so many books

diggingthedirtAugust 26, 2004

There are so many well-written, beautifully designed books on every aspect of gardening and landscape design, that I'm wondering how you writers find a niche.

My 3 most recent buys are from 3 completely different areas:

Color for Adventurous Gardeners (Christopher Lloyd), Shady Retreats (Barbara Ellis), and Paths of Desire (Dominique Browning). Each of these has something to offer, though there isn't anything especially new about any of them.

A friend once said, about a book written by a mutual acquaintance, that it "filled a much-needed void." (And, no, he wasn't confusing his parts of speech.) Is this something you consider when you start a new project? Or, do you just work on what interests you, and not worry about whether it'll find a place on bookshelves when it's done?

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veronicastrum(z5 IL)

I'll answer this post not from the perspective of one who has published a book but as one who has purchased many books.

I would suspect that if I were to sit down today and start reading novels all day long every day that I would not be able to read every novel ever published before the end of my life. So should novelists quit writing?

While I have a large number of garden books, I still keep finding new books that explore gardening from new and different perspectives. In fact, I don't think anyone has yet published a book on (topic deleted so Eddie or INK doesn't steal it!) from a gardener's perspective.

Gardening is not a static topic; new plants are introduced, styles and trends come and go, new techniques become popular. Hybridization has been going on for years but just wait until genetic engineering hits garden plants. Not only will we have a shelf full of books for and against the use of such plants, we'll have an entire new design spectrum to address.


    Bookmark   August 26, 2004 at 10:19AM
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poppa(z5 MA)

There are no niches left, everything is a function of marketing. Every popular fad was once unpopular and it took the right promotion to make it popular. It then becomes obvious that the best way to find a niche is to create one from something that no one would think of as a niche. I am an expert in the use of the rusting hulks of burnt-out and bullet-ridden automobiles in the american landscape. I will make millions with calendars, picture books, and the ever popular "rusted out hulking cars in the landscape for dummies" series.

Another secret is not to worry about the niche market as it is much more impotant to make the subject appeal to as broad a market as possible.

Some examples:

My picture book includes words, and while technically no longer a picturebook, it appeals to the more literary gardeners while not alienating the illiterate since they tend to skip the words anyway! We're talking marketing genius here folks...

I also needed to include some gardening things (if your writing a gardening book). In my book you'll find such tidbits as "avoid using cars post 1975 since z-barted undercoatings tend to mute purple leaved varieties in the forground..." and "straight paths are always desired over curved paths leading to your hulk since the natural force of human anticipation is reinforced by actually knowing that something is waiting at the end. A curved path hides the destination, so who wants to go there?"

I also include half naked men posed in the automobiles since women are naturally the main customers of garden books, and those men who would buy them probably grow in the shade anyway.

Hope this helped...


    Bookmark   August 27, 2004 at 1:13PM
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A half naked man misses the point, whereas a half naked woman has something to offer which ever half is displayed, or maybe you see it differently. And herein lay the writers job. I will always listen to a well told story, I will always read a piece that shows a different take on an old and perhaps pre-conceived idea if it is well done.
From a trade point of view gardening books and cookery books appeal to the same buyer and I know that cooking in your underwear is supposed to be moderne, rose pruning without a bra anyone?

    Bookmark   August 27, 2004 at 6:25PM
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pinetree30(Sierra Westside)

An experienced book editor once told me "The secret of success in textbook publishing is to offer a book that is at least as good as those it will be competing with, and noticeably different".

    Bookmark   September 2, 2004 at 12:24AM
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I read that there were 175,000 books published last year, imagine that 175,000 'noticeably different' books.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2004 at 11:38AM
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(Please excuse cross-posting with another thread)

I have a question for everyone: Is there a market for a new and comprehensive book on tomatoes? By that, I mean one that covers, at least to some extent, everything about tomatoes that a tomato enthusiast/aficionado/junkie/addict/head might want to know (and maybe more). I am considering writing such a book, and in fact already have prepared an outline and introduction. But before I put a year or two's work into it, I would very much appreciate any opinions anyone may have on the subject.

What I have in mind is something that would cover at least the following subjects:

1. Biology and cultivation (including different species and cultivars),

2. Genetics and genetic modification (e.g., sad story of the Flavr Savr gene),

3. Origin and evolution (meet your cousin, the tomato),

4. World-wide diffusion and subsequent history (how did the tomato get to India and China, anyway? The English? The Portuguese? The Spanish? One author suggests early sea contact with Peru)

5. Adoption and use in different food traditions (e.g., how do tomatoes fit in with the religious aspects of Indian food tradition?),

6. Health aspects (e.g., effect on prostate and lung cancer, macular degeneration, sun damage to skin),

7. Commercial and economic issues (do they really eat 200 pounds per person per year in Egypt?),

8. Connections with famous people (e.g., Ronald Reagan),

9. Film and literature (nobody should miss Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or its sequels),

10. Myths (e.g., the Robert Gibbon Johnson story) and misconceptions,

11. Tomatoes and sex (no misconceptions there, and no conceptions, either, I suppose [smile]),

12. Enthusiast organizations and festivals (the most spectacular is in Spain),

13. Etymology of popular and scientific names (where did the name lycopersicum -- Wolf Peach -- come from?), and

14. Home growing and cooking (somewhat).

I know of course that there are many books on how to grow tomatoes, and many recipe books, and I certainly don't intend to compete with such books. What I am thinking of is something that would not only contain quite a lot of information about a broad range of subjects relating to tomatoes, but also use tomatoes as a lens to look into some of the things mentioned (history, biology, even cosmology: for example, without supernovas, tomatoes could not exist).

Needless to say, with such a range of topics, I could only cover most things in a fairly summary manner; the selling point would be its breadth, not its depth on any subject. I would make reference to other books for more depth on a given subject.
Would you buy such a book? At Amazon prices? Would it be better to have lots of pictures, maps etc. and a higher price or fewer of such things and a lower price?

There the various books on other food items, some of which have done quite well in the market, notably Mark Kurlanskys three books, on cod, salt and oysters, respectively. There is also one on the potato by Larry Zuckerman and one on the olive by Mort Rosenblum.

Each of those is, however, somewhat less comprehensive than what I outlined above, which brings me to a second question: Should I cut back the scope and make it a bit deeper in the areas retained? If so, what should I leave in or keep out? Should I make it pretty much purely a history book with a particular twist, like KurlanskyÂs? Or would that narrow the audience too much?

Just to elaborate for a moment, a historical work would start with the break-up of Pangaea, the latest supercontinent, which started drifting apart 200 million years ago. The breakup resulted in separate biospheres developing in the Americas and Eurasia, which meant that the tomato was unknown to the bulk of humankind until the last 500 years. During that time humans have, from a biological perspective, re-united the divided parts of Pangaea. Before they did so, the tomato spread from its origin in the "alto plano" of the west coast of South America to what is today Mexico and Central America, but not to what is today the US (why it didnÂt is an interesting issue I would try to explore) or anywhere else. In the last 300 years or so, it has been adopted into almost every food tradition on earth. Sometimes that has been a dodgy process.

How and when it spread to various food traditions is a story that, to my knowledge, has never been fully told, except as it relates to the US (in Andrew SmithÂs book cited below). Telling that story would allow me to bloviate on various subjects such as international trade routes and social history.

As I write that last paragraph, it occurs to me that this story alone would be quite an undertaking, one that could not really be done justice in a single chapter of a broader book. But then ÂÂare the 30 million home tomato gardeners in the US going to buy a history book? Or will they want growing tips, recipes, cosmology, sexual innuendo and genetics and such thrown in? I suppose I could include some of those topics in a book that is primarily a history, but would a book that is primarily a history grab their attention, or, more relevantly, give them an uncontrollable urge to buy it?

Hey, maybe I could include OprahÂs favorite tomato recipes. I could put that in a chapter entitled, "the tomato and popular culture."

I would appreciate any thoughts any of you may have.

Thanks very much,


P.S.: I have looked at the following, none of which (it seems to me) is quite what I have in mind:

1. Tantalizing Tomatoes, ed. by Karen Davis Cutler (New York 1997)
2. The Tomato in America, by Andrew Smith (Columbia, S.C. 1994)
3. The Great Tomato Book, by Gary Ibsen (Berkeley 1999)
4. The Great Tomato Book, by Sheila Bluff (Short Hills, N.J. 1999)

(The preceding two books have the same title and were published in the same year; rather remarkable.)

5. In Praise of Tomatoes, by Steven Shepherd (New York 1996)
6. Exploring the Tomato, by Mark Harvey, Steve Quilley and Huw Beynon (Cheltenham, U.K. 2002)
7. All about Tomatoes, by Walter L. Doty (? 1981)
8. Terrific Tomatoes, by Mimi Luebbermann and Faith Echtermeyer (? 1994)
9. 100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden, by Carolyn J. Male (New York 1999)

    Bookmark   January 12, 2007 at 6:39PM
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