Is it ‘a funny fruit book’?
Allotments writer Tim Foster recounts his publishing journey...
Afew years back, I was trying to persuade a local publisher to print a book on how to grow organic vegetables. I’d been teaching the stuff for ages and just thought I could put it in book form. “what is your USP?” he asked, pronouncing it usp as though it was an affliction of some kind, a lisp perhaps. when he finally made it clear that it stood for Unique Selling Point I still wasn’t really able to answer. Like most people, I simply thought that because it was a masterpiece, everybody would want a copy, without considering all of the other masterpieces cluttering up the bookshops. well, perhaps surprisingly, he went with it anyway. Good Earth Gardening, if you’re interested.
This time it was different. My first publisher had decided to stop publishing new titles so with Fruit for Life I approached some other possible victims. This time I was pretty clear what the USP was: the book would combine all of the technical information about fruit that you could need, plus it would have a certain ‘levity.’ “You mean a funny fruit book?” “No, no. for a start that sounds as though it is about funny fruit – straight bananas or pink blueberries, perhaps [they do exist, if you were wondering]. No, it’s a serious book, with serious information, just that it… has less serious bits added.”
“In what way?” “Ummm. Amusing discussion perhaps. And pictures, yes, some funny pictures. People will want to actually read it, not just use it as reference.” “Strewth.” Convincing a publisher to publish is one of life’s great challenges. As you speak, their minds are calculating costs and returns, and usually they come up with a negative balance. In other words, they reckon it won’t sell many copies and it is not worth the outlay. So, sorry, the answer’s no.
In some respects it is easier to get published if you have a technical subject – you know your market and there are specialist publishers for particular topics. Not so with fiction where it appears you need an agent to get anywhere. Getting an agent to take you on is harder than trying to convince Donald Trump that, if he doesn’t stop messing about, the earth will be a ball of fire in a few years time.
faced by rejection (I was going to say that this is my life’s default setting but it sounded too pathetic), the next option to consider was self publishing. There is lots of information out there on how to self publish and all of it – don’t be fooled – requires lots of work. I’m not too worried about work – I’d just spent getting on three years of it in my spare time. It is unfortunately not the kind of work I’m interested in: growing fruit, yes, but not formatting, editing and whatever other dark arts are required.
So I came to a slightly complicated compromise with the local publisher, eco-logic Books, where I front the costs and he deals with a good helping of the dirty work. This arrangement I am thrilled with.
“So, the front cover picture.” “what’s wrong with it?” “Nothing. I just thought that the little dog ought to be looking up at some fruit on the tree.”
“It’s a rabbit. And there is an apple right above its head.”
“OK, OK. But the bark on the tree is a bit weird.”
“It’s not bark – the whole tree is made up of words, the names of the fruits in the book… Have you got the right glasses on?”
will it make any money? Almost certainly not, though
I’d like to break even; in other words, to have spent months writing for nothing.
But maybe the money wasn’t the point anyway. To really succeed it would have to be widely promoted and acknowledged. I’ve tried, honest. I contacted ‘celebrity’ gardeners and asked for any positive feedback that I could then use to adorn the cover. A resounding ‘no.’ This was possibly because they couldn’t find anything positive to say about it but the actual reasons given were time constraints or publishing conflicts. would I have been prepared to say nice things about someone else’s fruit book? I’d like to think so but then maybe I’m not as busy as these gods of horticulture.
well, the book is there, poised for sale. The typographical errors (or ‘typos’ as we like to call them in the trade) have been partly spotted, partly because I have no doubt they will continue to emerge. The considerably-less-interesting promotional work is on-going. So to get me through these days of dealing with Fruit for Life I need something exhilarating, stimulating and enriching to do at the same time. How about writing another book?
» Fruit For Life has 279 pages and 180 line drawings. It is on sale for £12.99 (RRP £16.99) from Harvest and La Ruca on the Gloucester Road, Bristol, from Riverside Garden Centre, Southville, Bristol, and from the publishers, www.eco-logicbooks.com Contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org