My name is Jared Gulian, and I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up living in paradise.
That’s the first line on the About page of Jared Gulian’s blog, Moon over Martinborough. In Jared’s case, “paradise” is a tiny olive farm in rural New Zealand, the location and inspiration for his upcoming book based on his blog at WordPress.com.
We asked Jared about his whirlwind of an experience landing a book deal with Random House New Zealand this summer, and how he’s built his audience using his blog.How did your book contract come about?
It started with my blog, which is about life on our tiny olive farm. My partner and I are both American city boys, and somehow we ended up living in rural New Zealand with an olive grove. I wanted to write about it, so I created a blog on WordPress.com in 2009.
The blog became popular and won some awards, and a regional magazine, Wairarapa Lifestyle Magazine, started publishing my posts. Eventually, it attracted national media, including Radio New Zealand and the Dominion Post. Visitors on my blog started asking where they could buy our olive oil. Although we’d never planned to have our own brand, due to the overwhelming demand we decided to launch a line of our own artisan extra virgin olive oil. We named the olive oil after my blog, Moon over Martinborough.
After blogging for about a year, I slowed my schedule so I could start turning the blog’s content into a book. It took longer than I thought, and it was harder than I thought. I spent the next year-and-a-half blogging and working on a book manuscript simultaneously. I took a break from the book to write new blog material, and then returned to the book. When I was done with the manuscript, I let it sit for a while.
My friends and partner pushed me to put together a book proposal to send to publishers. (I wrote about the process in this post.) A good deal of that proposal was about the blog: web stats, awards I’d won, and media attention I’d received. (I also included stats about people who “liked” the blog’s Facebook page to show who my audience was. As it turns out, my audience is 70 percent female and 30 percent male, mostly between the ages of 35 and 55.)
I sent the proposal to four publishers, and a week later I heard back from two of them. Eventually, I signed a contract with Random House New Zealand. It’s like a dream come true.How did your WordPress.com blog contribute to this?
It wouldn’t have happened without the blog. The blog helped me to build an audience and establish a platform that showed potential print publishers I had a viable, engaging project. It’s like my material had already been “user-tested” and proven popular.How has being part of the WordPress.com community influenced your work and writing process?
I have found a lot of parallels between moving out to the country and joining the blogging community. In both worlds, I’ve found the people to be remarkably helpful and friendly. Other bloggers have been very supportive when I needed advice. They’re like country neighbors. The WordPress.com forums are a great source of information, and the “like” function makes it easy to connect with all sorts of fantastic bloggers in our community. The first “like” on a post has, in many cases, led to an ongoing conversation with really nice people.How has having a blog changed the way you interact with your audience?
When I started the blog, I knew I eventually wanted to turn the material into a book. I saw my blog as a way to self-publish sections of the book as I wrote them. I’d been writing for years, but before blogging I was writing mostly fiction. In fact, I have two novels in the bottom drawer (where they belong), and a stack of rejection letters from publishers.
With my “olive grove book,” I wanted to do something different. Publishing my content online as I wrote it allowed me to engage with my readers directly and learn from what they liked. When certain posts received a lot of comments (such as Old Man Henry and the Chook House Race Wars and The U.N. Committee on Home Decorating), I took a closer look at what it was that people responded to. Then I did more of that. This changed the course of my writing as I progressed.
The biggest result was that I began focusing more on humor than I’d originally intended, because humor was what people were responding to most strongly. This is completely different to my early fiction writing, which I did in isolation and which was a bit heavy-handed and self-consciously “literary.” Blogging has helped me to learn that I don’t need to take myself so seriously — in writing as well as in life.Why did you choose WordPress.com over the other options available to you? Are there certain features that have been particularly useful?
WordPress.com makes it easy to manage my site. There are really good videos, support, and forums that make it easy to learn, and I like how there are so many useful bits of functionality. There are also heaps of great free themes that are easy to sort and sift through. Ultimately, I like that WordPress.com lets me focus on content — not back-end technical development. Good content has always been my focus.
I’ve found the built-in stats very useful. Also, I like that I can easily dictate photo layout in my blog and control where I want things to appear. It’s important for me to have a beautiful blog with a nice layout, and WordPress.com makes that easy without HTML.What advice would you give budding authors on building their web presence?
Produce good content. If you’re doing stuff people like, and if you keep doing it long enough, people will notice. Being a good blogger is a lot like being a good country neighbor. You need to be sincere, helpful, and kind. You can’t introduce yourself to your cyberspace “neighbors” with secret agendas about what they can do for you. Just join the conversation. Be warm and open.
Talk to people about what you can do together that will help both of you. And remember that if you ask for help, be prepared to give help in return. That’s how it works in the country, and that’s how it works in the blogosphere.When will the book be published?
Moon over Martinborough will be released in June 2013. A print version will be available in New Zealand (and internationally through NZ websites such as www.fishpond.co.nz and www.mightyape.co.nz), and an e-book will be available internationally.
I’m hopeful the print book will be picked up by publishers overseas. This process so far has shown me that anything can happen, so who knows?
Be sure to head over to Jared’s blog, Moon over Martinborough, to say hello and see what he’s up to, or visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter. We’ll check in with him when the book is published so he can share more about his experience.