A guest post by Nancy Bagget
Selling a gift shop cookbook can work with many culinary subjects and venues, from gourmet tea, coffee, cheese, wine and spirits to spa cuisine and country inn cooking. Almost every product or topic has a supporting trade or members’ organization. And they tend to be receptive to participation by writers in their field.
I didn’t set out to write a gift shop cookbook. Eventually I realized that if I self-published, gift shops could be an excellent way to reach and sell to a key audience.
A few years ago, I began experimenting with culinary lavender when I wrote Simply Sensational Cookies. I was bowled over by how it enhanced so many fruit and berry buttercreams. Later I realized it was versatile in both sweet and savory dishes. Now I’m amazed that it isn’t in every cook’s repertoire.
Public interest in lavender was on the upswing. More and more American lavender farms were springing up. Yet there were few appealing lavender cookbooks. It was a seemingly perfect scenario. But when my proposal hit editors’ desks, some said they loved The Art of Cooking with Lavender, but all eventually passed. The niche and sales potential were just too small, they said.
While I was confident I could create a quality cookbook, the marketing and distribution demands gave me pause. Traditional publishers have a sales force and promotion department to get authors’ works into stores and sold. But when you self-publish, it’s DIY. Once you’re selling on Amazon, where else can you go?
Then I realized there were several hundred independent lavender gift shops across the country. If they stocked the book, I’d reach a steady stream of potential customers. As an active member of the U. S. Lavender Growers Association, I entered the chat room and informed colleagues about my upcoming gift shop cookbook by occasionally posting recipes and photos. I even informally test marketed my two sample covers. Doing so providing valuable pre-promotion and feedback, while giving my potential wholesale customers a perceived stake in the project.
My strategy is succeeding. In the first four months I’ve sold almost 200 books though the usual channels: Amazon, book signings, and other events. Around 35 lavender farmers have already purchased more than 500 copies through my e-commerce portal. And other growers say they’ll buy when their shops re-open in summer.
If you’re considering a gift shop cookbook, here are five useful tips:
1. Focus on the needs of gift shop owners or proprietors.
Celebrate the subject and help them inform and educate their customers. They’re particularly receptive to a book they can pair with core products. They warm to a genuinely enthusiastic tone. (Which is fine, because why take on a subject you aren’t excited about anyway?)
2. Discriminating, high-end gift shops and their customers will reject anything less than first rate.
A polished presentation is vital if you’re selling in a boutique setting. Unless your photography is professional quality, hire a pro to provide a top-quality cover image. Hire a designer both for the cover and interior. Clinch the deal with an aesthetically pleasing layout.
3. Gift store proprietors require a book that can be marked up yet still be affordable for customers.
I minimized per copy costs so I could offer wholesale discounts. First I limited the number of pages to 136 and the book dimensions to 7 ½ by 8 ½ inches. This size provided enough room for more than 70 photos and 80 recipes. It yielded a gift shop cookbook that looked fairly substantial. Yet, it could retail for well under $20. Choosing a paperback format kept the weight to less than 1 pound per book, which helped control my shipping costs.
Because I wanted full color throughout, I choose a printer who charged based on book dimensions, paper quality, number of pages, and print run size. To find the right one, I went through a broker, Global Interprint. Cookbook author and friend Kitty Morse recommended it. As a result, my book is even more attractive than I’d hoped.
4. Position your book as a pleasing souvenir.
Especially in destination gift shops, browsers are often seeking mementos. Convey a strong sense of place. In the case of lavender farms, the breathtaking fields are the highlight. So I made sure to include lots of lush lavender landscapes and gardens. I also used lavendar as a prop in studio recipe shots, with pretty sprigs, bunches, jars of buds and lavender arrangements. They underscore the connection between the blooming fields and the flavor and aroma of lavender in cooking.
5. Neither gift shop owners nor their customers are necessarily cooks. Offer recipes and photos that look appetizing, varied, and stylish, yet are mostly doable by newbie cooks. Keep the number of ingredients reasonable, minimize complicated techniques, and include lots of friendly tips and hand-holders throughout.
By following this approach it’s possible to get a title in front of a targeted, motivated audience you couldn’t reach otherwise. Your gift book may just what browsers are looking for—a win for them, shop owners and you.
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Nancy Baggett is an award-winning cookbook author of nearly 20 cookbooks, including All-American Cookie Cookbook, Kneadlessly Simple–Fuss-Free No-Kneads, The International Chocolate Cookbook (a Best Baking Book winner), and Simply Sensational Cookies (a Best Baking Book nominee). She has written on baking, gardening and cooking with herbs for many top magazines and newspapers. She has also appeared on national radio shows, including NPR’s All Things Considered and and Good Morning America.
(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.)