When a blogger launches a book, it’s a chance to capitalize on her community. Shauna James Ahern knew how to run with that opportunity when her second book came out last fall.
Despite her protestations to the contrary, the Pacific Northwest blogger excels as a marketer. She’s also a terrific writer, community builder, and generous supporter of other food bloggers and cookbook authors.
I’ve known about Ahern for years, but got to know her personally when I took a class she taught on voice through Leite’s Culinaria. I quoted her writing tips in the revised edition of Will Write for Food, because I admire how clearly her energetic, honest, and positive voice comes through in her writing.
This post is not about her writing, though. I’d like you to know about Ahern’s marketing skills, and learn from them for when your book comes out. Ahern’s passion for building community seems to come to her naturally, and blogging has been a perfect vehicle on which to build her massive group of followers.
The successful blogger of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, Ahern has more than 42,000 Twitter followers and almost 15,000 Facebook fans who adore her, her family, and her knowledge of gluten-free cooking. She also has one heck of an Amazon page for Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. Check out all the tools used to promote her book, including a video, a recipe, an interview, and tie-ins with food manufacturers who also sponsor her blog.
Ahern and I spoke by phone recently about her experience of marketing her second book, and her plans for the third one:
Q. What did you learn from promoting your first book, to prepare you for promoting Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef?
A. I need to start preparing more in advance! The book came out two weeks earlier than planned in mid-September, and I had started sending out emails in July. From August 6th, my birthday, to Christmas Day, I didn’t take a day off.
My next book, Gluten-Free Girl: Cooking Every Day, comes out in fall 2012. I’m starting to plan now, as we’re writing it.
Q. Congratulations! What are you planning for book Number 3?
A. I will be focusing the blog on the topic of the book. When Daniel (her husband) first appeared, the food got very cheffy. Now that we have a kid, I get it when people say, “Could you make some food that we could eat for dinner?” It’s a natural shift, to much more healthy, much more plainspoken food.
Once a month, the blog will have some baking project that people crave. I’m working on gluten-free pretzels right now. March is (a gluten-free version of) Nutter Butters.
A. They’re both really about community. Gluten-free folks feel isolated, and having people who understand it is really important to them.
Twitter and Facebook sold the book the first few weeks. People were tweeting things like, “My book arrived, I’m so excited.” They included links to the cookbook. It was a natural, viral thing.
Once a month on Twitter, I did an event. I asked folks to cook out of the book or recommend the book and put it up on Twitter.
Now I use the mornings to be on Twitter and people can come ask questions. The blog sold the first book (Gluten-Free Girl), and Twitter and Facebook sold the second book.
Q. What kind of promotion did you do on your blog?
A. About a month and a half before the book came out, I asked people if they wanted three recipes to blog about. Close to 100 bloggers responded. There were all kinds of people, including the Georgia housewife with three kids who just wanted to cook pasta, and people with small blogs. There was nobody famous, nobody well known. That day, when they all posted a recipe, the book was at number 291 on Amazon. (DJ: The lower the number, the closer you are to the best-selling book of the day or hour. Amazon sells over 2 million books.)
From September to November, I did a giveaway of 15 copies of the book, each tied to cookie recipes.
I’ve found that the blog promotes the book and the book promotes the blog. I hear from people all the time who say “My aunt bought the book for me as a gift, then I found out about the blog.”
Q. What about in-person tours?
A. Bookstore readings are becoming antiquated, and particularly for a cookbook, it doesn’t seem too relevant. So we wanted to create a space where people could gather. We did a picnic in Central Park in New York , and everyone brought food. After BlogHer Food in SF, we did a picnic in Delores Park, where people brought food. In Boulder, we did a November event inside. Our Intention is to travel somewhere each month.
Q. How did you come up with the funds for a road tour?
A. We slept on people’s couches. Publishers don’t pay for anything, even though we love our publisher. Our editor said, “Why don’t you stay home and do it all on Twitter?” but we said no no, this is about going out and meeting people and connecting with them. (DJ: Ahern announced all events on Twitter.)
Q. Which was more important: print media or radio?
A. We did a lot of radio from home. There wasn’t a lot of print media. Most people’s perception of gluten free is that it’s crappy: bad baked goods, deprivation. Then the New York Times named it one of best cookbooks. I found out on Twitter from all the people congratulating me.
Q. How did you decide who should endorse your book?
A. I thought of the people whose work we respected, and they all wanted to be part of it. I targeted friends who also happen to be successful bloggers. Karen (Page) and Andrew (Dornenburg) represented the chef world.
Q. What advice would you give to new authors about book promotion, particularly those who don’t have a blog?
A. The first thing is, you need a blog.
Having some kind of online presence is really important. Your Facebook fan page has to be updated all the time. I do links to other people’s recipes. Recently I announced that once a week, everyone’s going to cook out of the cookbook on the same day.
Publishing used to be something static. The book was on the shelves for six weeks, and that was when you did the promotion. Now you now have to create a place where people can gather online, show photos of your upcoming cookbook in your blog, and built anticipation for it. Then afterwards, you have to keep producing recipes people want so they will want to buy your next book.