Earlier this year I participated in a conference call sponsored by IACP. The guest speaker was Michael Ruhlman and his presentation was about his cookbooks and how he has translated the information in his cookbooks to the world of apps and digital media.
During the Q & A portion of the call I heard Amelia Saltsman ask several astute questions of Michael. Michael knew Amelia and gave the shout out that Amelia had self-published her cookbook.Since I’m always on the lookout for cookbook authors to interview for this column, I e-mailed Amelia to ask if she’d be willing to be interviewed. She graciously accepted we recently spent some time on the phone to conduct this interview.
Nothing brings me a whole lot more joy than speaking with other cookbook authors. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, writing a cookbook is a labor of love. But with some passion around a topic of the kitchen, the dream of writing a cookbook can become a reality.
Thanks, Amelia, for taking time to be interviewed for this series. You’re a gem and terrific resource for anyone who wants to self-publish a cookbook. When I look at your cookbook it shines.
1. Is this your first cookbook?
Yes, this was my first solo cookbook. I have contributed to other cookbooks, worked as a food stylist, media escort for cookbook authors, recipe developer, and written for magazines and newspapers, and had a strong regional platform with the LA Times food section and on radio, but didn’t have a cookbook of my own. I felt strongly that if I was going to write a cookbook it needed to enter the market with a strong presence and splash in order to compete against other cookbook authors who were writing amazing books. Some of these authors I had worked with and others that I just knew were out there writing terrific cookbooks.
2. Did you have a food blog prior to writing your cookbook?
No I didn’t have a food blog, blogs were not as much of a presence when I wrote my book. That said, a lot has changed since I wrote my book related to food blogs. There are very many food blogs and very many good food blogs, but as a cookbook editor once said, “…with so many food blogs it’s hard to cut through the “noise”. That said a food blog can be a platform for a cookbook author or food writer.
In a more tangible way a book is also a big part of a writer’s platform. This real thing, the book, becomes a touchstone for their work and can lead a cookbook author from a regional platform to a more national platform. For me my universal message about seasonal ingredient shopping and cooking, and the story of the market, became very real through my book and this message speaks to cooks all across the country.
3. What compelled you to write a cookbook?
First, I have a passion for the topic of simple cooking. I believe in the importance of seasonal shopping and simple cooking. In addition, I am a born teacher. I love stories and I am an avid reader. I like the literary point of view of a cookbook and tried to use specifics to make the stories in the book come alive. I also knew that the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market had an amazing story as the largest market of it’s kind in the country with 30 years of history behind it. This story about the market carries a universal message about seasonal foods and simple recipes – to anyone who reads it – even if they’ve never stepped foot into California or into the Santa Monica area. I wanted to write a book that was representative of this way of life wherever the reader lives.
4. What is your advice for an aspiring cookbook author who wants to self-publish a cookbook?
Whether you decide to self-publish a cookbook or seek a traditional cookbook contract the cookbook author must decide about their content.
Who am I talking to?
Why am I writing this book?
What are my goals? Make sure that the book answers what’s in it for the reader. The book is not just about the author.
What is the reader going to get from reading this book?
This can all start with a passion in the kitchen and this is an important place to start because if it’s your passion, it’s probably someone else’s passion as well. With regards to self-publishing specifically, remember that if you self-publish a cookbook you are not just a writer any longer, you are a publisher and as the publisher you are in command of all areas of production of the cookbook: writing, editing, photography, design, printing, distributions, sales, publicity, and marketing.
Second, you have to know your strengths and know your budget. When I self-published The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook I knew I wanted it to be a major player in the cookbook industry. I wanted it to sit “well” on the shelves of bookstores with other traditionally published cookbooks and I wanted it to sell well outside farmers’ markets. My goal was to write a book that sold well in both traditional and non-traditional channels.
Third, if you’re considering a self-published book do yourself a favor and read Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print, and Sell Your Own Book. This book was invaluable and an excellent resource when I self-published my cookbook.
Fourth, write a cookbook proposal to explore all areas of the cookbook you want to write. This exercise is invaluable. A well-written cookbook proposal, regardless of your preferred method of publication, is worth the time and effort.
5. What was your biggest challenge in writing (and self-publishing) your cookbook?
As a self-published author you’ll have to wear many hats. One of the biggest places where people fall down in self-publishing is to not plan ahead of time the book’s splash with publicity and marketing efforts. Aspiring authors need to thoroughly explore the marketing, promotion, and distribution of their book, and in particular if you self-publish this aspect needs to be thought through carefully.
Second, I had to have realistic expectations when the book was first published about sales and who was going to read my book. This takes time and I’m happy to say that the book continues to sell well 4 years after it was published.
One last piece of advice and encouragement for aspiring cookbook authors is to write a quality book. A well-written book with high-quality features will find its level.
In my opinion there is room for more cookbook authors both traditionally- and self-published. I have been extremely fortunate with my cookbook. It’s given me numerous opportunities to disseminate a universal message as well as stories about the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market. The book has won several awards including a design award and continues to be stocked “face out” in bookstores. And to me, that’s an accomplishment.