Rectangular photo of Elizabeth Nesbitt’s desk showing scientific papers on fossils. Her research comes from primary sources, such as Geobios, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Current Biology, and Papers in Paleontology. Photo credit: Elizabeth Nesbitt

Elizabeth A. Nesbitt and David B. Williams—Spirit Whales & Sloth Tales: Fossils of Washington State

Cover of the book Spirit Whales & Sloth Tales: Fossils of Washington State by Elizabeth A. Nesbitt and David B. Williams showing the title superimposed over a Washington State landscape, with a sketch of an Ice Age giant ground sloth and a photo of a reconstructed long-nosed dolphin skeleton.

Spirit Whales & Sloth Tales


Elizabeth A. Nesbitt and David B. Williams (NASW Member)
University of Washington Press, October 22, 2023, $24.95
ISBN 13: 9780295752327

Williams reports:

The book originated with Liz, who had been Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at Seattle’s Burke Museum. She had long wanted to write a book about Washington fossils because none existed. After retiring, she approached the UW Press, which was excited about the book, but knew she needed to work with someone more accustomed to writing for a non-academic audience.

Portrait photo of David Williams by Andrew Croneberger

David Williams
Photo by Andrew Croneberger

When the UW Press asked me to work with Liz, it was an easy decision to say yes. Liz and I knew each other, as I had worked in the Burke Education Department for many years.

Portrait photo of Elizabeth A. Nesbitt

Elizabeth A. Nesbitt

I knew from our past work together that we got along well, that she was passionate about good, understandable communication about paleontology, and that she was super-knowledgeable about the state’s fossils. Fortunately, the timing also worked well for me. This was the first time I wrote a book when I didn’t have to do the research, which was great!

We didn’t want to write a guidebook or textbook on fossils. We wanted to tell stories that would appeal to a wide audience, was scientifically up to date, and would highlight the human elements of paleontology. After talking with the UW Press’s Acquisitions Editor, with whom I had worked with on a previous book, we decided to focus on a single fossil or environment and weave together the science and the human stories. We see each of our 24 profiles of a fossil or environment as short stories that flesh out details that bring the fossils to life.

Our biggest challenges were in illustrations and layout. We knew that the fossils had to look good and the format had to be inviting. We were working during Covid and had to obtain permissions and new images, challenges that slowed down the project. In the end, the UW Press created a beautiful book.

Nothing leaps out in terms of advice or what we would have done differently, but we can say that it helped to know each other ahead of time and that we saw eye-to-eye on what we wanted to say.

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Banner image adapted from original photo by Elizabeth A. Nesbitt.

January 10, 2024

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.

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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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