I had mentioned the original SFG book back in my Products #4 post. Since then, a lot of people have asked for a little more information on history, and also there is always some confusion as to which book they have and particularly when I give a lecture all book owners bring their book to get it autographed. They don’t really know there are several versions of the book through the ages.
The original book was published in 1981. That was a long time ago. I thought I would go through each new version of the book and show you what the covers looked like and describe a little bit about each one. Why it had a new cover or new contents, etc.
Back when I invented the original system in 1974, and then when I presented it to the nation in a ceremony at the 4th of July celebration in 1976, which was the bicentennial year, I was writing a garden column for a local newspaper in Setauket, NY in Long Island, NY. Then I wrote a pamphlet about this new method and then everyone started saying, “You ought to write a book! You ought to write a book!” I enjoyed writing in my engineering career and thought, “Well, why not?”
I put together all of my ideas, wrote an index and a sample chapter and started researching for publishers. I picked Rodale Press, who published the Organic Gardening Magazine which I followed, and one other publisher who was nearby the metropolitan area and published magazines and books that were more mechanical and technical in nature. I made appointments, visited them, presented and went home hopeful to hear from them. They were both very receptive and enthusiastic, and they both agreed to offer a publishing contract.
I picked Rodale because they seemed more in tune with my method of gardening and also were already in that same business and had published quite a few gardening books. The contract was signed, they assigned an editor to me and off we went! It took nine months to write the book. I always joke that’s the same amount of time to have a baby! I wrote every day, did a lot of research and trial gardening to perfect the method, created a perfect display garden (which they photographed) and worked my way through the whole book, including all of the charts and diagrams. It was a wonderful project and although I had a very difficult schedule, I enjoyed it immensely and was very pleased with the results.
I had a little bit of trouble with the assigned editor from Rodale, because she had only grown bush beans in a window box previously. Her reasoning was that she was there to correct the english, spelling and sentence structure and only knew traditional gardening, so she caused me a lot of pain in explaining the new system and getting it correctly written the way I wanted it. I won’t tell you her name because I don’t even remember it and don’t want to get any one in trouble, besides.
Rodale sent out their photographer and chief editor, we filmed the garden and everything went well. They designed the cover which I highly approved of and after a short period of time, the book was published.
Perhaps the first inkling of future problems was that they put a price tag on it of $9.95, while the rest of the market was over $10 and I objected to no avail that the price should be much higher. As it turned out, they realized this within three months after it was first published. When it hit the market, it sold like crazy and they realized they had underpriced it.
There is a whole story, maybe even a chapter in a book, about the promotion, publicity and marketing of the book. First, by the publisher, which equaled zero. Second, by the author, which ended up in my own PBS-TV show. Suffice it to say that the book was a huge success. I was very proud of it, including the cover and all of the contents. Letters came streaming in, affirming that it was a wonderful new system and it really worked. Saved time, effort, money and mostly was simple and easy. It required very little knowledge that beginners had to learn and understand.
1985 New Cover
Fast forward. The TV show was a huge success and ended up on every PBS station in the country. That’s another whole chapter in my life’s history, but suffice it to say I felt it was time for a new cover and especially a new back cover. Rodale agreed to do it if I would design it and lay it out. My oldest son, Stephen, was the producer of my TV show and we worked together to create a new cover and a better marketed back cover. Nothing was changed inside. Same method, same text – same everything. Just the two covers and the price were different, increasing from $11.95 to $16.95. Everything went well and it continued to sell, even though I had taken the show off the air and retired once again.
The next change in the original book wasn’t until 2005 and I’ll tell you all about that on my next blog.