One of the benefits of being a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals is the insider information I get in the monthly teleforum for the Editors, Publishers and Writers section.
Recently a first-time cookbook author provided real numbers about her experience. That’s rare.
While I can’t direct you to the presentation, I can give you a few nuggets that lift the veil on what happens in a food writer’s first book deal and in subsequent marketing of that book.
First, let’s look at the costs to produce the cookbook. The publisher paid the author a $15,000 advance. From that she:
- paid a photographer $7,000
- spent $7,000 on food ingredients
- spent $1,000 on props and incidentals.
What was left for her? Do the math. Nada.
Her book came out in Fall 2009. The lone publicist at her publishing company handled the publicity for 40 new books. Just for this particular author, the publicist would send out 100+ review copies, write and send press releases to traditional media, and produce a postcard for a mass mailing. That’s pretty standard. The rest of the publicity was up to the author.
Now, to the author’s credit, she is an A-type MBA grad overachiever, so she wanted to make a splash with her first book. She did a guerilla media tour (translation: not willing to pay a publicist), traveling continuously for four months. During that time she accomplished:
- 97 signings and cooking classes
- 16 local TV and radio appearances
- 70+ bookstore drop-ins
- 75 “significant media mentions.”
Then she asked herself whether it was worth it. Yes, she decided. Where she visited, sales were 7 to 10 times higher than places where she did not. She earned out her advance quickly, selling about 20,000 copies in the first season, and now she’s earning royalties. Plus, she viewed the work as an investment in her future as a cookbook author.
But she’s still recouping her PR and marketing costs. Her expenses for those four months, including purchasing books directly from the publisher, landed her $13,000 in the hole.
Would she do it again? She’s already working on another book.