In Santa Monica, four city blocks overlooking the ocean form an “X.” The smells: earthy, fresh. The colors: bursts that mirror the changing palates of the seasons. The tastes? Amelia Saltsman’s The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook, the grand-prize winner of the 2008 Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards, captures the flavors lining the historic streets.
“It’s one of the most inspiring places for me to be,” Saltsman says. “I knew that it was one of the most important markets in the country, but it wasn’t getting the recognition that it could.”
Having written a book that surpassed 2,355 others in the latest WD competition, Saltsman is undoubtedly a talented author. But first and foremost, she considers herself a chef. The Los Angeles native has managed a cooking school, catered, taught the craft and worked as a food stylist for TV shows and cookbook authors on tour. She eventually began hosting her own TV program about the farmers’ market, became a frequent radio guest and jump-started a writing career by breaking into her local paper—which happened to be the Los Angeles Times. She’s since expanded her reach to publications such as National Geographic Traveler and Bon Appetit.
“It’s a matter of plugging away and building a platform slowly, and becoming an expert in your field,” she says. “One of the reasons I wanted to write the cookbook was to set everything down in book form, but also to create a bigger platform. I was essentially a regional writer with a regional subject.”
But Saltsman knew her recipes could be used anywhere, and that anyone could enjoy reading about her hub’s role in the movement toward cooking with fresh, local ingredients. “It tells the story of farmers’ markets everywhere,” she says. “It’s inspiring and as long as there’s a universal core there, the message will resonate.”
Still, Saltsman didn’t even try selling her book to a mainstream publisher. Because the farmers’ market was a regional gathering, she figured she didn’t stand a chance on the national stage. Instead, she decided to publish it herself and hired a copy editor, a designer and an indexer to prepare her text to compete on shelves. She warns that self-published authors have to be ready to wear many hats—from brutal editor to budget-conscious publisher—and likens the process to the uphill battle faced by many of the subjects in her book.
“The odds are against a farmer on so many levels: the climate, the weather, the economy, the competition, the pests, you name it. And yet they love what they do and they do it beautifully,” she says. “I really relate to that on so many levels and I realized that in a way, tackling a publishing project myself was very much like that.”
After a year of writing and editing and a year of production, the book was in Saltsman’s hands on Aug. 1, 2007. It was picked up by the Anthropologie chain, and it’s now nearly through its second printing. While she’s taking home $3,000 and other prizes for winning the Self-Published awards, Saltsman is already eyeing her next book, continuing to tour with her current one and deciding the future of Blenheim Press, the imprint she founded to release The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook. “I’m really at kind of a delicious and scary crossroads,” she says. “I’ve been delighted that it seems to have shown itself to be an evergreen title.”