I started writing books in the early 1980s. Like most academic geographers, I published essays or scientific articles in journals like the Geographic Review or Geographical Analysis. Writing a book always seemed daunting—a fantasy fueled by a Writer’s Digest subscription and frequent visits to a local bookstore with a good “Writing” section. Especially encouraging was the observation (William Zinsser’s, I believe) that writing a book is akin to rowing a boat across the Atlantic: five miles a day and eventually you’ll get there.
My first book was a textbook, Computer-Assisted Cartography: Principles and Prospects, published by Prentice-Hall in 1982. As the first commercial textbook on computer cartography, a field now called geographic information science, it sold well. In the mid 1980s, with a glut of used copies eroding demand for new books, the publisher requested a revision, which I declined. Time is scarce, and I had moved onto book-length essays, the first of which was Technological Transition in Cartography, published in 1985 by the University of Wisconsin Press.
Two more textbooks followed, both co-authored with George Schnell, a geographer at SUNY New Paltz. George received his Ph.D. at Penn State a few years before I did, and our collaborative projects (mostly research papers) span three decades. Our jointly authored texts had mixed success. Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company brought out The Study of Population: Elements, Patterns, Processes in 1983, and promptly abandoned its geography list when a new owner took over. In 1988 we published Map Appreciation with Prentice-Hall, which encouraged us to write the book but put little effort into its marketing. At that point I swore off writing textbooks.
Or did I? Two of my books—How to Lie with Maps and Mapping It Out—are required reading for a variety of college courses, including a few of my own. They’ve also enjoyed decent sales as trade books, especially among independent booksellers, and How to Lie with Maps is, by university press standards, a bestseller. Both are published by the University of Chicago Press, which persuaded me to revise How to Lie with Maps. The carrot was an opportunity to add illustrations in color, strangely lacking from the first edition.
Working with the editors and other professionals at Chicago is enjoyable. I also appreciate their practice of keeping books in print a long time—possibly forever, with their new commitment to one-off electronic printing. All seven books I’ve published with Chicago are still in print.
I tried a trade publisher once. In 1995 Henry Holt brought out Drawing the Line: Tales of Maps and Cartocontroversy. It was a fun book to research and write, and received impressive reviews. Holt did a superb job with design and production, but the economics of commercial publishing dictated a short shelf life. In about fifteen months, a paperback was out, and bookstores shipped unsold cloth copies back to the warehouse, which sent most of them to cut-rate mail-order retailers like Edward Hamilton. And in another fifteen months the paperbound version was remaindered. You can probably locate a reasonably-priced copy in decent condition through an online bookseller like Amazon.com. And it's also available as an e-book, from Google Books.
On Making Maps: Desktop mapping is a marvelous invention, which I use regularly in creating maps for my books and articles. Through the late 1980s, I generally turned these chores over to the department’s staff cartographer, who’d use my rough drawings to draft finished artwork with ink pens and stick-up lettering. The work was labor intensive, instructions had to be explicit, delay was inevitable, experimentation was discouraged, and the process taught “clients” like me to be precise but not fussy.
Electronic publishing radically altered the way I write. With a scanner at home, access to a larger one in the department, and well-equipped computers at both locations, I now craft my own illustrations from start to finish. Specialized software helps me analyze data and project coastlines, and Macromedia Freehand lets me draft maps and diagrams while experimenting with symbols and labeling. When the story calls for a facsimile, I use Adobe Photoshop to clean-up, crop, and reformat. I often design an illustration the same day that I discuss its content, not weeks or months later. I create my artwork at the final, reproduced size, and run proofs on the laser printer in my office. If something needs adjustment or a different approach, I change it. This regular, first-hand experience transfers nicely to my map design course, and (I like to think) makes me a better teacher.
If you'd like some advice on making your own maps, get a copy of Mapping It Out: Expository Cartography for the Humanities and Social Sciences. And for insights on how and why news artists make maps, see Maps with the News: The Development of American Journalistic Cartography.