timber_logoBy Mary Breaden

While books about gardening and horticulture most often include the decorous encyclopedia of trees and shrubs or cottage gardens, Timber Press is keeping their offices busy selling a broader category that includes free-range chickens, concrete gardens, and the social history of marijuana (http://www.timberpress.com/books/super_charged/rendon/9781604692952).

On a rainy Monday afternoon in Old Town Chinatown, I sat down with Emma Alpaugh, Senior Publicist of Timber Press, to find out just how a small, niche publisher can produce so many superior gardening books and still retain its audience.

After Timber was acquired by Workman Publishing in 2006, shortly after Alpaugh came on board, she said that Timber “turned a corner” in grasping a fresh approach to its designs. The books in Timber’s catalog, which for many years had a more functional layout, started gravitating towards a more playful design. This evolution in the company’s marketing (through strong design) is well demonstrated by the difference between the 1997 and 2011 book designs of Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs


“We became a little broader after being acquired by Workman,” Alpaugh said. Where before the press focused on guides for the Pacific Northwest, Timber began taking on a more diverse array of topics, such as rain gardens, bonsai plants, and garlic.
For this particular publisher, the marketing team seems to have more say in the editorial direction of a book. Alpaugh described the process of producing a book within Timber as being a very collaborative effort between marketing, design, and editorial.

Alpaugh described Timber Press’s catalog as including a range within the gardening and horticulture genre, from “really beautiful tomes,” like The Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs, to trending topics like those covered in Free-Range Chicken Gardens.

chickengardensTimber Press, founded in 1978, began its launch with an “authoritative focus on gardening,” though recently, the press has followed a trend towards publishing more how-to guides and DIY home remedy-type books. Alpaugh noted that Timber’s audience seems to crave the books that provide “pragmatic ways to solving problems.”

“People are trying to be more self-sufficient and channel their creative energies,” she said.

Finding the right, “mediagenic” author when acquiring new manuscripts plays an important role in Timber Press’s sales, Alpaugh said. An author who has already a built-in audience with their work will then bring in more traffic for their book once it is published. Another way to drive sales, Alpaugh said, is by having creative partnerships with others in the gardening and horticulture field, such as in arboretums, or, for one memorable book launch, in the U.S. Botanical Gardens in Washington, D.C.

While we spoke, Alpaugh inquired about my own connection to gardening and I was surprised to suddenly remember it: Several generations down from my mother’s side have sported a green thumb. Family legend recalls a summer project in which I turned over the rocky soil our back yard’s berm to install a plot of garden on a hill that had lain unused. Since then, my ties to gardening are more simply seen in the little herb plants on the front porch next to planters that (in summer) are filled with portulaca, lobelia, geraniums, celosia, marigolds, and lantana. Framed prints of flowers usually decorate whichever place I happen to be living.