Teresa George is a member of the Cookbook Writers Group on Linked-In. When I asked if anyone in the group would like to participate in this interview series Teresa volunteered. She knows what it’s like to dream of writing a cookbook then making that dream a reality. Thank you, Teresa for sharing your experience with self-publishing your cultural cookbook.
What is the name of your cookbook?
Tastes and Traditions
Is this your first cookbook?
Did you have a food blog prior to writing your cookbook?
No, I didn’t. Actually, I had no idea what a’ blog’ was until this year, when I really started paying attention to what was going on in the online world in order to market my book!!
What compelled you to write a cookbook?
Firstly, I love cooking. My earliest memories of food are from age 5. I started cooking for myself and others when I was about 8 years old. I’m the most relaxed and creative when I cook or read about food! Secondly, I’d read an article about career change (I was thinking about it and it triggered my thinking about future possibilities). Then a friend and I were one day talking in 2001. We found we had a common interest in food and its connection with culture, history, family and community. So we decided to write our own book with all the elements that we’d like to have in a cookbook! Initially it was just Kerala recipes we loved (from south-west India), then we added our own family stories. Leela passed away in 2011 and so the book now features her childhood stories and her community’s unique culture. It is a cultural cookbook.
What advice do you have for an aspiring cookbook author who wants to self-publish a cookbook?
Self- publishing is tough, especially if you’ve never published. I‘ve had to be a ‘jack of all trades’ and be very focused and very organized through out the process – not just the writing. While I was writing this year, I was also considering how I will market and sell the book. It was always in the back of my mind that I need to be one step ahead of it all, in order to ensure the success of the book. As the months rolled by, the room in which I was writing became like a ‘war zone’ – I had pieces of paper stuck and tucked everywhere – with names and contact numbers of all sorts of people and companies who may help with marketing, venue hire, photography, etc. I read a lot on writing, marketing and selling. The whole process began to overwhelm me and I constantly questioned myself as to why I committed to do this but I knew it was what I wanted to do and so I just had to continue to move forward. I began to split my time between writing and what I called ‘reality’ (the logistics of marketing and selling). In fact, my writing got a lot easier when I had a break from it. Switching focus onto the logistical issues helped me to stay energised. It’s been a very steep learning curve and an eye-opener into both the writing process and the publishing industry! I now know what to do for my second book!
Self- publishing has two big benefits. Firstly, as a first-time author it gives one the opportunity to get a book out into the market. Secondly, here is involvement and control over the whole process from start to finish. I like that!
What was your biggest challenge in writing your cookbook?
Structuring the book: The structure of the book has changed three times since 2001. With Leela’s death the book became more focused on her life. I had to read her diaries which was an emotional experience. There were many unfinished stories so I had to decide what I wanted, which then informed me of how much research I had to do within the time frame and with the resources I had. The recipes had to match the stories, there was not enough of either. The recipes needed to be re-written, some testing had to be done. Secondly, working with so many people, especially remotely (contacting strangers in India who had information). This was tough.
It had to be a team effort but I sometimes felt very frustrated because my urgency and priorities clashed with those I had to rely on to get things done. I’ve worked with a fantastic group of professionals and talented people including my family and so it has, overall, been worthwhile and along the way I may have developed a bit more patience and diplomacy!
Any thoughts you’d like to share on the marketing and sales of your cookbook?
I’ve realized that writing the book was the easy part! Before I started to put the book together, a friend who’s been an editor said to me that the marketing would be the bit that makes or breaks the effort! Leela and I had the romantic notion of writing a book – it gave us motivation. The reality is that the book has to sell. So there is marketing, selling and distribution to think about. When self-publishing it is the thing I’ve learned must be done ideally before writing the book. Important questions must be asked up front such as: Who is your audience? What is your budget? What are all the steps to know about to publish, market and sell the book – then how I do all of this or who do I need on my team to help me with this? All I really thought I was doing was writing a book!