Helen is not a first-time cookbook author. She wrote her first book in 1986. But, because she loves to bake, she operated a wholesale bakery for 22 years. Even with running her bakery being able to write and teach were always her first loves. In this interview Helen speaks candidly about the challenges of marketing a book, placing photography in a self-published book, and the importance of building your author platform. Thanks, Helen, for providing this interview.
Is this your first cookbook?
No. My first cookbook, The New Pastry Cook, was published by William Morrow & Co. in 1986.
Did you have a food blog prior to your cookbook?
For the first one no. For the second one yes, www.theardentcook.com.
What compelled you to write a cookbook?
As much as I love cooking and pastry, writing and teaching remain my first loves. I wrote for magazines such as Chocolatier, The Pleasures of Cooking (Cuisinart publication), Bon Appetit and AARP prior to starting my upscale bakery, Truffles, Inc. in 1987. It was an upscale wholesale bakery that serviced, hotels, restaurants and caterers. All of the pastries were made by hand. The bakery closed in 2009. I had proposed a book based on the bakery but after two years, my agent was unable to come up with a publisher despite the fact that it was written by a professional. So I decided to break the book into several books based on the chapters. This book was the sample chapter that was sent with the proposal.
What advice do you have for an aspiring cookbook author who wants to self-publish a cookbook?
I am of the opinion that writing a book is the easiest part – marketing is the most difficult. Write from the perspective of your targeted market. Who is your book meant for? It is easy to say everyone, but each book should have a profile of it’s reader, including the age of the reader, how advanced or not they are, is the book a collection of your favorite recipes, does it teach? What do you want to impart? However, even more important is how and where are you going to market the book? Marketing is the only way people are going to find out about the book. TV?
Radio? Blogs? Book Signings? Gift Shops? Specialty shops? Internet? Book Signings, Newspapers – all of these are important. The marketing plan should start way before the book comes out.
What was your biggest challenge in writing your cookbook?
My books are learning books and, as such, require a lot of photography. Because CreateSpace allows 10 color photographs included in the price, it became necessary for me to find another way to publish the enormous number of additional photographs. So there is a companion blog to hold the how-to photographs to assist the readers. One of the reasons for publishing this slim volume was to learn how to self publish so the larger books to follow would be easier.
What was your biggest challenge in publishing your cookbook?
There are many venues to self publish. I chose CreateSpace because Amazon is the biggest seller of soft cover books. They also have programs that help you learn marketing. I also wanted a publisher that didn’t require me to buy a large number of books and store them on my own.
CreateSpace is a print on demand publisher so there is no initial outlay of money other than what you want them to do for you. Also, they can convert the book to a Kindle product. You can upload a book and publish it for zero dollars. They also have sources that can create a unique cover, lay out the interior, edit, market and more. Each of these come with a cost. I chose to have a unique cover created and have the interior professionally laid out. Be sure to ask how long it will take to get your book from manuscript to finished book. I would have gotten my manuscript in much earlier had I been told (or asked) how long it would take. It takes 8 to 10 weeks if all goes well.
It is helpful if you have some idea of what you want the book to look like. I was surprised that, despite sending in all the written information they asked for, it seemed like no one read it. After 3 attempts to get the interior right, I talked to the person who oversees the creative people and went point by point over what wasn’t happening. I have every confidence that it will be as I asked in the next revision. However, I have found they truly do want the book to fulfill your expectations. My book should be out mid-November.
Any thoughts you’d like to share on the marketing and sales for your cookbook?
Before even thinking about writing your book, join groups that might be customers. There are many on Linkedin. I have gotten a lot of information from these groups and will announce the book publication through them. I have been fortunate to be well known in my city
for the quality and consistency of my product line through the bakery. In addition, I have had a 5 minute segment on the local CBS affiliate for two years. I made this contact in anticipation of starting my blog and books. I have set up demos and book signings at culinary schools as well as book stores, kitchen stores and the gift shops at our Art Museum and Botanical Garden.
If you know that you are going to be writing a book, start teaching at local cooking schools. See if you can write for newspapers or local blogs to start building an audience. Everywhere you go, collect email addresses so you can notify them of your books release. Always have books with you in your car and if you pass a likely target, stop in and ask them to carry it. I am new at this and will be able to be more helpful after I put all of this into practice. I understand local Sam’s Clubs encourage local authors. Make sure you use the term “local” in press releases and when talking to prospects in your area. Many people will be anxious to support local people.