Author Tries Kindle After 16 Cookbooks

Feb 252014
 

A guest post by Nancy Baggett

2DayaWeekDietCookbookREDOFINAL-72-small

Something new for these two authors: a Kindle book for $3.99 that must be promoted online for best results.

After writing 16 cookbooks for mainstream American cookbook publishers over nearly three decades, I just co-published my first Kindle book. It’s a 250-page co-authored work called The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook, with 75 recipes and 50 color photographs for $3.99.

What made this project different was that, from the beginning, my co-author Ruth Glick and I planned to create a Kindle book. We never considered pitching it to publishers. Ruth had already written a number of Kindle books (mostly novels), and when she proposed that we collaborate, I promptly agreed.

In retrospect, I can see how this self-publishing process would be daunting for inexperienced authors. Going the indie Kindle route meant foregoing a publisher’s hand-holding and the usual editorial, production, and marketing assistance. Having written numerous cookbooks, we felt confident doing the recipe development, editing and proofreading, and even writing blurbs. The jobs that were less familiar, particularly book interior layout and cover design, were taxing. But years of being part of producing cookbooks gave us a good sense of how to proceed. The feeling of stretching and growing and doing something new was gratifying, too.

For three reasons, self-publishing made sense:

1. We had a solid team to produce the book. Not only did Ruth and I have lots of experience writing healthy and special diet cookbooks, Ruth’s husband, a retired computer scientist, was on hand to do all the Kindle coding and formatting. To balance his technical contribution, I took the 50 color photos. I’d been honing my food photography skills for several years and was enthusiastic about showing off my work in a book.

I was involved with layout in several of my cookbooks, so I took the lead in design. We found a cover layout we liked, then asked a a graphic designer Ruth knew to produce a cover along the same lines, using my photos. In the process I learned more about Photoshop and I think I can produce an even better cover in the future.

2. We saved time. Interest in the diet (which originated in Britain as the Fast Diet or 5-2 diet) was heating up in the U.S., so we wanted to get our book out promptly, ideally by January 3, 2014. We bypassed the long, often tortuous task of writing a proposal and finding a publisher, and proceeded directly to manuscript writing and production. Though our pub date slipped slightly, we published on January 11, still in time for the legions of repentant dieters seeking salvation at the start of the New Year.

3. We’re sharing in a much larger percentage of the profits than what publishers offer. I’ve long lamented that content producers are at the very bottom of the compensation chain. Too often writers’ rewards come in the form of personal satisfaction only. So, the Kindle model providing a royalty rate of 70 percent on books sold in its store for $2.99 or more has undeniable appeal.

Cost was Minimal

As far as cost, we spent $800. The biggest expense was buying the ESHA nutritional software to produce the nutritional labels. It was $700. The original cover work cost $75, and the ISBN number was $25. I’m not counting any food costs, as we ate everything we created. We need to sell 286 copies at $3.99 to make our money back. It seems likely that we’ll do that within three or at most four months of publication. If we can generate more visibility, it could happen faster.

Promotion was a Challenge!

Promoting a Kindle title poses several unique challenges. Since there is no physical book to show and talk about on camera, drumming up television appearances is problematic. Radio producers and newspaper editors are also a hard sell, probably because they worry that not enough viewers have Kindles. So we went to chat rooms, special interest forums, personal and guest blog posts, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media formats where Internet- and Kindle-savvy audiences congregate. The drawback to being totally involved up to the very moment of publication, though, was not having much time for promotion. Ideally, to generate launch buzz, we should have laid some groundwork in advance.

Would I consider doing more Kindle titles? Absolutely! Although virtual books are perceived as less prestigious than and inferior to “real” books (and of course some are crude and amateurish), digital cookbooks can be a better buy. Due to the exorbitant costs of color printing and quality paper stock, if Ruth and I had made a print edition of The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook, we would have had to settle for fewer photos, printed it in black and white, or priced copies at about $30 each. The Kindle format gave us the opportunity to include enticing photos of nearly all the recipes, add color throughout, serve up a substantial 250 pages, and still offer our book at an amazingly affordable price. What’s not to like about that?

* * *

Nancy-BaggettNancy Baggett is the author of 16 cookbooks, four of which have garnered nominations from the International Association of Culinary Professionals and the James Beard Foundation. She is most well-known for her baking books but has collaborated with Ruth Glick on a long list of healthy-eating and special-diet books. 

A frequent television and radio guest chef, Nancy has been a contributing editor to Eating Well magazine and a long-time contributor to The Washington Post food section and has written recipes and stories for many other national publications including Cooking Light, Vegetarian Times, Better Homes and Gardens, and The Los Angeles Times. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Lane

Her collaborator, Ruth Glick, is known for her more than 100 romance and romantic suspense novels, written as Rebecca York. She has authored 15 cookbooks, many with Nancy. 

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  47 Responses to “Author Tries Kindle After 16 Cookbooks”

  1. Thank you for this interview! I have been long thinking about doing an e-cookbook on Turkish pastries on my own because I am a beginner and it felt daunting to go through all those initial stages. I was thinking it is not going to be maybe well-respected but I was going to do it for myself anyway.

    • Doing a Kindle e-book is not easy, especially if you don’t have experience. But you are investing your time, energy, and money into something YOU WANT to do. A book focused on Turkish desserts seems like a good idea for a Kindle book, partly because the topic is probably too narrow for most mainstream publishers to even consider taking on. If you want people to learn about and appreciate Turkish pastries, this is a route for you to make it happen. Good luck!

  2. Both Nancy and I love a challenge. In this case it was developing tasty recipes that were all 200 or fewer calories per serving. We enjoyed working on this project together, and I think we’ve put out a quality cookbook that’s a boon to anyone who wants to stick with the 2 Day a Week Diet. Actually, the filling 200 calorie meals are particularly helpful in keeping our husbands on the diet. An added benefit to doing this cookbook is that we’ve all lost weight. At the moment, I’m the champ at 18 pounds.

  3. Thanks, Dianne and Nancy, for this enlightening story. After having had 7 books published I also have thought many times about doing an ebook. This is further encouragement to do that, though I do understand that parts of the process are daunting. Wishing you much success, Nancy and Ruth!

  4. Thank you Dianne and Nancy. It seems that having an existing broad knowledge base on creating cookbooks was an asset to the endeavor, even in the area of photography, having existing experience on how the food should look and its design components. While the profit margins are certainly more enticing, having viewed a couple of extremely amateurish books on food topics in the e-book area, I’m wondering if long term success might be better served with newer, inexperienced authors to be sure and still go through the process of professional editing and other services until such competencies are gained.

    • I, too have seen very amateurish Kindle books. A newbie author would do well to hire the expertise needed, though that, of course, makes the whole project much more expensive. We ended up drawing on everything we’d learned over a goodly number of cookbooks written.

      Hopefully the very easy access to giving feedback (via Amazon ratings) will guide readers to the quality Kindle products. Amazon also has a simple, quick return policy, btw.

  5. Nancy, thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am about to embark on my first Kindle cookbook as well, and it’s really great to get feedback about the process.

    I’m not new to creating Kindle books, as I have already done so as a fiction author. However, a cookbook is a completely different animal. Fortunately, I have experience in publishing, layouts, and photography (I took my own photos for my about-to-be-released cookbook), so that will help.

    I have found my experience with publishers (and agents) to be frustrating. Yes, there are many benefits to being under the wing of a publishing house, but there are also many negatives, and I believe that where you are in life and your experience level should determine whether to go traditional or “self.”

    And thanks, Dianne, for inviting Nancy to blog.

    • I, too have seen very amateurish Kindle books. A newbie author would do well to hire the expertise needed, though that, of course, makes the whole project much more expensive. We ended up drawing on everything we’d learned over a goodly number of cookbooks written.

      Hopefully the very easy access to giving feedback (via Amazon ratings) will guide readers to the quality Kindle products. Amazon also has a simple, quick return policy, btw.

      • There is indeed a sense of freedom that comes with doing the whole book yourself, particularly if you have a basic skill set to draw on. As I’ve said to several people, we had confidence in our idea and our ability to execute–and it was gratifying to follow through. We were willing to spend our time (and some money) and bet on ourselves, and we have relatively modest expectations, so the endeavor will very likely end successfully.

    • Yes, a cookbook requires recipe-related formatting, plus the complications of color photography, headnotes, hotlinks from chapter entries to recipes, etc. But it sounds like you have plenty of experience to fall back on.

      Yes, the traditional publishing route can be frustrating, though I have to say I’ve been pretty lucky. But with the apparent need to get our book on the market quickly, the traditional approach just didn’t fit with our plans at all. And as you suggest, the “where we are in life part” pointed us in the indie, “let’s do what we want to do” direction.

  6. I have thought about this but haven’t yet decided to take the plunge, mostly because of the formatting issue. I’m not happy with the way my last book, “Pulling Taffy” (which was converted to Kindle by someone else), looks on the Kindle, but I’m a bit worried about acquiring the skills to design that way. (I can do print layout.) Still, I appreciate your candor, Nancy, and will think about adding another skill to my arsenal. (And I DID buy the book!)

    • Thanks, Tinky. The notion of adding yet another skill is key these days, IMO. The world is changing at breakneck speed. I really resisted learning to take my own food photos at first and having to learn photoshop, but it has been empowering. I no longer have to depend on someone else–can just go and do what’s needed myself. AND, shooting my own photos is so much fun–I wish I’d started a long time ago.

  7. It is my dream to produce my own cookbook. I am very new to all of this so your insight is invaluable to me. I’m pretty good with the tech stuff and design so that helps. It’s all the rest I need to learn about to make it happen… LOL. :)

    • There are plenty of peeps who teach virtual and face-to-face skills like documenting recipes, creating/testing dishes, and writing interesting headnotes. Also, Diane has covered many of these topics on this blog over the years. (So have I on mine–as these are issues I’ve dealt with on a daily basis during years of doing all my cookbooks.) I’ve also found the Facebook food peeps very helpful and sharing. You can do it!

  8. Thanks for this very informative post on e-book writing and publishing. I am even more inspired than ever to go forward. Thank you, Nancy and Ruth, I’m motivated to go buy your e-book now. As always, thanks Dianne for featuring these helpful tips.

    • Thanks for buying the book–love to hear that! I hope you will feel that a Kindle cookbook can be a really pleasant reading/cooking experience. I used to be biased against e-books, too, but now greatly appreciate what they can offer.

  9. I’m surprised to see that your book shows up at $1.99 for me on Amazon. In your post above, you say that you priced it at $3.99, and that Amazon offers a good deal for any book priced over $2.99. Did Amazon lower your price without your permission, to change your royalty percentage?

    Just curious how much control you have when dealing with Amazon. Could you talk more about what went most smoothly (or least smoothly) about that part of the process?

    • The book is at a promotion price right now. It changed since I last proofed the story, and I forgot to go back and tell Dianne to update the info. That is one nice thing–we can change the price (and make other changes, also) fairly easily. We haven’t decided when we might raise the price again. Interestingly it does appear that peeps are more willing to spend $1.99 than $3.99–IMO, even the “higher” price is very little for a 50 pic/ 75 recipe book, but the $2 savings apparently matters to some….

  10. This is an excellent post for those who are considering producing an ebook. There’s lots of tips here for anyone considering going down the same route. I tend not to buy cookbooks in this format as my Kindle is an older one with no colour, but I can see the attraction for those with Ipads and Fire’s.
    The point about the difficulty in promoting an ebook was one I hadn’t thought of, but you look as though you got round that exceptionally well and, of course, such a low price is always going to be attractive.
    I’m sure you will have a great success on your hands.

    • Thanks for your enthusiasm Amanda. We are now feeling our way on how to market the book–so far so good!. As I said, it would have been better to lay groundwork ahead, rather than play catch up after publication. That’s one thing we definitely would do differently. I’ll probably have more insights a few months from now–we learn everyday!

    • Yes, for those with i-pads or Kindles with color, the cookbook experience can be so much richer than in a real book because even a lot of photography is affordable. As I mentioned, we could NEVER have included 50 color photos in a printed book version–our cost per copy to include even half that many would be $30 and we’d have to mark that up more to make any profit. I think that in time more and more book buyers will come to understand this particular advantage of Kindle cookbooks and their popularity will grow more and more. IMO, their future looks very bright.

  11. Ladies, I wish you well you cookbook. I have just purchased it more out of curiosity on what a cookbook looks like on my Kindle than anything else. I read fiction on Kindle but I prefer my research books in print. Now I’ll have to see how I prefer my cookbooks. I do agree about the price savings for the reader, as well as the profit increase for the writer/writers.

    • Pat, thanks very much. Delighted to hear you are giving our Kindle book a try. Keep in mind that all those 50 nice pics are possible in a book that sells for a few dollars simply because the version is digital. I hadn’t focused on this advantage much before doing our book, but it is a huge one. Those who want lots of pics of the recipes but don’t want to spend $30 to $40 on their cookbooks should start thinking about that. Do note though that for whatever reason many Kindle cookbooks don’t include much photography–it’s up to the individual author. And note that usually those who don’t include photography don’t mention that fact–so the buyer may not be able to tell in advance. (The good news is that Amazon readily accepts returns from dissatisfied customers.) Of course, we thought our photos were a great selling point so put the “50 photos, 75 recipes” info right on the cover!

  12. Clinic forty when 10year itself levitra online prescription price.

    Nancy, bravo! I am planning to do the same when I exhaust most of the hard copies of Mint Tea and Minarets: a banquet of Moroccan memories, my latest book. You are right, you have to produce a Kindle Book with as much care as a regular book, and you should count on experts to do so.

    PS: I love the Fast Diet! Great idea.

    Kitty

    • Sounds great, Kitty. We will have to share and compare experiences at some point. I am grateful that there is now a fairly easy way to get (or keep) a niche book in print. I am thinking about a definite niche audience topic right now. I KNOW no mainstream publisher could sell enough copies to take it on, but if I decide I want to do it, I can. Nice to have the option:-)

  13. I have been reading the conversation w/ interest. I loved the freedom of doing our own cookbook. But I would say that it’s hard to produce a cookbook on your own without someone to go over your recipes for errors. (Did you drop an ingredient in the directions? Did you keep the notation consistent? Did you say how to test for doneness? ) It’s hard to catch everything in your own recipes, but Nancy and I could check each other. And Norman is the world’s best proofreader. (Another check I like is to have someone else make the recipe and see if they had any problems.)

    I had published 12 novels, novellas and short stories on Kindle before Nancy and I took on this project, so I had a good idea about what was involved. Of course, there’s MORE to do w/ a cookbook–basically the recipe formatting. And yes, as Nancy pointed out, you CAN easily change the price. You can also easily edit after the book is published. You could, for example, add more recipes, and customers who already bought the book would be informed by Amazon and be able to get the new edition.

    • Ruth, copy editors who specialize in cookbooks will help you with that. But of course, it’s an expense.

  14. Nancy, what an inspiring story! I just wanted to chime in and say that writers need to get rid of the notion that e-books of any kind are inferior — as if there have never been any books published by a traditional publisher that were badly written. The whole purpose of self publishing an ebook is to seek out the audience that will appreciate it. That is the beauty of the internet. The NY Times Best Seller List, while a lofty goal, is rather small when you look at the number of people that actively use the internet. So there really has to be a mind shift when we talk about our own ebook projects. Self published ebooks are valuable because the authors have identified an audience of people who need and want this information.

    • Halona, thanks for your feedback. I do think that many cookbook authors feel that i-cookbooks are inferior, and I wish they’d get over that! If a Kindle book is properly formatted and the writer/recipe developer and food photographer do a quality job, the virtual book can be as good as, even better than, a “real,” one. (More pics, much lower cost!)

      I also agree that the indie pub route is perfect for creating a book a niche audience will love. I’m thinking about that possibility right now!

    • Well, there actually IS a NYT e-book best seller list. (I’ve been on it with a group author fiction collection.) So the NYT recognizes that e-books are now an important part of the market.

    • Well, there actually IS a NYT e-book best seller list. (I’ve been on it with a group author fiction collection.) So the NYT recognizes that e-books are now an important part of the market. Or course, it’s only an e-list .

  15. I’m nowhere near the point of writing a book (yet), but appreciate learning as much as I can about the industry. It’s valuable to have your insights into this form of publishing. Thank you, and good luck with your sales.

  16. This is a great conversation of interest to me right now as I have decided to pursue writing a book despite the fact that it’s a gamble to get published nowadays. I had considered e-books but my heart wasn’t in it, since i wanted that book in my hand. But this discussion brings up a point I hadn’t really thought about: that I can include WAY more photos than I would be able to traditionally (that is even if i get the book deal).
    I think my biggest obstacle to going with the e-book route is all the technology of the layout,photography etc. that you mention. I feel, as a cooking instructor who writes recipes, that I’m experienced in that department (much thanks to Dianne J’s book and blog). Any tips for someone with just the recipe-writing /testing part under her belt?

    • Marlene, keep on learning. And remember that the industry is changing very fast. Good luck to you, too!

    • I forgot to add that partnering may be the way to go for someone has the writing and food expertise but not the tech skills. I’m guessing that it’s possible to find formatting peeps who will are entrepreneurial to do that work for a share in the royalties–and maybe samples of the food along the way.

  17. Thanks Nancy, from sharing from your deep well of expertise. Exciting to see such a veteran author as you do a kindle. The tips are very helpful. I am working on my first eCookbook, but was not planning on Kindle. I am planning (at least for now) to do it in PDF that can be sold off my website/blog. Planning on about 30 recipes and have brainstormed more recipes than that. Need to make myself make progress each day. Best wishes for it to be a huge success for you!

    • Sally, that’s an interesting approach that we never even thought of. It seems like it would work quite well, especially since you have a devoted audience that follows your blog. So exciting that there are so many different options these days. I think is is important to keep exploring as it is still not at all clear what publishing is going to look like in five years. It’s not even clear what it will look like in two years! I will be following your endeavor with great interest–good luck!

  18. Thank you for letting Nancy guest post about this project. I love Nancy and have been following her updates about this and am thrilled that she made it happen! My husband who worked in publishing for about 20 years, started talking about doing an e-book a couple of years ago so it is really interesting to hear someone I know who actually did it and her thoughts on the process. I still have to read through all the comments, but I certainly agree with Nancy she and her partner were lucky having had so much publishing and book writing experience, thus they understood pretty well what they had to do from A to Z. This is a really great discussion and congratulations to Nancy!

    • Back at you Jamie–I love you and your work, too. I greatly appreciate your good wishes. BTW, I had no idea your husband was interested in e-books. A whole new world has opened up, in the same way that a whole new world opened up when peeps began to blog. Maybe it’s time for you or him, or both, to jump in!

  19. As a food writer turned blogger turned e-cookbook author (I’ve published 3 cookbooks on the Kindle app under The Perfect Pantry imprint, and have more in the works), I am loving this discussion. I’ve found the greatest obstacle for e-book authors is finding the audience that is open to the concept of electronic cookbooks. So many of my blog readers are devoted to print cookbooks (and, I admit, I own more than 500 cookbooks). The challenge is to find the audience, and to give them what they want — an e-book that brings value added to the cooking experience. There are pros and cons to publishing on Kindle vs. offering a PDF on your blog. What I have found is that my lovely blog readers, even the most faithful, are not the target audience for my books. They are used to getting my content free of charge, and simply are not willing to pay for new content despite my assurance that not all of the book content will ever appear on the blog. It’s an interesting world, and I’ve chosen e-book publishing for several reasons (environmental, primarily, but also because I love the features I can offer my reasons in the e-book format). It’s a bit of a tough sell right now, but I believe the market will catch up with us.

    • Lydia, your comments are fascinating, since you have a good deal of experience with e-publishing and have also carefully observed the habits or your blog followers. I do know that some bloggers have been very successful selling cookbooks. Whether they have sold many e-book versions of their books to their followers, I don’t know. I definitely agree that the web has fostered the notion that everything should be free–some potential e-book buyers consider paying more than .99 cents or at most $1.99 or $2.99, an outrage, yet relatively speaking that is a inconsequential expense for most people. I also agree that there is still considerable resistance to e-cookbooks (more than to novels, for sure). I suspect that once people who really like well-illustrated cookbooks realize that they can get what they want (many more pics) for a lot less money, they will be more interested in and open to the digital formats. (Oddly enough, right now nobody seems to be hyping that clear advantage of digital except me!) I’m sure the market will indeed change and catch up, just as the market for printed books expanded and eventually left the much more expensive to produce (though admittedly beautiful) illuminated manuscripts behind!

  20. Nancy,

    Thank you for this article. Your insights are invaluable as I start down this path with much trepidation.

    I LOVE this line: ” I’m not counting any food costs, as we ate everything we created.” Not many projects can boast of this feature!

    Dianne,

    I am such a huge fan of your blog and your efforts to make food writing less daunting that it should be. Thank you.

    Best wishes,
    Sujatha

  21. Hi everyone. As a cookbook author, who too has put out three ebooks on Kindle as part of my “Cooking In A Jiffy” series, I’m just loving this discussion.

    I totally agree with the logic of going the Kindle way for reasons of price (affordability) and reach (that your book is available in every part of the world, instantaneously). But Nancy, I wanted to ask you if you have ever considered making your book available in paperback, not of course, through a traditional publisher but in the POD (print-on-demand) way?

    I have used this service from Create Space (an Amazon enterprise) for all my three books, because first, it’s free. Books are printed only when someone orders them. And they are sold through all the usual sales channels that big publishers use. So you are NOT turning away your paperback readers.

    Second, you need not make this paperback expensive (at $30 or so, as you mentioned) by adding color photos. My paperbacks don’t carry any. But anyone buying them gets a Kindle edition free, with all the photos therein, under Amazon’s “Kindle Match Book” programme. So they shouldn’t be very unhappy.

    Third, since the paperbacks are relatively expensive ($15.99 vs. $2.99 for my latest book “Healthy Cooking In A Jiffy”), and both prices are mentioned together on Amazon, many readers look at the paperback (wistfully) and then plump for the ebook version. So the paperback prices reinforce the pocket friendly nature of the ebook versions. In my case, I find that for every one paperback, seven eBooks are sold.

    Yes, there is a learning curve. Skills required for turning out a Kindle version are slightly different from those needed for a POD book. But you need to acquire these skills only once, don’t you?

    Regards,
    Prasenjeet

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