Your cookbook’s coming out and you’d like lots of bloggers to cover it. How about an event where all their posts appear on the same day and drive sales?
Debbie Koenig coordinated a potluck party for her first book, Parents Need to Eat Too: Nap-Friendly Recipes, One-Handed Meals, and Time-Saving Kitchen Tricks for New Parents (Morrow, 2012). A book marketing executive turned food, diet, and parenting writer, Koenig sold out Amazon in one day, when bloggers reviewed her book and posted recipes.
In this guest post (the first on my three-year-old blog), Koenig explains how a virtual potluck for bloggers works, and why hers succeeded.
By Debbie Koenig
I first heard the term “virtual potluck” three years ago, when Monica Bhide was preparing for the publication of her cookbook Modern Spice. Monica hosted the potluck as a one-night-only, online gathering of food bloggers, all cooking from her book and
posting about it concurrently. I wrote about her rather spectacular Rice Pudding and Mango Parfait, one of two dozen posts that appeared across the blogosphere that day. A month later, inspired by Monica’s success, Tara Mataraza Desmond and Joy Manning threw a similar event for their cookbook, Almost Meatless. They snared more than 30 participants (again, including me).
Having worked for years in book marketing, I recognized genius when I saw it. I was knee-deep in my book proposal for Parents Need to Eat Too, so naturally I stole the idea—and ultimately my publisher, William Morrow, loved it. Jean Marie Kelly, senior marketing director at Morrow, did the heavy lifting for my own virtual potluck, which took place this past February. Together, we hashed out specifics:
- Our goal: We aimed to drive orders before the book came out, helping us get as much velocity as possible on day one.
- Our approach: We compiled a list of food and family bloggers. Some I knew personally and others who’d never heard of me had followings so large I could only hope that they’d join us.
- Our hook: To entice participants, I approached KitchenAid, which provided prizes. Morrow also provided books: one copy of Parents Need to Eat Too to use and one to raffle, as well as a thank-you package of other Morrow cookbooks.
- Our rules: During the three weeks before the book’s on-sale date, participating bloggers would cook at least one preapproved recipe and blog about it—a single post would enter the blogger into the raffle for a KitchenAid stick blender, and three posts might win her a fancy-shmancy food processor.
Six weeks before my on-sale date, we sent out the call for participants. We wound up with nearly three dozen partygoers and around 50 posts—and as a result, Parents Need to Eat Too sold out on Amazon in less than a day.
By now you may be itching to host your own virtual potluck party. Learn from our collective experiences, and you’ll do just fine.
1. Know your goal.
Do you want to drive pre-orders, as I did, or create the equivalent of a launch party, with all participants posting the same day? Are you hoping to have your book appear everywhere, or would you rather devote your efforts to snagging a handful of high-profile bloggers?
2. Consider the reach.
Monica’s advice: “You need to invite bloggers with big numbers. When Heidi Swanson cooked from Modern Spice (on her own accord, not part of the potluck), the numbers on Amazon rocked. They went into the hundreds. I have only seen that happen with NPR coverage!”
Tara’s approach is slightly different: “I think the most important thing you can do is invite bloggers whose audience is different from yours. To boost sales, we have to do all we can to tap into people who are our actual target market.”
Since my own book was aimed at new parents—a well-defined, non-food-related niche—Jean Marie and I reached beyond the food blogging community. Roughly half our participants were so-called mommy bloggers.
3. Don your PR hat.
“Write personal invitations to bloggers,” recommends Tara. “Be specific about why you’d like an individual or certain blog to participate. Don’t go the way of bad PR pitches and send a blanket invite to everyone. Offer to help the participant at every turn, so they don’t feel like they’re mostly doing you the favors.”
Make sure your invitation clearly states what bloggers can expect in return for participating: for example, social media support via tweets and Facebook postings (ideally from you and your publisher), books, a prefabricated Q&A, downloadable images and recipes for posting on their sites, and if you’re going that route, the chance to win prizes themselves. Point out the FTC requirements for disclosure when offering any type of product, even books.
The best part of a virtual event is that because nothing ever really dies on the Internet, the effects can continue for years. “Three years after the potluck, I started a Modern Spice Pinterest board and I pinned all the images from various people who cooked from the book,” Monica said. “It has given a new lease to my book and lets people see what the food looks like, as the book only had eight photos.”
[This article first appeared in the Words, the newsletter of the Food Writers, Editors and Publishers special section of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. It also contains an affiliate link, which means I can earn up to several cents if you make a purchase.]