How two farmers shepherded a six-figure book deal

ESSEX, Vermont -- On a bucolic farm just outside Burlington, Vermont, lives a sheep named Sweet Pea.

Sweet Pea's adoptive parents John and Jennifer Churchman have a give-and-take relationship with the lamb: they saved her life. She changed theirs.

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John with Sweet Pea CBS News

"We're very grateful for all of this. It's very surreal," said Jennifer.

When Sweet Pea developed an infection last winter, the Churchmans described the touch-and-go on Facebook.

Their followers were quite worked up about Sweet Pea's condition. "They wanted updates all the time," Jennifer explained.

The Churchmans took Sweet Pea up to their house with her barnmates Violet, Sunny, and Prem to keep her company and celebrate when she got better.

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Sweet Pea and her barnmates Churchman Family

They started talking about having a sleepover with the sheep on their Facebook page. One follower dubbed it a "sheepover," and others joined in, suggesting the couple write a book.

They self-published 4,000 copies of "The Sheepover." John went to nearby bookstore The Flying Pig to see if he could drum up any interest.

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"The Sheepover"

"I've been in this business a long time and I had never seen anything quite like it," said store owner Elizabeth Bluemle. She was mesmerized by John's photographs.

"There's nothing with this collage photographic style that I've seen in the children's book world. So I think it's groundbreaking," she continued.

When Bluemle blogged a review, book agent Brenda Bowen didn't waste a second. Three weeks later, the Churchman's had a three-book, mid-six figure deal with one of the world's biggest publishers.

"I don't know the degree of rareness that I can get down to. I mean it's granular level rare," said Bowen.

Now John and Jennifer Churchman are farmers, and authors.

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Jennifer Churchman CBS News

"We have three books right now, but we have 10 more behind that that are ready to be in production."

With every one of their 18 sheep a potential story, wool is no longer the most valuable product coming out of their pen.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.