Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Georgia Spanos on ‘When the Tomatoes Are Ready’

Georgia Spanos is a Melbourne-based writer, editor and ‘advocate for all things food and culture’. When she’s not the digital editor at Halliday magazine, she is working on her second self-published cookbook. She spoke with Brad Jefferies about self-publishing her illustrated cookbook When the Tomatoes Are Ready—a collection of 27 of her Nonna’s classic Calabrian recipes, as well as a short story based on her Nonna and Nonno falling in love and migrating to Melbourne in 1950.

Describe When the Tomatoes are Ready and why you wrote the book.

When the Tomatoes Are Ready has many personalities, which is the exact thing it’s been praised for since launching. For the most part, it’s a beautifully illustrated cookbook, showcasing 27 of my Nonna’s classic Calabrian recipes that have been passed down in our family for generations. It’s also a captivating short story based on the migration of my Nonna from Italy to Australia: her struggle and heartbreak with Italy, her chance meeting with my Nonno, her evolving love story and her brave journey to Australia.

I wrote this book for many reasons, but mainly to share a migrant’s story and the beauty that come along with that. My Nonna is a fantastic storyteller, and almost always her stories were shared while she was cooking, around the dinner table, or while our family enjoyed her delicious food. Being a writer, I was particularly drawn to the beauty of it all and felt the need to share these moments through food, art and literature.

What has the response to the book been like? 

My book has been very well received. Many are touched by the commitment I’ve made to sharing my family’s story and how I’ve communicated it. As she speaks little English, my Nonna is proud but still a little confused about the significance of publishing a book. Once it was printed I rushed over to her house with six copies to show her, to which she responded (in Italian), ‘Wow Georgia, you printed so many!’ I will always cherish her modesty and innocence.

My friends have loved the self-publishing journey, as they’ve been able to enjoy it with me. They’ve willingly helped throughout my soft launch and official launch party, and have even attended the bookstore visits. They have especially loved delivering copies to art galleries, as together we make a day of exploring the exhibitions and admiring my book on display in the stores.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

Initially, as I wasn’t sure how to secure an official publishing deal, it all seemed a bit overwhelming. Considering I had writing and editing experience, and knew of the artist I wanted to work with, it seemed like something I could figure out. It was also because I wanted the book to be exactly as I would like it. I hope to one day own my own publishing company, where each publishing decision comes as second nature; I figured you have to start somewhere, so why not learn now. Working as an editor in the publishing industry also meant I had existing contacts to potentially obtain publicity and working as a food editor allowed me to cultivate restaurant, chef and deli contacts, who I believed would support my project. This was a huge encouragement to self-publish When the Tomatoes Are Ready.

Describe how you approached the printing process. 

I worked very closely with my designer, James Fox Rogers, across all design elements, as he really is the expert. James suggested the best approach and together we worked out what would complement the artwork and intention of the book. We went through many possibilities but ultimately decided on the most premium stock and cover—and even book ribbon—as this project was a life achievement and I didn’t want to skimp on quality. Although printing in Australia is basically unheard of due to the horrifying costs, I chose to support the local community, in celebration of Melbourne and the teachings of my book.

What was your approach to asking bookstores and other shops to stock your book? 

As this was my first published book, I didn’t really have an approach; so using logic in thinking how I would personally like to be approached if I was a bookseller seemed like a good plan. I thought that meeting face to face was the most honest and warm approach—and that’s what I did. I walked into every bookstore and requested a moment to show off my newly published book. As my book is celebrated for its premium quality, this did my book justice, rather than simply sending an email. I wanted booksellers to actually see how beautiful and important this story was to me, and for the greater good of Melbourne.

When the Tomatoes Are Ready is available to stock in all stores across Australia and internationally. If you have interest in stocking the book, please get in contact with me directly.

What was your biggest challenge in self-publishing the book?

My biggest challenge was certainly the cost. As I printed When the Tomatoes Are Ready in Australia (in Melbourne specifically), the price of my book is substantially higher than that of others in the market and I couldn’t afford to reduce that price. I have had to work extra hard to sell the books, trading in markets and situations where I can meet my readers and explain the process to justify the price.

A second challenge would be mastering my marketing and personal relations alone. This has taken up a lot of my time and it’s much harder to break through the crowds as a self-published author, rather than as an author who has the support of a publishing house.

What would be your top tip for those starting out in self-publishing?

I found that I was overwhelmed come the time to launch my book. All of a sudden, I had a million people to contact and respond to, I had places to go, books to deliver and two launch parties to prepare. On top of this, it was Christmas time, as I wanted to maximise sales by launching When the Tomatoes Are Ready during the gifting season.

For my next book, I will have a more thought-out plan, with a strict schedule and also time to relax and enjoy my achievement. Another big tip would be to broaden your stockist list to include gift shops and art spaces too.

What will you publish next?

This book was dedicated to the Italian side of my family. My next book, following the same feel and intention of When the Tomatoes Are Ready, will be dedicated to the Greek side of my family (as my mother is Italian and my father is Greek). Once I have both books the duo will be complete as a powerful record of the vibrant migrant culture Melbourne prides itself on today.

This interview was originally published by Australian Self-Publisher (ASP). To subscribe to the monthly ASP newsletter, visit the website.


Category: Features