decision came when he could find no press willing to take a chance with fresh ideas and try something new in content and design: "I realized my vision for this book would never see the light of day in the hands of someone else." The process from initial concept to finished product was what the publisher calls "a wild ride in a business not designed for part-timers."

Looking back on the trials and tribulations, a dedication to quality and the unwavering adherence to his beliefs of how things should be, Wiewandt notes, "My first claim to fame was a dubious honor from the folks who printed this book. I made more pre-press changes than anyone they had worked with that year. But it was worth the agony."

While the photographic images and entrepreneurial spirit remains his, Wiewandt is a team player, quick to acknowledge his contributors: New Mexico geologist and co-author Maureen Wilks, 16 freelance journalists (eight of them Tucsonans) who helped nurture the text to fruition and 21 experts who reviewed the words for accuracy and clarity.

"I'm indebted to all who contributed," he says. "Receiving these honors validates the decision to persevere and make a total commitment to an unproven idea. The journey has been a long one, but worth the effort. The awards are a bonus--and they belong to all of the creative souls who made this book possible."

Critics are quick to point out that awards are great but what really matters is how well a book sells. "Like most science books, The Southwest Inside Out won't fly off the shelves," says Wiewandt, who proudly points out there are only a few hundred copies left from the initial print run of 12,000.

Asked if a second edition might be in the offing, Wiewandt says coyly, "I'm contemplating the possibility of revisions for a new edition. I look forward to keeping this book in print for many years."

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