Austin, Texas-based Melissa Joulwan started a paleo diet three years ago. Both she and her photographer, husband David Humphreys, worked in ad agencies for 20 years and have a background in marketing, social media, and web development. She quit her job this year, after the success of her cookbook Well Fed: Paleo Recipes For People Who Love to Eat.
Q. How long were you on the diet before deciding to write a cookbook?
A. I started eating paleo three years ago, and I started posting recipes on my website two years ago. It was more of “what I ate last night.” Once I started writing that you could substitute cauliflower for rice and how to use coconut milk, people started responding. At the same time, my blog audience was growing, so I became more formal about recipe writing.
My blog has always been half training and half diet, but it was more about torturing yourself to lose weight, versus sharing recipes. I started the blog in 2008 right around the time I started getting serious about CrossFit. My current page views average between 300,000 to 350, 000 per month.
Q. What is connection with CrossFit and Paleo?
A. Crossfitters tend to be looking for the latest nutrition information. Most were doing the Zone, which limited carbohydrates. Palo started getting more attention about three years ago and people started following it. It’s great for losing weight, reversing illnesses caused by inflammation, and really powerful for stabilizing energy and helping you build muscle.
Q. Why did you decide to write a cookbook?
A. My blog was getting a lot of traffic and attention, and the most popular posts were the recipes. I wanted to get back to working by myself, and my husband and I were looking for ways to monetize the blog. Initially we thought we would do an e-cookbook and charge $5 for it. He was interested in photography and we thought it would just be this little art project we would knock out and sell on the website.
Then he got a good camera and started taking photos. Neither one of us thought his photos were going to be so good. Then we thought we should do a print book and found this designer.
We’ve sold almost 20,000 copies of Well-Fed since December 2012, between the printed book, the Kindle version, and the e-book.
Q. Why did you decide to self publish?
A. My first book was published by Touchstone in 2007. The marketing all felt really off to me. It got put into the sports section, and I felt like the publicist was not invested in promoting the book. I was really bummed by the whole experience.
Dave and I used to work on CD-ROMS and we both have a background in advertising, so we knew we could get pretty far on our own with self-publishing. Also if we were successful, it would be rewarding to have owned every step of the process.
Q. Which service did you use to publish your book?
A. We published through CreateSpace. We didn’t order any books in advance. You submit a PDF, it goes through an approval process to make sure it prints properly, and then they start selling it on Amazon. On a cover price of $29.95, we got a little less than $5 per copy.
Then Amazon got in touch with us in January and said it doesn’t make sense to continue doing print-on-demand. They wanted to do offset printing and give the same royalty. We knew offset printing was way cheaper from our experiences in advertising. So we got bids to print the book ourselves. We settled on Bang printing, which was very reasonably priced. They serve small independent publishers and self-published authors. We printed 6,000 copies at a cost of $15,000, so our cost per book was under $3. Through CreateSpace, our cost would have been $13.
Q. Have you made a profit?
A. We’re six month into the book being out and we’ve already netted 130 percent of what I made at my corporate job last year.
Q. Do you know what you invested overall?
The design, the camera, groceries, props, came to about $6,000. We broke even in the first day and a half. It was right before Christmas, and all of our recipes were compliant with the program Whole30, and people were starting their diets on January 1.
Q. So what’s next?
As a result of Well Fed, Wiley approached me to co-author Living Paleo for Dummies. Also, an editor at Plume reached out to me and wanted me to write a paleo book.
Q. Any advice for people who want to take the self-publishing plunge?
A. It’s going to sound very groovy and Marin County. But the Number One thing is to know why you want to do the book and let that guide all of your decisions.
Q. One more question: Why do you offer a free 30-page PDF on your website?
A. We really wanted people to try the recipes and see what the design looks like. We’re both avid readers of Boing Boing and there’s so much on there about giving your work away. I’ve gotten a ton of emails from people who made a recipe out of the sampler and wanted more.
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