Have You Ever Unexpectedly Met a Writing Hero?  And What Was Your Reaction?

Have You Ever Unexpectedly Met a Writing Hero? And What Was Your Reaction?

December 3, 2023

When I met one of my author heroes, I burst into tears! Lots of in-awe, happy, grateful, couldn’t-stop-them (maybe ever-so-slightly-embarrassing) tears.

I had arrived to give a marketing for authors workshop at Byron Writers Festival and one of the lovely volunteers helping organise the day picked up a copy of my farming memoir (aglit/farmlit genre) and casually mentioned she’d written a book 30 years ago. I asked her what it was about.

She told me the subject and I asked incredulously, ‘Are you Jude Fanton?” and she nodded. That’s when I fell apart.

Jude and her partner Michael Fanton had authored The SeedSavers Handbook, an early edition of which (it’s just been reprinted for the umpteenth time) I’d worn thin, had loaned to many, and a copy of which still takes pride of place on my bookshelf.

It’s a book that in many ways had changed my life. It had educated and inspired me to BE better. DO better. It was a book born from the authors’ practical knowledge and deep understanding of the importance of open-pollinated seeds to food security, nutrition, the environment, biodiversity, local resilience and sheer taste and delight. A non-fiction book I practically ate up!

The whole idea and action of permaculture and seed saving came to mean so much to me, not just because of the benefits of the concept but also through the personal connections made with other Seedsavers in our area at the time. It meant so much I referenced the Seedsavers Network in three of my books including my farming memoir Honey Farm Dreaming; Honeycomb Kids: Big Picture Parenting for a Changing World and to Change the World; and Small Farm Success Australia.

And here I was, totally unexpectedly, meeting THE author – the author of a philosophy and a book that had greatly affected me. It was such a powerful moment, a realisation of the impact that that book, and the thinking behind it, had had on me – and the world at large. That this human in front of me had thought about it, written about it, turned it into book form and shared it with the world. The magic and power of writing. Of authors.

Three decades ago, Jude and Michael Fanton had planted a seed with their philosophy, expertise and passion in book form, and it continues to disperse.

I was happy-tear-blabbing, so much, one of the organisers of the writers’ festival asked me if I was okay. i.e.: would I be able to go on and present. Well, yes, of course I was! I was even more inspired.

We swapped signed books and Jude graciously invited me to come and visit her and Michael’s private permaculture garden in Byron Bay at the end of the festival. It was such a place!

A collage: Two authors meet, a packet of Tree Lettuce seeds, tropical fruit and Michael Fanton studying a book to prepare a root.
Author’s Anna and Jude holding each other’s books, Michael Fanton studying how to prepare a root, a packet of tree lettuce seeds, fresh tropical fruit from the garden.

From the laden fruit trees to the natural perfume cupboard loaded with delicate bottles of every shape and size; the baskets full of seeds (including tree lettuce and tulsi) ready to be planted, to bowls of produce, homemade seed crackers and the most delicious tapenade ever; a fresh herbal tea to bookshelves rich with hundreds and hundreds of books on plants and sustainable living – and cartons of The Seedsavers Handbook ready to be shipped out.

natural perfume bottles, a carton of the Seed Savers Handbook, Jude Fanton beaming in her garden, a table full of produce with a Look-It's Your Book! postcard.
Jude Fanton’s gorgeous natural perfume cupboard, a carton of Seed Savers Handbooks ready to be shipped, Jude in the garden and a table laden with produce and a Look-It’s Your Book postcard Jude had brought back from the workshop.

And here’s where my understanding of what they pioneered and all they’ve achieved with the The SeedSavers Handbook became even more apparent; I wish now I’d included their publishing story in Look-It’s Your Book! but I’d never thought to reach out and didn’t really understand at the time the handbook was a self-published work. I’d love to share a little of the book’s journey with you now.

The SeedSavers Handbook – A publishing history

  • Bill Mollison (1928-2016), the founder of permaculture, knew Jude and Michael and encouraged them to write the book to share their vast knowledge of plants and seed saving.
  • At the time they ran a newsletter that they’d print and post (no Mailerlite or email then!) to gardening, organic and environment enthusiasts.
  • They became book crowdfunding pioneers when in 1993 they asked their newsletter recipients if they’d like to contribute up front to the book’s production. People sent cheques and cash in the mail (imagine the admin!) and they achieved $7,000 in presales. A friend loaned them the additional $8,000 they needed to produce and print the initial 5,000 copies (there was no print on demand back then).
  • Bill Mollison wrote in the foreword to the book “I believe this book to be essential for all caring farmer, gardeners, cooks and parents, and I trust that it will speed our return to good nutrition and a healthy society.”
  • Over the years, Jude wrote articles for Grassroots Magazine and ABC’s Organic Gardener Magazine were big supporters too. This helped spread the word about the book. There was also plenty of word of mouth amongst permaculture teachers, farmers, horticultural journalists and readers interested in self-sufficient and sustainable living.
  • The book has sold more than 40,000 copies in Australia and tens of thousands overseas including via a UK adaption, Japanese (with 900 copies in Japanese public libraries!), Italian and Bulgarian/Macedonian translations and abbreviated translations in Basque and Khmer for starters.

Key Lessons for Indie Authors and Self-Publishers (and trad authors will pick up some ideas too!)

  • Timeless information has a very long tail – this book is 30+ years old!
  • Crowdfunding can work if you have an engaged audience. (Though I’m a bit late to the party compared to Jude and Michael, I’m testing a Kickstarter campaign right now which will be for the release of my book in 2024 ‘Built-In Book Marketing’ – you can follow the campaign here.)
  • The size and weight of your book can really matter, especially now with rising freight prices. The authors back then ensured their book’s dimensions would be classed as a letter, not a parcel to make it as economical to ship as possible.
  • When reprinting or updating your ebook files, get fresh and up to date endorsements/praise/testimonials for your book so it’s relevant and timely. For example, for the latest reprint, Jeremy Coleby-Williams, author and convervationist said of the book: “This book is your lifelong guide to food security. As Covid emptied shelves, people turned to their gardens to secure a reliable supply of nourishing food. As our climate continues to change, so too must our crops. Since 1993 The Seed Savers’ Handbook has guided both experienced and novice gardeners in the cultivation of more than 110 food plants. Learn how to modify your crops to better suit your local soil and climate. Our multicultural society has a diverse seed history of seed conservation. Gardens and gardeners sustain our evolving food culture. All hands to the soil!”
  • If your book has been out for a while, or you are traditionally-published and thinking of buying back rights from your publisher, it might be time to update it and take a look at new formats (such as ebooks) and adding translations so your book can find a new and larger global audience.

Meeting Jude (and later Michael) in person, and so unexpectedly, reinforced for me the importance of the work we do as authors. It reminded me of the power of books, and how what we write can be so empowering for people…even if we never hear it from them. (Tip: why not reach out today to some of your favourite authors and let them know how much you enjoyed, learned, or grew thanks to their book!).

Author Jude Fanton, with a beaming smile, holding a huge, fresh French sorrel.
The generosity of Australian author Jude Fanton’s spirit in one pic – holding a giant, fresh-picked French Sorrel.

And, for whatever you’re writing right now, or have written in the past, my wish for you is that it has that kind of impact on readers too.

Keep thinking, keep imagining, keep writing. And maybe start seed saving too! Anna 😊