In June, 500 visitors toured my garden during a Sunday afternoon. The comments ranged from “What’s that?” (Amsonia hubrichtii, Sanguisorba, Loosestrife) to “Excuse me, did you say this garden is only four years old?” Yes, that’s how old it is. “What’s your secret? Lots of fertilizer I bet.” No no, I’d insist, just free city compost and native plants sited in the right place. Often they’d smile politely, some would guffaw and nod approvingly, but I’m sure half didn’t believe me. But I knew. And my wife sure knew–she hadn’t seen me for years.
Last winter I decided to write a book of short essays highlighting the trials and tribulations of my garden over its first 3-4 years–stories of burned backs and obsessive-compulsive mowing neighbors, plants that lived and plants that died, my “organic” method to treating a grasshopper plague, teaching my wife Latin plant names (oh my my my), and the overall moments of serendipity that follow a gardener into this other world that I, so unlike myself, threw open to 500 strangers this summer.
For Sleep, Creep, Leap: The First Three Years of a Nebraska Garden, I had one press in mind (they had seen my work before and liked it), so I got busy collecting a few blog posts I’d written, editing them, expanding on some, and then writing dozens more. Once I was sure I had the order set and things were proofread, I sent the manuscript and waited until the editors told me they loved the book, but the marketing department did not. A few more encouraging rejections from other presses and I decided to self publish. I’d heard of several authors who did this and then, with good sales, snagged a publisher. But if anything, I just wanted to connect with other gardeners.
It’s easy and inexpensive to print your own book these days–and I think a blog is a perfect candidate, especially if you have unique and colorful stories, how-to hints, solid and researched info, and a lot of passion. I come from academia where publishing your own work is a no no, and for good reason–your writing hasn’t passed through the hands of discerning eyes. So if you’re thinking about putting a book together, I’d strongly urge you to have as many people read it as possible, and let the book simmer in a drawer or file for a few months and then come back to it with a fresh eye, an editor’s eye.
I published my book through CreateSpace because it cost very little. They provide you with a preformatted Word template you can just paste your material in to, and then you pick a cover template or upload your own. It’s a painless process, unless you’re particularly picky (I sure am, so it took me a week). You can price your book however you want, for the most part, but if it’s longer it costs more to produce, and if you want color pictures, that bumps up the price. I also had Bookbaby do an e-book version, and they formatted it for a small fee for Amazon, Apple, Sony, and Barnes & Noble devices. Trying to format your own book for ereaders, and 4 different ones at once, can be a terrible, month-long process–there’s no standard digital format, and all will have many kinks, so I let the pros handle it.
If you’ve been thinking about turning a blog or a diary or some garden notes and pictures into a book, there’s a lot of potential out there. Research the many companies and see which one you like the best: Createspace, Lulu, BookSurge, and Lightning Source are just a few. If you want to see how mine looks, the sneak peak feature on my Amazon paperback listing will give you a hint–I’m pleased with how professional this version turned out. Have you self published? Thinking about it? Ask me a question. But most importantly, start writing about your garden! It’ll hold you over in those long winter months, and keep you gardening–it’s just that plants have become words (how much a difference is there?).
Benjamin Vogt is the author of the poetry collections Without Such Absence and Afterimage (forthcoming, 2012). He has a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an M.F.A. from The Ohio State University. Benjamin’s nonfiction and poetry have appeared in American Life in Poetry, Crab Orchard Review, ISLE, Orion, Puerto del Sol, Subtropics, The Sun, and Verse Daily. He has a blog, The Deep Middle, where he rants about writing and gardening, and live in Lincoln, NE with his wife where he runs a native plant garden consulting and coaching business, Monarch Gardens. You can visit his main author website and read excerpts from his work, see book trailers, and view his garden. If you’re a garden blogger who would like to review his book contact him through his website.