Writing the Aquaponic Gardening Book

Sylvia sending in the book

Hitting the ‘send’ button!

It was the most exhilarating push of a ‘send’ button I have ever experienced. On Tuesday, March 1, I sent the manuscript for my new book ‘Aquaponic Gardening: A Step by Step Guide to Growing Fish and Plants Together’ to my publisher, New Society. If you have ever felt the rush of having a multi-month, all-consuming project lifted off your shoulders with one symbolic act, then you know exactly what this felt like to me.

Afterwards, there was a long walk and a call to my parents, followed by posting the announcement on Facebook and the Aquaponic Gardening community site. Next was a night of celebrations – a favorite drink at a favorite bar with a favorite friend then dinner at a favorite restaurant with my husband and son – also favorites. The next morning included a ritual cleaning of the writing area, featuring shelving the Chicago Elements of Style which was never actually opened, but symbolically represented English teachers from my childhood watching over me. Now, ready to get on with my life, I’ve been in a flurry of activity around projects that were necessarily back-burnered since November but were becoming urgent.

In the midst of it all I thought about you, my loyal blog readers, and how I might draw you inside the process of writing this book without boring you with a long tome. I’ll keep it down to a few highlights that I think you might find interesting.

  • The purpose – This book was intended from the beginning to be a guide for the home aquaponic gardener. There isn’t any breakthrough new research in the book, but rather a logical compilation of everything a beginning aquaponic gardener needs to know in order to get started. It is strictly focused on media based growing because I’m a big believer that the simplicity and versatility of a media based system makes sense for home gardeners.
  • The publisher – Early last fall I was kicking around the idea of writing a book. I even attended a meeting about self-Aquaponic Gardening coverpublishing and wrote a detailed outline. Funny how the world works, though. One afternoon I received an email from a woman at New Society Publisher saying that they had been looking for someone to write a book about aquaponics. They found my articles in Growing Edge and were wondering if I would be interested. Crazy timing! In early November, after about a month of contract negotiations, due diligence, and weighing the pros and cons of going with a publisher vs. self-publishing, I signed up to write for New Society. I haven’t regretted it for a moment. They have created a beautiful cover for the book, been supportive editors, and have planned a wonderful marketing program. I can honestly say that it would have been much more difficult to have produced this book without them.
  • The process – When I started writing the book, I tried to find some guidance. How on earth do you tackle writing a 200+ page book in four months? Then a friend recommended a book about writing books called “Bird by Bird”. The story behind the title was that when the author was young she overheard a conversation between her author father and her brother. Her brother had waited until the night before a big report on birds was due and in frustration asked the father how he could possibly tackle such a huge task. The father replied “just write it bird by bird.” I put myself on a 1,500 word a day diet, with the goal of being done with the body of the book by January 1, the introduction by January 15, a second pass and getting everything to Alan to edit by February 15, leaving 2 weeks for final cleanup, appendices, the index, resources, references, and table of contents. An intense schedule, to be sure, but I largely followed it and hit the due date.
  • The validation – On one of the last days before the deadline, I took a couple of hours and wrote the Acknowledgements section. It really felt good to be able to publicly thank those who had been so very supportive. One person who stood out in particular was Dr. Wilson Lennard. As soon as he heard I was writing this book, he offered to help in any way he could, and he was my go-to guy to validate much of the hard science side of aquaponics. He reviewed several chapters, gave generously of his time and thoughts, and his wisdom is sprinkled throughout the book. I feel especially secure about the science behind the book because of him.
  • The forward – Early on in the book writing process, I started thinking about who I’d like to have write the forward. It needed to be someone with a recognizable name, a relevant past, and great writing skills. Someone who really ‘gets’ the potential of aquaponics. My first choice was Tom Alexander, long time publisher of the Growing Edge magazine and sharp-witted advocate for alternative gardening in any form. I was thrilled when Tom agreed and have been even more thrilled to see his Forward progress. It’s going to be an excellent addition to the book.
  • The quotes and stories – My favorite part of writing this book, however, has been the input from Aquaponic Gardening community members. Early in the process I posted a forum topic to solicit member’s quotes around “what does aquaponics mean to me?” From the outpouring of responses to that topic, I was handed the inspirational quotes that begin each chapter of the book. I also asked for members personal aquaponics stories that they wanted to share with new gardeners who had just discovered aquaponics through the book. I received four beautifully written, unique tales of encouragement, humor and wisdom. Finally I asked several members who are experts in particular aspects of aquaponics to send brief summaries of their areas of expertise: Affnan and bell siphons, TCLynx and index valves, Rob Torcellini and greenhouse automation for aquaponics, and more. Each gave generously and enthusiastically.

Writing the Aquaponic Gardening book was probably the most intense experience I’ve ever had – and, yes, I’ve had children. What I am most proud of, however, is that in many ways this book represents the community spirit that has been so critical in the development of media based aquaponics. It comes out October, 2011. I hope you like it.

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