A guest post by Nancy Baggett
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?
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Nancy 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.