Best Takeaways for Food Writers From BookExpo

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I’ve been scouring the web to see what happened at BookExpo America 2010, the book industry’s annual trade show, and what it might mean for food writers. Here’s my 4 most interesting trends, quotes, and statistics:

1. DIY publishing is changing fast. Kindle has most of the e-book market. Can you come up with a Kindle e-book and sell it directly to Amazon?

From a Publisher’s Weekly report: J.A. Konrath, blogger of A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, said on a panel that he self-published on Kindle a number of the books he never sold to publishers. “He priced those books at $1.99, thinking they would be loss leaders to bolster his print sales. Instead he said he made $3,000 on the titles in the first month they were available. Now, he said, he’s selling 220 to 250 Kindle editions per day and that, in July, when Amazon’s royalty rate on titles authors self-publish to Kindle goes up to 70%, he’ll be bringing in roughly $170,000 per year (assuming his volume doesn’t abate) on a bunch of books the New York publishing establishment wasn’t interested in.”

2. Bowker and the Book Industry Study Group did research that showed the computer is still biggest e-reading device (37%); then Kindle (32%); iPhone (10%); iPad (3% after 3 weeks in market!).

More than 2 million people already have the free Epicurious Recipes & Shopping List iPhone/iPad app. It’s got to trickle down to food writers releasing inexpensive apps and e-books. Got a plan? If you have a recipe database and videos, it’s a start for an e-book. Apps usually require more interaction, such as entering info.

3. According to an article in Publisher’s Weekly, Cursor’s Richard Nash said on a panel that success in the digital age is no longer about securing lifetime monopolies associated with copyright, or controlling the content pipe, but about “your moxie.”

While the digital realm brings with it a degree of uncertainty, there is also greater opportunity, he said. “There are so many ways to monetize content, more ways to consume it.” He said the real challenge for authors is negotiating the “signal-to-noise ratio,” in other words, helping users find quality, and offering visibility to authors and publishers.

What I get from his message is: stop worrying about putting your recipes online. Instead, focus on visibility and quality content.

4. Diane Gedymin, founder of The Publisher’s Desk blog, said: 7% of published books generate 87% of book sales. And 93% of all published books sell less than 1,000 copies each. I knew about the first statistic. As for the second, if your book sold more than 1,000 copies, you are in the top 6 % of published authors. High five! Today is your day to feel successful.


  1. says

    Dianne, thanks so much for putting this list together. None of it is terribly surprising, but interesting to hear some top folks confirm it. I am, for the first time ever, actually considering the self-publishing method. Especially after your talk last week, about how we have to do all/most of the marketing of our book ANYWAY. Why not take out the middle man, keep most of the change, sell to the reader inexpensively, and everybody (except the big publishing houses) win? Is there a good reason NOT to do that? I used to think a big publisher was absolutely the way to go. But now, I’m not convinced at all…

    Loved your blog. As always, good fuel! And I’m currently reading your book “Will Write for Food” and really devouring it. So many great tips and points. I normally don’t underline passages in books, but your book is full of side notes. HAH!

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks Jackie. Sorry I wasn’t more optimistic about publishing in the Seattle class. One of the other things I read while doing research for this post is that most publishers do not have warm and fuzzy relationships with their authors where their authors feel supported. Maybe I was channeling a little of that myself!

      Anyway, what this shows is that there isn’t just one way to go anymore, and authors without huge platforms should look at other ways to get published.

      • says

        Oh, you weren’t negative about it. You just stated that we should prepare to do a LOT of work ourselves. (Which, of course, I’m prepared to do.) But I’d never given self-publishing even a second glance. However, it’s nice to know that folks are indeed making a living in the self-publishing market. I realize, however, that it’s a crap shoot in BOTH markets.

  2. says

    Thanks for this information, Dianne. I have be tossing around the idea of publishing some ebooks and this gives me inspiration to move forward.

  3. says

    Wow, only 1.000 copies means an author is in the top 6%? Is that of all published books, not just food-writing or non-fiction? (still mind-boggling, either way)

    Did Diane Gedymin happen to mention if that statistic is a relatively new one? I wonder if this was the case 30 years ago, for instance..

    • diannejacob says

      That is for all published books, not just food writers, non-fiction, etc. I agree, totally mind-boggling!

      I don’t know how current her statistic is. I bet that since she was a panelist at Book Expo, and has a blog on publishing, it’s pretty current.

  4. says

    Just one quote get reverberating in my head as I walked the aisles of BEA,
    ‘the news of my death has been greatly exaggerated…’
    from Mark Twain
    I saw plenty to be positive about…I heard pub ppl. say it should have been 3 days, not 2 and that it would be next year. Definitely a better feeling than last year.
    I liked the access cards to books in galley format at
    Dorie’s new book will be there, Around My French Table.

    • diannejacob says

      Traditional books are by no means dead. They’re just being modified.

      I did not know about this new netgalley site. Interesting idea. Thanks.

  5. says

    Thanks for all the useful into. But what really struck me was your last statistic–ninety three percent? In the US?? We Canadians always assume ANY book sells 10x the volume over there than it would over here. Wow, you’ve really made my day now–I can say I’m in the top 6% of published authors! Wonder if that will help sell more books? 😉

  6. says

    A terrific Take-away for me was leaving BEA, on the specially provided bus.
    I sat next to cookbook publisher, Hiroko Kiffner of Isle Press and she told me the story of how she started publishing Rachel Ray’s cookbooks-pretty amazing
    I knew Lake Isle’s Jim Fobel too from Beard House days, another of her authors..
    Connections, connections…

    • diannejacob says

      That’s a fascinating story. Now the question is what you will do with this connection…

  7. says

    “Can you come up with a Kindle e-book and sell it directly to Amazon?”

    I’d love some examples, if anyone has any to share, of food writers who have done this successfully, putting out a truly good product and finding buyers.

    • says

      You should read the blog that Dianne talks about up in the first point by author Joe Konrath at
      He writes about self publishing through kindle and sells his books for $1.99 and is making $3000 a month!
      Although he was offered a book contract through a publishing agency, he has decided to self publish and upload to kindle because when you get picked up as a publisher you roughly get an advance of $5000.
      What I learned most of all from his blog is that there really is not one right way to publish anymore.
      I do suggest that if you self publish or kindle that you get an expert graphic artist and editor to make your book as polished as possible.

      • says

        I’ve read Konrath’s blog off and on for several years now; I’m curious specifically about food writers who have done this. Has anyone seen any Kindle ebooks (cookbooks or somehow food-related) that you’re especially impressed with and think have done well?

        • diannejacob says

          Good question, already asked by 1 commenter so I figured I should investigate.

          I looked at the Kindle books under the category of Cooking, Food & Wine. There are more than 6,000 ebooks, but most appear to be the electronic editions of print books. I scrolled through the first 100 bestsellers and saw maybe 1 book that might have been self-published, but there’s no way to know.

  8. says

    Oh my gosh, I just did a huge high five to you mid-air! Number 4 made my day, thanks Dianne!

    Excuse my ignorance, but number three confused me a bit, could you elaborate on what you mean by “stop worrying about putting your recipes online.” It would help me a ton as I wasn’t connecting the dots between that statement and the rest of #3.

    Thanks so much! I read all of your posts, always so informative :)

    • diannejacob says

      Good for you, Alisa! Congrats.

      He said to stop trying to control the content pipe. I think that speaks to a lot of people who are afraid to put their content online because people might steal it. Including recipes, which aren’t copyrightable as a whole anyway.

  9. says

    Wow, well timed post. I just took a workshop on iPad development and am working on an idea to sell through Amazon that will have a corresponding iPad/iPhone app. The big plus for me is that the timeline is [much] shorter, meaning that you’ve got a leg up on your actual published competition if you can produce quality content quickly.

    I’d also wager that self publishing will change what we consider “quality content.” Since self-pubbed don’t have an editor or indeed even some measure of quality control (unless authors seek it out, of course), the masses will have to decide what’s worthwhile, as opposed to some bigwigs in NYC.

    So, for you book editors out there, this might be a more prolific market for you – albeit one that pays less since the fees are coming directly out of the pockets of writers.

    Media certainly is changing, and it’s changing fast.

  10. says

    What a great service, Dianne, to everyone out there, distilling the info in the way–many thanks!

    Great info, Dianne, for all nonfiction writers, not just foodies! And it would work also for OP books that an author has gotten rights back for, especially if the final manuscript is still on the author’s computer. Nothing to lose, and possibly much to gain!

    • diannejacob says

      OP means out of print, right? Yeah, why not make it available as an e-book if you can get the rights back. Might as well work it.