GVSU alumnus publishes book

By Kate Branum | 11/6/16 11:50pm

GVL / Courtesy - John Cassidy
by John Cassidy and Josh Cassidy / The Lanthorn

If someone had told Grand Valley State University alumnus Josh Cassidy during his undergraduate years that he would be the author of a published book, he wouldn’t have believed them. Flash forward 11 years into the future, and Cassidy has done just that.

“If Animals Could Talk” is a comedy book that delves into the minds of both well-known and out of the ordinary animals using witty, clever phrases and jokes. Nearly 100 original illustrations, produced by Cassidy’s close friend Carla Butwin, accompany each animal quote.

The content of the book is designed to appeal to every age, with humor that reaches both a younger audience and older adults. He also injected some social commentary into the book, touching on relevant themes and pop culture in modern society.

"I want people to be entertained by it,” Cassidy said. “If someone can pick it up and there’s something in there that makes them smile or laugh to themselves, that's really the goal at the end of the day. It's meant to be fun and meant to bring a smile."

During his time at GVSU, Cassidy knew he wanted a career that allowed him to feed his creative nature. He enjoyed writing, yet never quite felt he met the requirements to make a living as a writer. Instead, he decided to pursue advertising and public relations because he felt it offered a good balance of business and creativity. Cassidy graduated from GVSU in 2009 and with a degree in advertising, public relations and a business minor.

After graduation, Cassidy began to work as a media-buying intern for an advertising agency in Detroit, not far from where he grew up. At the agency, he met another intern who served as a headline writer for various ads. After witnessing all of the brainstorming that went into creating headlines, Cassidy realized his desire to write couldn’t be ignored.

“I knew right then, (writing) is what I should be doing–that’s what I wanted to do,” Cassidy said. “I was kind of intimidated because I didn’t have a portfolio at the time like a lot of creative professionals do.”

Despite a lack of documented experience, Cassidy got to know many writers and creatives in the agency, including Butwin who was a junior art director at the time. When he expressed his interest in writing, his colleagues provided positive feedback and encouragement.

"The only thing you can ever be in control of is your work ethic and what you want to do,” Cassidy said. “It might sound cheesy, but trust your instincts and give it a shot, because if you don't then you be living in this scenario of 'what ifs,' and that's nowhere to be."

Cassidy began his writing career by tackling small side projects distributed by a few of his colleagues, including writing up party invitations for a co-worker’s child's birthday party and composing emails for the CEO of the company. No task was too small--he was set on making as many connections as possible.

“Through doing that, I sort of built up a reputation at the agency,” Cassidy said. “When there was an opening in the creative department for a junior copywriter, I had excellent referral from everyone in the office who I wrote different things for.”

The concept for “If Animals Could Talk” first came from a Tumblr blog created in 2014 by Cassidy and Butwin called “If ___ Could Talk.” The blog was kick-started after Cassidy posted a funny animal joke on his Twitter. Butwin, who had moved out to New York to work as an art director, reached out to Cassidy after viewing his clever post letting him know she also had an interest in animals and frequently drew illustrations of them.

“If ___ Could Talk” provoked a positive response in the Tumblr community, gaining more than 35,000 followers in just under a year and making an appearance on Tumblr’s annual “Year in Review” section. Realizing their blog had become an internet hit, Cassidy and Butwin began brainstorming how to transform their blog into a book.

One of Butwin’s friends had previously published a book and was able to put Cassidy and Butwin in contact with a publisher at Sterling Publishing Co. in New York during the summer of 2015. As it turned out, the publisher was already a big fan of the blog, “If ___ Could Talk.” After cranking out a few more sayings and illustrations, “If Animals Could Talk” was published in April of this year. 

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