The small farm book business grows organically.
Growing the seeds of good ideas into books, is akin to farming in some respects. In publishing, like in farming, there are large multinational multimillion dollar corporations dominant in the industry. Yet, the groundswell of good books about small scale farms, seasonable cuisine, and sustainable living reflects the growing market for good ideas. You may have noticed more books in the feed store, the hardware, the farmers market, and library even though you rarely step inside a bookstore. The business of books about small farms is healthy: no boom, no bust. No floods, no dustbowls nor droughts in the forecast.
Far away from the publishing district in New York City, Joel Salatin pioneered the grass-fed movement on his Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley and began to self-publish books under his business name, Polyface. His grass-roots publishing initiative attracted a national audience. Farm tours, speaking engagements, media appearances, and more; Joel Salatin grew an organic audience for his seven books. Featured in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the documentary Food, Inc., Salatin is a self-described Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer. His distinctive voice and passion pulls readers to what he has to say. Even if you disagree with Joel Salatin, he raises many unaddressed issues of relevance to farmers today.
In this crazy new world of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google +, iphones, apps, widgets and plugins, Joel Salatin grew an audience platform organically. Instead of pushing his book, he promoted a way of farming: grass fed. He pushes a way of life and a set of values. By direct-marketing meat from his farm to consumers and restaurants, he spent a decade connecting people to the food on their plates. Those who read his books, heard him speak, visited his farm, shared his message, adopted similar practices, and supported his efforts became a target market spun from straw into gold.
So it’s not surprising that Center Street, an imprint of the Hatchette Book Group (a major US trade publisher owned by Hachette Livre, a global publishing company based in France) signed a contract with Joel Salatin on his new bestseller, Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World (2011) for more than $100,000. Salatin’s success in self-publishing is the exception to the rule, unfortunately. A former newspaper reporter, he took up farming as his ministry and grew a following without tweeting or buying Facebook ads. Center Street publishes no other titles related to small farms, however.
What is interesting is how seriously the entire publishing industry now treats the subject of small farms and rural life. Rodale Inc., still in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, with granddaughter Maria Rodale at the helm, continues to flourish in publishing as its commitment to organic gardening, health and fitness dovetails with interests of many small farmers. Across all genres, all reading levels, fiction, non-fiction and memoir, most big commercial publishing houses now see this as an emerging sector of the book market. And what’s most heart-warming is to know about two publishers dedicated to small farm subjects whose success results from readers are local, grass-roots, and organically grown.
The Story behind Storey Publishing
Most farmers don’t have much time to sit around and read. But there are a few books kept handy for reference on most small farms. Less than a handful of books a farmer consults. If you pull it off the little shelf by the old telephone, dirty thumbprints, stained pages, and a torn cover provide the evidence of its utility as a reference. Open the inside cover, and I’m guessing the book is published by one of two American publishers dedicated for a quarter century to providing books about small scale sustainable farming.
Storey Publishing is an independent publisher that began in an old creamery in Charlotte, Vermont. They published gardening books that helped people grow their own vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs. They added cookbooks and guidebooks to raising small animals, building fences and barns, and other self-sufficiency skills.
Now headquartered in North Adams, Massachusetts, Storey has sold more than 35 million books and lists more than 400 active titles, 70 of which have sold more than 100,000 copies. Storey has been at the center of a cultural revival of DIY lifestyles, fueled by environmental awareness and responsibility, with an appetite for homegrown local food, and a passion for nature.
Earlier in June this year, I met with Adrienne Franceschi, Trade and Gift Sales Manager for Storey Publishing at Book Expo America at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. She recently joined Storey’s team because they remain one of the only independent publishers dedicated to its core readership of small farmers. We’re a loyal readership because these affordable paperbacks can be counted on for accurate information and practical advice. If you’ve got goats, rabbits, sheep or just some chickens in your backyard, Storey’s Guide to Raising series belongs on your bookshelf.
Adrienne Franceschi of Storey showed me Sarah Anderson’s The Spinner’s Book of Yarn Designs to be released in November. As a spinner, I drooled over the step-by-step guides to help you create 80 distinctive yarns. Put this on your holiday wish list. Likely to be next year’s bestseller is the forthcoming Reinventing the Chicken Coop by Matthew Wolpe and Kevin McElroy includes 14 complete buildings plans from the functional to the fabulously fun. On the trade floor of Book Expo they showcased what Storey Publishing has to offer in books on traditional skills, livestock, preserving, pets, equine, birds, and crafts. Their tag line says it best. The whole Storey: 25 years of personal independence in harmony with the environment.
Chelsea Green stakes its claim on the future: employee ownership.
A second publisher leading the industry on books for the practice of sustainable living also took root in Vermont far from the publishing district in New York City. Margo Baldwin, President and Publisher, established a publishing house Chelsea Green based on a triple bottom line: one that benefits people, planet, and profit. Margo Baldwin’s leadership is evidenced in the publisher’s commitment to serve farmers with practical information that encourages personal independence in harmony with the environment.
Current bestselling titles from Chelsea Green include Sandor Katz’ The Art of Fermentation, David Holmgren’s Permaculture, and the new Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking: The Ultimate Guide for Home-Scale and Market Producers. Chelsea Green books have great shelf life. On my shelves are Eliot Coleman’s books about organic four season harvesting, The Straw Bale House, and the eco-fable first published 25 years ago, The Man Who Planted Trees.
On July 2, 2012, independent book publisher, Chelsea Green, announced that it is now an employee-owned company, with close to 80 percent of its stock held by employees. In an industry dominated by investor-driven multinational corporations, this ensures the company’s independence and roots in rural Vermont.
Growing Good Ideas: Little Free Libraries
In Hudson, Wisconsin, two years ago Todd Bol wanted to honor his mother, a former teacher and book lover who had died a decade earlier. So he built a miniature model that looks a bit like a birdhouse, filled it up with books for anyone to take, and placed it outside his home. From the seed of this good idea, hundreds of Little Free Libraries have popped up in 24 states and eight countries. From the small town of Sunderland, Vermont, with 840 residents to Altoona, Pennsylvania, this take-a-book and leave-a-book movement is taking root. If you are interested in being a steward for a Little Free Library in your neighborhood or rural community, learn more at littlefreelibrary.org.
Six or seven years ago my advice to aspiring authors of nonfiction books was to build an audience platform by blogging. An example of how critical blogging could be to securing a publishing contract can be found in the case of Ann Marie Ackermann, author of Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee. After an initial assessment of her manuscript, I had recommended she start a historical true-crime blog, and she did. In fact, the editor of the ideal book series at Kent State University Press became a fan ofRead more…