Between the covers: What goes into writing a gardening book

7

Guest Post by Ginny Stibolt

Someone recently asked me if there was a free online version of one of my books Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida. My response was polite, but after thinking about it, it occurred to me that readers probably don’t understand the enormous amount of work it takes to write and publish a gardening book.

Garden book author
The book I’m writing now is “Adventures of a Transplanted Garden: Advice for Gardeners New to Florida”.

Even in these days of free access to tons of unedited information on gardening (and everything else under the sun) via posts on social media, articles on blogs, and other online content, books produced by publishers are both useful and important, because they have been designed for their targeted audience, and curated by editors and others. The end result is a reliable, readable, and organized volume to help you be more successful in your gardening activities.

Each book takes two or three years to research and write, but this is not the end of the work. Here are some of the steps involved in this two to three-year process:

Writing a Gardening Book: The Proposal & Contract:

– If there are coauthors, work with them on the concept of the book and to find a way to split and share the work. I use Google Docs to simplify the sharing, so the latest version of each chapter  is always online. In the case of Climate-Wise Landscaping, I was the primary writer for the odd chapters. There were some jokes about that.

– Write a proposal to the publisher. If the acquisitions editor thinks it’s a viable idea, and the Board supports their decision, they’ll send you a contract with a deadline.

– Have the contract looked over by legal representation, or possibly regret it later.

Writing a Gardening Book: The Text, Photography and Illustrations

– Do the research and write the text for the book.

– Find or take photos to provide examples of the plants, ecosystems, or gardening technique. If someone else is supplying the photos, they will probably need to be paid.

– Find and pay an illustrator to help clarify points or lessons in the book with clear drawings.

Writing a Gardening Book: Copyediting, Peer Review and Rewrites

The publisher assigns a project manager for the book who plays a large role in shaping the book and typically a number of meetings or conference calls happen between the project manager and author(s).

In the case of my four University Press of Florida books, the publisher paid two or three peer reviewers to go over the text to look for errors, suggest topics that are not included in the manuscript, and to analyze the market for the book.

Writing a Gardening Book is worthwhile
Reading a gardening book is a wonderful escape from screen time and no power is required. Ahhh! “Garden Revolution” by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher provides a different way to think about gardening.

If significant rewrites are suggested by the peer reviewers, they may be asked to review an updated manuscript. This process may add another year or more to the process.

In the case of my first book, the three reviewers had lots of corrections and ideas for what would make it better including reordering the chapters. I ended up rewriting and reorganizing the book which took several months.

Someone asked me if I was mad about having to do all this extra work. My answer was that while it was a lot of work, the book was a much better product in the end and especially without those errors. I had no idea that we don’t have groundhogs in Florida–armadillos and pocket gophers, yes, but no groundhogs.

Then the manuscript is sent to a copy editor who goes through the text with a fine-toothed comb to look for grammatical errors and syntax irregularities. The copy editor also puts in the codes for headers, lists, breaks, etc., so the publishing software can talk to the printing press.

I work with the copy editor to make sure he or she hasn’t misunderstood the text. So there are several exchanges back and forth on this process.

All this input is extremely important, because once a book is published, you can’t go back and fix errors or update it the way we can on a social media or blog post. Authors and their publishers want things to be correct before it goes to the printing press.

Writing a Gardening Book: Design, Indexing, and Industry Review

A book designer then chooses a theme or overall look, arranges the manuscript, and places the drawings and photos within the text. After the layout is complete, the designer generates a pdf file of the book in its final layout with the page numbering in place.

The pdf file is sent out to prominent people in the field for review and for cover comments. This file is also used if someone writes a foreword. Sue Reed and I were thrilled that Doug Tallamy wrote the foreword for Climate-Wise Landscaping.

The pdf file also comes back to the author to fill in page numbers for references within the text, for any minor corrections (no re-writing and nothing that would cause renumbering the pages) and for indexing–one of the more tedious tasks. I could hire an indexer, but I never do, because an outsider won’t have the deep understanding of what people might want to find.

After the cover comments are available and the foreword has been written, then the book designer designs the cover. Thankfully, the authors usually have some say in the final product, though they usually don’t have the final word on the title

Writing a Gardening Book: Release and Marketing

A few months later, I’ll receive the first batch of books. Then the marketing begins. After each of my Florida books was published, I organized a book tour around Florida. That’s when I found out how large our state really is.

In 2018 when two books were published, I created a 52-event book tour from Sept. 6th through Dec. 1. For most events, I’m a speaker at a meeting or larger event and then I sell books after the program. I enjoy the speaking, but I often wish for Scotty to beam-me directly to the events so I wouldn’t have to do all that driving. On the other hand, the backroads of Florida have often provided wonderful adventures.

Writing a Gardening Book Event
Marketing is part of the process. In my case I arrange the #FloweredShirtTours where I speak to groups of gardeners. Not many book stores, but chapters of the native plant society like this group, chapters of Audubon or Sierra Club, or garden clubs and master gardeners. In my 52-event 2018 tour, I had three different programs ready: a three-hour native landscaping workshop, a presentation on climate-wise gardening, and a presentation on Florida native gardening.

The Bottom Line

And all for all this work the authors receive 8 to 12% of what the publisher sells the books for – mostly the wholesale price. Here’s the math: A $25 book sold at normal wholesale is $15, and 10% of this is $1.50.

This amount is shared between the authors, and will be held against any advances paid to them. If those small royalties do not add up to the advance (which can be small, or non-existent) the author will not make any further money on the book.

More math: If that same author(s) is fortunate enough to sell 20,000 copies of their book – that’s $30,000 – for two to three years of work – split between authors and any illustrators or photographers that the author has contracted to pay.

In my case, I sometimes split the royalties with environmental organizations: 50% to the Florida branch of The Nature Conservancy for Sustainable Gardening for Florida. 50% to the Florida Native Plant Society for The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape. 20% to the Florida Native Plant Society for A Step-By-Step Guide to a Florida Native Yard.

Buying books from authors when you hear them speak is the single best way of supporting their efforts.  As they can buy their books at a discount (not as much as you might think), selling them in person allows them to keep more of the profit.

Author Writing a Gardening Book
Untold hours went into producing these books, but in my opinion, it’s been worth the effort.

I’ll just keep writing

I’ve shared these details of the book production not to look for sympathy, but so you’d know how much sweat goes into your gardening books. I will continue to write, and while I will probably not get rich doing so, I love sharing gardening advice and plant science information so people can become more successful. It’s part of my advocacy for Mother Nature.

__________________________________________

Ginny Stibolt is the author or co-author of five-going-on-six garden books. Find her at www.GreenGardeningMatters.com

7 COMMENTS

  1. Definitely a labour of love that us readers really appreciate. There is huge need to get scientifically based accurate information out to the public. Plus nothing is better than sitting down with a good gardening book.

  2. I would have assumed the asker would have been asking about an e-book to download from Amazon or B&N after purchasing. A free copy? Absurd. As to your explanation about writing your book, I found it fascinating. Thank you!

  3. I really enjoyed this post, and learned so much about the daunting process of getting a gardening book published. I’m stunned that the author earns so little from the sale of each book! I now feel much less guilty about the stacks and stacks and shelves of garden books in my home, knowing I’m doing my small part to support garden writers.

  4. Thanks for a realistic piece. I decided to self-publish my book via Kindle Direct Publishing – it’s a print-on-demand or digital download, so no wastage and if necessary mistakes can be corrected in an update. But it’s very hard to become known if you are an unknown author, and the promotion is down to me; and yes, the royalties are small compared to the effort involved.
    Would I do it again? Yes, absolutely! It’s fun! And I’m already writing the sequel to ‘Grasses and Perennials – Sustainable Planting for Shared Spaces’, available from Amazon in paperback and digital download.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here