By Cathy Barrow
It was a year of saying “Yes” to every cookbook promotion opportunity.
In November 2014, my cookbook, Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, hit the shelves. My publicist planned nearly 50 events in the first four months after launch.
As enthusiastic as I was about those first crazy months, I wanted to give the book a full year of my attention. It took a year to write it, so shouldn’t it take a year to tell everyone about it?
After many long talks with my spouse about how to structure the year, I decided to limit travel to one week per month and appearances to two weekends a month. We committed resources and time (and airplane miles and hotel points) and leaned heavily on the kindness of friends.
Over the past year, there were more than 50 flights, not to mention so many hotel rooms, train trips, bus rides, and car trips. I criss-crossed the country twice, drove through a bit of the Midwest, appeared here and there in the South, dawdled in Seattle, dined and dished in the Bay Area, jammed in New England, and made pork barbecue with all the condiments across the state of Texas. I slept in guest rooms, on couches, in swanky hotels. I appeared in bookstores, gift shops, garden centers, farmers markets, and a senior living center.There have been radio interviews, television appearances, podcasts, and phone and web interviews. To every opportunity, I said, “Yes,” And it was worth it.
It’s on the author’s shoulder to be creative and find new places and new ways to get the word out. I looked for opportunities to market my book everywhere and, predictably, some events were better than others.
Here’s what I suggest:
1. Get ready to demo. Practice making a handful of your best recipes in front of people. Select recipes with a good tip or trick to pass along. Make sure the ingredients aren’t too expensive. If people see what you do, taste the food, meet you as a cook and enthusiast, they’re going to buy the book.
2. Tell your story. When people came to see me, signed up for a class or turned to a podcast, I found that talking about the recipes wasn’t enough. I needed to tell my story too. The more I opened up about my life, — — how I came to canning, why I do what I do — the more successful my events were.
Have a few anecdotes to pull out so you don’t gasp for air when asked a personal question. It’s okay to repeat the anecdote but not okay to sound bored with it yourself.
3. Pick your venues carefully. Farmer’s markets didn’t work for me. You’d think they would be a natural, given the subject of my book. But I sold very few books as attendees grabbed food and walked on. It was so disheartening that I’ve sworn off standing behind a table at a farmers market forevermore.
4. Expect that readings can be hit or miss. Readings were all right, but some were terribly disappointing and in a couple of cases, downright depressing. If you’re into schadenfreude, read the wonderful Mortification, a collection of essays from writers and poets on book touring.
Fewer real bookstores exist any more. What about that romantic notion of authors traveling from bookstore to bookstore doing readings and signing books? Sadly, these days are over. Yet, at a few great cookbook-loving bookshops – Kitchen Arts & Letters, Politics & Prose, Omnivore, Book Larder, Book Passage – I experienced such a sweet confluence with the customers and the owners, it was a joy to be there.
Regardless, bookstores are critical for smaller events. Ask if the local independent bookstore (if there is one) will do remote selling. Otherwise you’ll have to carry books in the trunk of your car. Or do both.
5. Book ticketed hands-on events when possible. Ticketed events guarantee an interested group of people. There are wonderful, well-run, professional cooking schools all across the country and I am still in awe of the talented chefs who made me look like a star.
6. Build a group of events around an invitation. To get invites, stay active in all your networks: social media, naturally, but also university clubs, work friends and their book groups, and friends who have moved far and wide have their own networks too.
When I received an invitation to a Saturday book festival, I built in a private dinner at a friend’s restaurant on Friday night. I booked a Sunday morning book signing at an independent bookstore and a Sunday afternoon class at the local cookware shop. A Monday morning signing and coffee with the garden club made it a perfect weekend of opportunities.
It’s a big job to make all those calls and arrange for books at each event, but it can be done. Or hire an assistant to take care of travel arrangements so you can focus on communicating with the venues. Every time I cooked for people, or spent time face to face, the book sold.
7. Don’t forget to recharge while promoting. If your book is about to hit the shelves, get a lot of rest, and get ready. Promoting is hard work, alternatively hilarious, infuriating, educational, and motivational. Have fun and remember to recharge whenever you can. Rest, sleep, meditate, run, do yoga, drink wine… whatever it takes.
The chance to meet so many people — especially long-time readers of my blog and writers I admire – has made all the travel and the time away from home worthwhile. Connecting with people face-to-face has to be one of the best reasons to say “Yes.”
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Cathy Barrow is the author of the award-winning Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, a cookbook that began with the start of her blog about canning and preserving in 2009. She is the co-creator of Charcutepalooza and has written for The New York Times.