This is a story about how an intrepid Greek-American mom in Alaska tackled economic problems caused by a family health crisis that forced her to quit her job. She did it by pouring her family recipes and her memories of her mother and grandmothers into a cookbook that she self-published on the internet as an eBook. Within less than a month, she had an internet best-seller.
This is also a story about how the internet has made it possible for us to reach out to people around the world to find support, friendship and a marketplace for things that we create with our own hands and talents, no matter how physically isolated we may be.
The first I heard of Demetra Nerantzini was an e-mail from her on Jan. 9 saying that she would like permission to use a photograph of mine – a view of Santorini that appeared on my blog in 2010-- for the cover of a Greek cookbook she was writing. She told me what impacted her final decision to publish the book: The last few years had brought an overwhelming sequence of health emergencies affecting her children and her husband, all of whom had surgeries requiring a great deal of home care while recuperating. During that time Demetra had no option other than to leave her job.
It was her daughter Marina who pointed out that this would be an ideal time for Demetra to consolidate all the family recipes into one place. People were always asking for the Greek recipes she had learned from watching her mother and two grandmothers—recipes that were stored in her mind and on scraps of paper tucked into cookbooks. And once the recipes were gathered into a manuscript, along with the cherished memories of the women who created them, then Demetra could self-publish an on-line cookbook that would be available not just to family and friends, but to the whole world. Marina begged her mother to make the book her single New Year’s resolution for 2012 and kept insisting until Demetra agreed.
Demetra & daughter Marina
In her introductory letter to me, Demetra said, “This book will be my most requested family recipes. I don’t know if it will sell 5 copies or 5,000. I’m not an author and I’ve never published anything before, so my apologies for being very green about this.” She offered to pay for the use of my photo, but I told her she was welcome to use it; I was delighted that she liked it so much.
It turns out that Demetra was not green at all about internet publishing. In her second letter to me she wrote “It appears that Smashwords is really the only aggregator that can help me get this first book out into iBooks and Kindle without a lot of up-front charges. My deadline is to have this book submitted to Smashwords on/before January 25th since my New Year’s Resolution …is to have this in the eBook stores by February 1st.”
Demetra kept me posted on the ups and downs of finishing the book by her self-set deadline. “It’s amazing how hard sticking to a schedule can be at times, having lost my Mother and Grandmothers not too too long ago. (Lost all three between March 2001-Halloween 2006). Some recipes/stories I can sit and smile through typing, while others feel like they’re ripping my heart out…Sometimes I can’t see the screen through tears and need to step away.…Even if this book only sells 10 copies it’s done me a wonder of a soul cleansing”
She finished it by her deadline of Jan. 25, and the next day wrote me: “A Google search for “Demetra’s Kitchen” already brings up the Smashwords page…. Before the book can be submitted to iTunes,/iBooks/Sony/Kobo, I have to wait until Smashwords does a visual review and then they will assign it to their premium catalog. At that point I can obtain an ISBN through them where I am noted as the publisher.“
Despite getting the book done on time, Demetra was soon disillusioned with Smashwords, “It is driving me absolutely batty every time I see their screen about the ISBN number. It should say, “Click here to give up your publishing rights…or wait an eternity for us to get to your book so you can keep them!”
By Feb. 3, she was more optimistic: “Everything is good now. The book has been distributed to Apple and all the other vendors, so I ‘m just sitting on pins and needles waiting for them to update their sites!... It, for sure, is going to be on all the Apple stores (available both in iTunes and iBooks), Barnes & Noble’s e-site, Sony, Kobo, Nook, and then somewhere along the line Amazon too. .. If you happen to be on Facebook, I have made a page for the book itself www.facebook.com/DemetrasKitchen. There’s already 55 “Likes” on it, and according to the exposure statistics…it’s been viewed and translated for countries from Greece to UAE, to Germany, Switzerland and numerous others.”
On Feb. 11 Demetra gave me the high points of the previous week: On Monday she learned from the Facebook Reach Insight Report that people from 21 countries have been “poking around the Facebook page for the book.”
Tuesday she found out that a chef in Mombasa, Kenya wants to feature a couple of her recipes on his weekly show.
“Thurs—we finally appeared on iTunes/iBooks! (note no sign of it still on Sony, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Diesel or Kindle as of today.)”
“Friday—some one at Apple read the book and made it one of 20 categorized as “New and Noteworthy”.
On Saturday she went to the Smashwords home page, clicked on “Cooking” and then clicked on “Best Sellers” and found that “It’s Smashwords #1 cookbook. This is amazing. I’m honestly floored at all the attention this is getting. I’ve said more thank-you prayers in this last week than I think I have in the last few months…I’m a housewife in Alaska – I must be dreaming.”
By Monday, Feb. 13—“We’ve hit more milestones today. We made the front page of iTunes cookbooks page and also, when you click through the recent releases (which are default sorted by sales, not release date) I AM #7 AND MARTHA STEWART’S COOKBOOK FROM DECEMBER IS #8!!! HOLY COW!!! This is all just so humbling. It’s very surreal seeing this little thing that I consider my heart on paper being rated well enough to be sold on the same pages as the likes of Martha Stewart, Julia Child and Mario Batali….
“How very humbling this year has been ever since Marina decided this was my New Year’s Resolution. Thanking God every step of the way for what a miracle this is turning into for our family.”
Feb. 18—“This is just amazing. God’s hand truly is in all this…For days now, when you go to the iTunes cookbooks page there sits the book cover (with your beautiful picture on the cover) interspersed with the likes of Martha Stewart, Mario Batali and Julia Child…God’s hands combined with the power of the Internet.”
Feb. 20—“Your beautiful cover now graces the first spot on the iTunes main cookbooks page and the first spot on the iTunes Regional & Ethnic Cookbooks page. I couldn’t sleep tonight and thought I’d see where the book was and now I’m just sitting here in a dark and quiet house shaking (also wishing I could wake everyone…except it’s 3:02 a.m. in Alaska.)”
Clearly it’s too soon to write the ending to Demetra’s story of how she used the internet, her family’s recipes and her computer and cooking knowhow to help her family get over a rocky patch in the road. But whatever the ultimate monetary rewards of “Demetra’s Kitchen”, its success so far has her looking for a hardback publisher. And she’s now working hard on “Demetra’s Kitchen Volume 2”.
“I’m going to have to set myself a short deadline for Volume 2 and just bury myself in it” she wrote me. “ Heck, my birthday is April 27th –why don’t we make that the official “upload to Smashwords” date. I wrote the first one straight from my heart and out through my fingers (in a hurry). Might as well try that again, right?”