I Self-Published a Cookbook, Despite it All

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A Guest Post by Marcy Goldman

I never wanted to self-publish. I imagined continuing Random House and Harper Collins book deals for my growing baking author platform and features in leading newspapers and online venues. I envisioned more Christmas baskets from my publishers, help with my blog and website, and publicists to set up my interviews and promotional spots.

Marcy Goldman, a traditionally published bestselling author, chose to start her own imprint.

Instead, I am now River Heart Press, my own imprint, and I am boldly going where I went when I was 12 years old and self-published my own street newspaper, The Goldman Times.

After 25 years of great publishers, great cookbooks and what I thought was an upward spiraling career, I wasn’t getting a response to my next book idea from traditional publishers. So I dove in. I self-published When Bakers Cooka 276-page cookbook, in December 2013.

It has not been an easy path. I’ve had so much self-doubt because opinions on self-published books rest on the assumption that they are inferior simply because they are self-published. Worse, people think these books will be amateur in content and looks. This premise is applied even if the author engages expert editors, proofreaders, formatters, and designers and thoroughly researches the distribution and promotion of the work.

Without sufficient social media or platform, people assume that self-published books — even great ones — won’t get noticed. I’ve seen a zillion  blogs with this headline: “If you publish it, who will find it or you?” This suggests that Shakespeare, Dan Brown, and Elizabeth Gilbert would never have been discovered without benefit of Twitter, Facebook, or a YouTube book trailer. Do we actually believe form trumps content? No. I believe readers know a good thing when they see it.

Marcy’s first product from River Heart Press.

It took three years, including wallowing in self-doubt and existential, mid-life angst about my value as a baking author, to research the self-publishing partners and players.

Compared to the average text-heavy novel, self-publishing a cookbook with photos is difficult. Cookbooks require complicated book design. Our recipes need extraordinary copy editing and we also need legions of volunteer recipe testers to make sure our recipes work. On top of that, food photography, groceries and promotion often consumes a big part of the budget.

I cobbled together the budget to pay my editor, copy editor, indexer, proofreader, photographer and publishing costs with CreateSpace and Kindle. (Some of the talented staff I hired were recently let go from prestigious traditional publishers, so we can no longer assume that having a traditional book deal insures a team of editorial and sales help.)

Despite a complete manuscript, self-publishing took another 13 months. Surprisingly, while editors, agents and publishers I’ve worked with for years forgot to call or email me back on so many occasions, I got a call from Amazon’s executive team to see how they might expedite my self-published cookbook. I got Cadillac service on my self-publishing journey for my $748 publishing package. In addition, I became an empowered employer versus a contractor.

After When Bakers Cook launched, the Washington Post named it one of the “Best Cookbooks of 2013.” The book continues to sell quite nicely. It cost me about $5000 to publish a hard copy and a Kindle version. I make a nice monthly sum that, over the course of 12 months, should amount to the same as a modest cookbook advance. But my book will never go out of print, the royalties are higher, and I know daily what my earnings are, versus bi-annually when I get an advance statement in the mail. Best of all, as a self published author, I might sell less books overall, but make disproportionately more income.

I am now at work on self publishing another cookbook, my bestselling cookbook that went out of print, a book of food poetry, and a memoir. Why? Because I can. I am building my own back list, which will provide consistent revenue. While I respect and miss my publishers, I am no longer waiting for a publisher (or worse, the sales force or book buyer at Barnes & Noble) to ask me to create the next hot trend. No Paleo Hanukkah Lite cookbook for me!

During those 13 months of a horrific learning curve, as my spirits and confidence rose, I tried to share my great adventure. Few, if any colleagues, even those struggling themselves, wanted to hear. I had a sense that I’ve betrayed someone or crossed a line into a land I never wanted to visit. That’s the part I still don’t get. I’m not unique as a mid-list author. I am not unique in forging a new path, but I don’t understand why authors would be so disparaging.

So if you want to publish, whether you’re rife with talent or no one has dared tell you you’re not, do it. If you are traditionally published and even established, but have a book your current publisher won’t consider, do it. If I have to choose between a manuscript languishing in my drawer or a mediocre, inequitable, and stifling contract, I will champion the self-published book.

To my colleagues who dismiss or otherwise seem tepid about my efforts to stay afloat , I say jump into the pool. The water’s warm and there’s plenty of room.

* * *

Marcy Goldman is the host of www.betterbaking.com, celebrating its 17th year online. Her next books are The Baker’s Four Seasons, Love and Ordinary Things, Poetry from the Kitchen, and the Dance Floor and Life. All her books are doing very well, in print and as e-books. She is the happiest she’s ever been.


  1. says

    So well done! Love hearing the honesty and back story here and wish Marcy so much success. Love reading your blog, even though I don’ t comment as much as I would like Dianne. Warmly, Wendy

  2. says

    Hurrah! I started the self-publishing journey over a year ago and it has been a wonderful experience. Yes, it is A LOT OF WORK, but to have total control over your creation is PRICELESS. And I have the best co-author, we compliment each other very well. Our olive oil cookbook turned out beautiful and we are enjoying showing it off to retailers and consumers that you CAN produce and self-publish a beautiful, heavily photographed hardback cookbook. I’m so happy to read a positive article on self-publishing. Independent publishers are finding success now more than ever.

  3. says

    Huge thanks to Marcy Goldman for writing and sharing this and it could not be more timely for me. I want to know that this is an option and it is great to see that it works.

    • says

      HI Jamie,
      It certainly does work and in more ways than just fiscal or creative control – There’s no one to bottle neck your ideas or ‘tell you what sells’. That’s quite freeing. Plus you feel more marketable when you are moving/working – the energy that comes from that is very positive.

  4. Pam Rauber says

    Most informative. I recently attended a Writers’ Conference where Claire Cook ” Must Love Dogs” was keynote speaker. She is now self-publishing through Amazon and very pleased. Almost verbatim your words here were her words.

    • says

      HI Jamie,
      It certainly does work and in more ways than just fiscal or creative control – There’s no one to bottle neck your ideas or ‘tell you what sells’. That’s quite freeing. Plus you feel more marketable when you are moving/working – the energy that comes from that is very positive.

  5. says

    Love this! I published my first cookbook with Broadway Books and decided to self publish my second, No Whine with Dinner. Yes, there is a big learning curve but I liked having complete control over the project. My coauthor and I hired an editor, art director, and indexer and we enlisted over 200 moms from around the country to test our recipes and provide feedback. The satisfaction and rewards are there and I would do it again!

  6. says

    I loved the energy in this article from beginning to end. I could almost feel your daily fight to plunge ahead and do what your heart told you that you needed to do. Good that you didn’t listen to naysayers. In today’s social media world, the social media gurus believe they are king and a piece of work (whatever it is) is only as good as the social media behind it. I am a cook who bakes, just the opposite, look forward to your book.

  7. silvia says

    You are brave! You are doing the right thing. Times have changed and embracing the new is the way to go. Wish you a lot of success. You deserve a standing ovation for your efforts.
    All my best.

  8. Jaxon says

    Diane, thank you for bringing us information such as Marcy’s story. I too am a self published author. Great finished product but cost me much more than Marcy. She was wise to search better resources.

    • diannejacob says

      Jaxon, there’s a huge learning curve to self publishing, as Marcy pointed out. I bet your next book will cost you less.

  9. says

    Yea! Go Marcy! We have followed the same path, and yes, hasn’t it been a learning curve? Mint Tea and Minarets: a banquet of Moroccan memories has taken me to most interesting corners of the publishing universe.

    One of the most interesting parts of this “independent publisher” challenge (I am now La Caravane Publishing), is talking with such supportive owners of independent bookstores all over the country. Support your independent bookstore!

  10. says

    Dianne: Excellent article! I started out as a self-publisher of gluten-free cookbooks in the mid-90’s because I had to…no big publishers thought “gluten-free” would sell. Yes, it was a steep learning curve, but very rewarding. Today, I’m with the big New York publishers and happy, but I sincerely value what I learned in my days as a self-publisher.

  11. Pat Haley says

    Great topic, Dianne. And so relevant. I published my first cookbook with a tradtional publisher and it received great reviews and sold 20,000 copies. I spent months trying to interest agents and publishers in Book No. 2. Then I tried CreateSpace and worked with them for nearly two years to get Book No. 2 published, Well, now it is out there in mainly regional independent booksellers and on amazon.com. Unless you are Martha Stewart or Lynn Rossetto Kaspar, self-publishing is the way these days. Being primarily a writer and not a tech person, I could not figure out how to put my book on Kindle. Not yet anyway! Good luck and peristence to all!

  12. says

    Fantastic piece, Marcy. I love your candor and the description of your journey. Publishing has changed so much over the years and it is getting a bit frustrating out there. When I make more money on my book from my Amazon affiliate fee than I do for a royalty on that same book…it makes you think.

    I think you have the potential for an addition to your career. Consulting authors on how to be self-published successfully. Or maybe another self-published book on the self-publishing?

  13. says

    Thank you Marcy Goldman for sharing this story and your courageous move into self-publishing. You’re absolutely right — readers will find you when you consistently provide good content, no matter where you are. Thanks for this helpful post, Dianne. It is becoming more and more traditional to do what others perceived as un-traditional. All the best to you both!

  14. says

    Had to chime in about this. Thank you to Marcy for believing in your subject–bakers who cook. I’ll have to track down your book, but the title idea itself puts words to a concept that I think warrants exploration. As you are someone who has experience in the traditional and non-traditional veins of publishing…might I suggest a book about your process!? And as always, Dianne, thanks for hosting. Always feel a little more equipped when I leave here.

  15. em says

    An awesomely interesting story! We just discussed cookbook publishing in my food writing class. Might you consider writing a how-to book on self-publishing?

  16. says

    Marcy thank you for speaking out, and Dianne for bringing this much needed conversation to the front burner. I recently sent my first “single” manuscript cookbook to a beta group. I am determined to self-publish this book. It is a huge learning curve and I don’t have the A-lister’s or mid-lister’s you mentioned, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is I am taking matters into your own hands instead of relying on an elitist group of publishers. I’ll take all the eye-rolling and side snickering that comes my way. Thanks for the burst of much needed confidence in my corner!

  17. says

    Fantastic and inspiring! Thanks to you and Marcy for sharing this encouraging story. I have two books that have gone out of print and have been slowly working up the nerve to consider self-publishing them, plus my first manuscript, which was never published, and who knows what else might lay ahead. Thanks!

  18. says

    Hi Marcy and Dianne,
    Thank you so much for sharing your journey Marcy.

    I, too, have recently self published my book The Healing Feeling – Recipes & Remedies from Australia’s Leading Spa Chef.
    I have ben involved in the Australian restaurant business for over 30 years, the first 15 being a restaurateur and last 15 years as a nutritionist, mentor, yoga teacher and
    organic cooking school teacher.
    It took me 12 years to bake my book, the first few years were mostly rejection from publishers, However I battled on, publishing extracts in food and wellness journals.
    Then in 2012 I pulled the manuscript together, placed the design job on eLance, and commissioned the cover to be designed from a designer I followed in LA.
    By Christmas of that year I had the ebook which sold very well using my social media platforms and websites.
    There was such a demand from clients, friends and family that my partner too it upon himself to format the book for print. The day the proof came back from Create Space (Amazon) was the pinnacle of my long career in food. Yes it needed a few tweaks, but ultimately it is a beautiful book of 144 color pages. I sell it from my website and into selected whole food stores.

    The issue however is that using print on demand for a full color book is costly. The upside is print on demand. I have had some very good book reviews and now the third edition is going to be printed out of China. The cost is approximately AUD$6 per unit vs $14 or so. Big difference! But I need to pay up front for 2000 units.

    Just as importantly l have now created an event series in Australia called How To Self Publish your Passion. A veritable roadshow of entrepreneurs proofing that it can be done!

    Next week I take my book to San Francisco……who knows what might happen!
    And as Maureen mentioned earlier here – the best thing is “taking matters into your own hands instead of relying on an elitist group of publishers”.

  19. barbara lauterbach says

    thank you Dianne, and Marcy for sharing this, it gives one hope for that book that is out of print, but that you always “believed in”, especially when people say “what are you working on now?”. How many of you have had that question posed?
    Again, thank you!

    • says

      Hi Barbara,
      Thanks for such a nice comment. When people ask what I’m working on now, I can’t stop babbling about all the different projects. The pure thrill of not having any gatekeepers (agents, publishers, editors), just expectant readers. They (and my own goals) are my new ’employers’ but they are also cheerleaders.
      Please contact me directly about getting an out of print book back in print (or anyone in that situation). That too is an interesting and heartening story.

  20. says

    I am so glad to read this – so relevant, and beautifully written, too. (And as a baker who likes to cook, I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!) Thanks to both Marcy and Dianne for this inspiring and informative post.

  21. says

    Thank you so much for this insight. I’ve been sitting on that uncomfortable self publishing fence not know which way to go for awhile now. With two published books and an idea for the third, it was great to read of your article and to know that the power to make it happen is in my hands. I too have had the ‘what we are looking for at the moment’ conversation with my publisher and it is good to know I’m not the only one thinking…..this is nuts.

  22. says

    Success stories like this one are encouraging to those that are considering self-publishing. It really is a new world and takes time to learn the ins and outs but if you have a great book and are willing to invest the time that it takes to market it, why not put it out there?!

  23. says

    Thank you for much needed guidance and courage. It is hard to wet your feet in this world when there is no experience to our name to back it up other than blogs. The most useful information to me in the article the time it took. I am impatient by nature but it is good to know how long on average it can take.

  24. says

    Hi Marcy! Thanks so much for such a great & inspiring post. I have a YouTube Thai cooking show called Hot Thai Kitchen, and I am working on a self-published cookbook, and currently looking at Createspace as well. I wanted to ask if you had colour photos in the interior of the book, and if so, how they turned out. My book will be quite photo-heavy, and I have heard mixed comments about the photo quality when printed with Createspace. Thanks so much!

    • says

      HI Paulin,

      I don’t have a single photo in my cookbook, When Bakers Cook. It doesn’t seem to have hurt sales. I also reprinted a colour cookbook with CS and the photos are fine – but the price point of the book is necessarily $50 because of the print on demand model.
      Good luck on your project!

  25. Patty says

    I loved reading your self-publishing story. It was greatly encouraging and I learned so much. Thank you for sharing your lessons!

  26. says

    Thank you for posting hope. I’m thrilled that you have posted a realistic view of self publishing a cookbook. I feel empowered and educated on what I’m getting myself into.

    Many Blessings.

  27. Helyn says

    Wow, what an awesome success story! I have a burning question though… you say you published your cookbook using CreateSpace? I have been there and seems like the paper is so thin and not compatible for high quality photos. How did you overcome that?

    • says

      Well, I’ve had gorgeous full colour cookbooks with the leading publishers and now, am the proud publisher of simpler books – I’ve done colour with CreateSpace and black and white. My feeling is yes, it isn’t the same but I sooner have incredible content and recipes out/published on modest paper than …not. We’ve gotten spoiled as authors and readers with beautiful quality books that haven’t earned their keep. This has much to do with the industry as a whole. (unsold inventory is returned for full refund/ridiculous, books simply don’t sell enough to earn their investment in production). Can we return to the days when Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, Fanny Farmer and Moosewood were classics? I don’t know. But as I just published a huge new baking book 2 days ago and sales are brisk – I can only say that my own readers, appreciate my work even on ‘thin’ paper. I’ve actually put the colour photos on a Pinterest board as a companion component to the black/white cookbook.
      In short, you don’t overcome things as much as prioritize: do you want to keep on publishing? Are you willing to invest more than your book can possibly earn? (That’s true vanity publishing), Are you able to see the beauty in outstanding content, even showcased on modest quality print paper? And last, glossy paper that make the most of those great recipe photos? How much are you willing to pay for ‘pretty’? It’s really a matter of business sense and also – knowing where real value lies. Sorry for this rant but…my newest book, The Baker’s Four Seasons is a book that is unlike any other – It seems the text and recipes are so rich, no one seems to be noticing the paper quality of lack of photos. Plus seeing it earn its investment back on the first day of sales – is fortifying.

  28. says

    This article has been very helpful as I’m embarking upon writing my first cookbook. My question is similar to the last, but more so, concerning hardcover publishing. I think what you’re saying is that using a medium like CreateSpace requires some compromising as it pertains to the layout and design, with the major upside that you get your book out in record time so that your content can be shared with the world. I agree that’s an easy compromise to make, I just wanted to be clear. Thanks again for writing this!

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Myra, yes there are always compromises, and publishing in paperback is usually one of them due to capabilities and costs. Best of luck.

  29. barbara says

    Did you have a template when you created your book? I’ve published other books with createspace but their templates don’t include anything that would be easily conducive to doing a cook book.

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Barbara. This was an older post so she’s not around to answer, but I doubt that she had a template.

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