Horizontal photo of a shelf of books used by Diana P. Parsell for research on forthcoming book, "Eliza Scidmore: The Trailblazing Woman Behind Washington's Cherry Trees" Photo by Diana Parsell

Diana Parsell—Eliza Scidmore: The Trailblazing Journalist Behind Washington's Cherry Trees

Eliza Scidmore

Eliza Scidmore


Diana Parsell
Oxford University Press, March 1, 2023, $32.95
ISBN-10: 0198869428, ISBN-13: 978-0198869429

Parsell reports:

This is my first book. It took a decade to complete. While working in Indonesia as a science writer for an international environmental group in the early 2000s, I stumbled across an 1897 travelogue, Java, The Garden of the East, by E. R. Scidmore.

My online search revealed the author, Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore (1856-1928), had published six travel books. She was the first female board member and photographer of National Geographic. She was also the earliest champion of Japanese cherry trees in D.C. I had lived in Washington for three decades. How had I never heard of her?

Diana Parsell, photo by Lisa Damico

Diana Parsell, photo by Lisa Damico

Having the Library of Congress in my backyard was a big plus. When the recession hit and my foreign work dried up, I started going to the LOC about three days a week to conduct research on Scidmore. That made me eligible to apply for a shared study office there, which I had access to for several years.

Once I discovered Scidmore’s pen name as a newspaper correspondent, I found some 800 articles she had published. Datelines gave me a chronology of her travels. I eventually found rich primary source material at two dozen libraries and archives. The research, which I self-funded, took me to Japan and Alaska. I juggled working on the book with freelance editing.

I started a website and blog on the project late in 2011, when I realized I would miss the centennial of the DC cherry trees in March 2012. I did it to stake my claim as Scidmore’s future biographer. A Washington Post reporter found me through the website; his article on Scidmore brought many inquiries. I ended up being interviewed and getting speaking engagements when I'd barely started the project!

My book includes many new findings on Scidmore’s achievements beyond the cherry trees, which included popularizing Alaska and Japan and activism in the early U.S. conservation movement.

My biggest regret is that I pitched the book too soon. I got 30-plus rejections from agents. A 30-minute coaching session with Cathy Curtis of Biographers International Organization helped me rethink the structure, which led to a much more coherent proposal.

I ended up signing with Oxford University Press after a fellow D.C. writer I met on an airplane referred me to his editor there. She loved the subject. Then Covid-19 intervened, causing multiple delays. Getting the book to the finish line felt Sisyphean.

Contact info:

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Tell your fellow NASW members how you came up with the idea for your book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. Include what you wish you had known before you began working on your book, or had done differently.

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Review Advance Copy archives at https://www.nasw.org/member-article/advance-copy.

Thinking of writing a book? If you are a NASW member, you may access a list of more than 150 books and online resources to help you create your book proposal, find an agent and funding sources, negotiate your contract, learn about self-publishing, publicize and market your book, and more at https://www.nasw.org/article/write-book.

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February 27, 2023

Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

NASW members: Will your book be published soon? Visit www.nasw.org/advance-copy-submission-guidelines for information on submitting your report.

Publication of NASW author reports in Advance Copy does not constitute NASW's endorsement of any publication or the ideas, values, or material contained within or espoused by authors or their books. We hope this column stimulates productive discussions on important topics now and in the future as both science and societies progress. We welcome your discussion in the comments section below.

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