From Blog to Book: Moon over Martinborough

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.


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Cheri Lucas Rowlands

28 Comments

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  1. billbennettnz

    Nice to see a New Zealand site get international recognition.

  2. windsorhandbags

    I lived in auckland at papatoetoe about 3 years ago before i lived in canada now. NZ sure does have plenty of wonderful view and mostly are hills and sheep farm. I love the air…..fresh and clean, same as here

  3. martinboroughartdepartment

    This is the number one blog that we eagerly look to both the sky and the inbox for! Jared is one of the greatest storytellers we know and not only are his blogs funny, they are mindful and moving. Being amongst the characters in his blog/come book deal we are so excited that his brilliance has been rewarded. May his heart-warming stories be shared with the whole world. We are incredibly thankful that in return for designing blog headers and olive oil labels and the odd pig whispering help we have given him, Jared has, in such a good country way, helped us navigate and develop our own way around the brilliant world of WordPress.com

    • Cheri Lucas

      Funny, mindful, and moving — indeed, that’s a recipe for some great writing. Thanks for your comment here — appreciate it!

  4. LizForADay

    Congratulations on the book. I think that is wonderful that you turned your writings into published work. Some day I hope to take that page out of you life and use if for mine. I would love to publish a book as well. :)

  5. villagerambler

    Great story. It does become apparent pretty quickly that the blogshere is very much a community. As much as it it great to see other people appreciate what you have to say, seeing how many different kinds of blogs are out there is a real eye opener and and endless source of inspiration and ideas. Agree with you Bill, great to see a Kiwi blog doing so well. The olive oil industry is still on a small scale here, but what we lack for quantity we make up in quality – much like our wine industry.

  6. rose2852

    Inspirational stuff. I hope to make it over to Martinborough some time, if for no other reason than to taste some of your olive oil! Good luck with it all.

  7. Debbie

    Wonderful success story. Inspiring!

  8. GiggsMcGill Jill

    What a wondeful thing to happen – I’m so glad it worked out for him! :) And great tips on what to focus on!

  9. harmamae

    Oy, that’s fantastic. It’s amazing what opportunities can open up through the online world. I bet a brand of artisan olive oil is something he’d never dreamed of doing?

  10. magentmama

    New Zealand! Wow! I had British friends who were posted there and they showed me videos and pictures…what a lovely place. Our town Trapani here in Sicily is also getting international now that we have Ryan Air making its base at our local airport. Visitors from all over Europe are flocking here now.

  11. Svetlana Grobman

    This sounds very encouraging! I am a “budding” high-middle-age author who is trying to get her blog going with a purpose of establishing a platform for her memoir of growing up Jewish in Moscow, Russia, in the 1950-1960s (I now live in the American Midwest). So far, it’s been slow going, so it’s good to hear success stories, although, I understand that you were a published author before moving to New Zealand, right? Anyway, congratulations on your book and also on your “new home.” I visited New Zealand three years ago. It’s a beautiful country!

    Yours,
    Svetlana Grobman

  12. apostlemarenoch

    This story is very interesting. My thought on turning my blog into a book after a while is seemingly becoming a good idea after reading your story.

  13. Moon Over Martinborough

    Thanks everyone for such nice comments. And harmamae, it’s true – I never in a million years thought I’d end up with a brand of artisan olive oil! It’s been fun just following opportunities as they open up. And if you’re looking you see that opportunities are opening up around us all the time.

  14. Far Away Books

    Reblogged this on Far & Beyond: A Saga of Publishing and commented:
    A great post on using WP to move from blog to book!

  15. mynewny

    Congratulations on the book. This is a great example of the power of social media, and how they are becoming more and more respected internationally. Connecting with people is what is defining good content, and what reaches more audiences.

    We should all take this advice and apply it to our own blogs.

  16. novelnewbie

    Congratulations! So inspirational!! Proof that the things we write can change our world! Well Done :D x

  17. tinasyhsu

    wow so motivating! Great work!!!

  18. runoffwriter

    Great advice for us would-be authors (let’s be honest, a lot of us dream of just such a scenario playing out in our own lives!)…thanks for this post!

  19. linagonzo

    How inspiring! Makes me think I can do the same.

  20. tashastraveltroves

    A great story! A great read ! Would be awesome to taste his olive oil someday . Perhaps on my travels to New Zealand I will stop over for a bottle or two :)

  21. shras789

    So wait, according to this article, did he use WordPress to write his book? Because if he did, I have a book I started and was actually thinking about it but wasn’t sure if I should do it on WordPress. This is a great story.

    • Cheri Lucas

      Hi there — as Jared mentioned in the post, he took time away from his blog to focus on a manuscript, and switched back and forth, but in the overall process, he used his blog and his readership to gauge the interest in his ideas. From what he said, his blog and audience online helped tremendously in his writing process.

  22. SusanJill

    Congratulations .. you hold a light out before each of us who have ever dreamed of publishing a book.

  23. jessicahohnhorst

    This story is very interesting. Especially the photo with the moon which is shining through the appletree is very nice.

  24. cfauraya

    Your story impress me, thank you very much.

  25. meltwater2012

    I agree with you: stories in blog “Moon over Martinborough” are magic. And you create magic life in reality.

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