Want to know more about cookbook launches and how to work with your publisher?
Chef Craig Priebe and I are working with our publicist Ron Longe on promotion for The United States of Pizza (due out Sept. 22, 2015), so I took the opportunity to interview him on your behalf. Even if you are already a published author, you’ll be interested in Ron’s insider perspective.
Ron is the founder and president of Ron Longe Public Relations, a boutique PR agency. With more than 25 years of experience (I know, he looks so young! ), he has worked in the publicity departments of many New York publishers. Some of the heavyweights he has promoted include Alton Brown, Steven Raichlen, and Rick Bayless. Here are his thoughts about promoting cookbooks:
Q. When should authors start generating publicity for their cookbooks?
A. A year in advance if they want a feature in a national food magazine. Usually magazines photograph one year and run the story the next. But I don’t always know which books I’m working on a year in advance, unless an author hires me.
If you’re a writer and you have a relationship with these national publications, use it to get a review or pitch articles that would come out around the same time as your book.
Q. Is it good to blog about the book in advance of publication?
A. I think it is. Anything that gets buzz going. But you have to work with your publisher because they may not want details coming out too soon. They might also control the photography.
You don’t want to put so much out that people think it’s old news. Just do teasers to let them know, three to six months ahead of time. Share one image and recipe and do tiny nuggets through social media. You could say, ” Today I tested a recipe for my upcoming book” and that doesn’t take away from publicity.
Most publishers restrict authors and media to three recipes, three photos and a book cover. They often make people work within a pool of ten recipes.
Q. What kind of publicity support should an author expect from a publisher?
A. Long lead time is three to six months in advance, then six weeks before publication to contact media and follow up. Once the book comes out, for the next month and a half, the publicist will be active and following up with contacts, and then they move on to the next book.
Authors should expect a press release, a pitch letter sent to media outlets such as magazines and specialty media (a Mexican cookbook sent to Latin magazines), outreach to food editors of newspapers and key food sites, and an email blast to food bloggers to see who’s interested.
Q. What about getting an author on television?
A. Publicists don’t do television and radio unless it’s a bigger author. If authors live outside the US, I only pitch TV if they are coming over here, or we get enough press to garner a trip.
Not a lot of national TV outlets still do cooking.There’s the Today Show, the Chew, and the Rachael Ray show, but most of those are driven by celebrity chefs, a friend of the host, or a best-selling cookbook author.
I do pitch fresh faces sometimes, but they have to have a lot of local television experience and a great television presence with great video links. I factor in things like: how entertaining are you, how photogenic are you, how simple are your recipes — five to six ingredients made in 30 minutes or less — and can you interact with the host of the show?
Q. Under what circumstances should authors hire an outside public relations person?
A. If an author wants more than what the publisher’s going to give them, like they want someone to set up cooking tours and demos around the country, help them get into grocery markets, or set up events and get more media for them, or make a concentrated effort to get on national TV shows, or they want more publicity after the publisher is finished.
Q. Where can authors find a good freelance publicist and what should they expect to pay?
A. Several publicists specialize in food and lifestyle books. Depending on what you want, very few take on work for than less than $5000. I am on a monthly retainer for some publishers. For individuals I give a project fee based on their goals, with two or three payments.
Q. What kind of publicity doesn’t work anymore?
A. I’m not a big fan of the book launch party where you rent a space. Years ago publishers would pay for these parties and each one was bigger and more extravagant than the next. But unless you’re a celebrity or your friends work on food publications, the expenses can add up very quickly. Try to find a sponsor or host it in someone’s restaurant, if you must have one.
Q. If the invitees are bloggers, would they be likely to promote the event on social media?
A. You could bring in a targeted group, do a demo and serve a few dishes. But I prefer a ticketed event where people sign up, including the public. A restaurant would host and there would be a tasting menu where the book is part of it. If you get 30 people, that’s a decent turnout.
Q. Are book signings at bookstores still a good way to sell cookbooks?
A. Yes, if you do it locally where you know people, and you can spread the word through an evite or friends, but to travel to a strange city could be a little tricky. You could be sitting at a table and no one will be there. Think small and take baby steps. Start in your own backyard and keep moving out. If you see success, go to Texas and the Midwest.
Q. What else works well?
A. If you teach classes at well-established cooking schools, you will get paid and it gives you an outlet to speak and get on local TV shows that do cooking segments. Local TV is a very valid way to build your name. It gives you experience and video links you can use for the bigger shows. If you can get Central Market in Dallas, the publisher may fly you in and out and Central Market pays for the hotels and your expenses. While you’re there you can do television and build your name.
Q. What are some of the most unusual ways to sell cookbooks?
A. Some people pack up their trunk and go to farmer’s markets.
I worked on a cookbook where the authors did 15 little parties in people’s homes. They gave a talk and served food from the book. They had contributors who hosted parties around the country.
Q. What do most authors forget to do?
A. Write thank you notes to the people who write about or feature them. Especially if you are a newer author, it gives you another opportunity to say, “Oh and if you’re ever doing a story on such and such, I’d love to give you a recipe.” They might remember your book, and that you were so nice.
Q. Any last advice for cookbook authors?
A. Magazine coverage is a challenge but there are so many opportunities online. I really value working with food bloggers and websites like The Kitchn. They know what the trends are, what people are cooking at home, and they give much more coverage to a cookbook. They test the recipes and show the pictures.