A guest post by Cameron Stauch
While writing my first cookbook, Vegetarian Việt Nam, people kept asking about my plans for a national cookbook tour. Fellow authors would tell me that “unless you’re a big name author, your publisher will not provide any financial support.” My family and friends assumed, on the other hand, that I’d have unlimited resources at my disposal.
More than six months before my book’s release date, I learned how costly and logistically challenging a national cookbook tour can be. But through creative financing, support from friends, making money on tour, and resourcefulness, I did a bicoastal, eight city, 16-event book tour for $414.
Why do an in-person tour, in the age of the Internet? Many reasons: I enjoy public speaking and teaching cooking classes; an in-person tour remains a good way to invest in relationships with readers, bookstore staff, cooking schools; and a tour lays a foundation for a follow-up book and tour.
Since I live in Bangkok, I decided on one long tour instead of two or three smaller ones. But I plan to do smaller tours next time, both to lengthen the tour and provide balance for myself and my family.
Here are my tips for doing a national cookbook tour for less:
1. Transportation fees will take up most of your budget.
The itinerary for my 20-day book tour tour involved starting and ending in Bangkok, where I live:
- Bangkok to Vancouver
- San Francisco
- Los Angeles
- New York
Transportation costs were the most expensive part, but I was fortunate, because I dipped into free miles to cover my international and internal U.S. flights. While I could have eliminated $75 in airline luggage fees if I took only a carry-on, it was impossible, since I travelled with my knife kit.
To avoid paying a premium, I reserved my bus and train tickets around the times of high demand. This meant many early travel mornings.
I spent the most on taxis or ride sharing between airports and my accommodation. My experiences reinforced the view that many North American cities have inefficient public transportation to and from airports for travellers. I could have reduced these costs if friends had picked me up or dropped me off, but in most cases, the times didn’t work for their schedules.
2. Do events where you can stay with friends.
Apart from the first few days battling jet lag in Vancouver, where I stayed in an Airbnb (with a kitchen for some basic food prep), I booked my tour in cities where I could stay with friends. This saved lots of money, allowed me to catch up with them, and also contributed to cookbook sales, as my friends invited their friends to book events.
It cut my food costs as well. I budgeted $25 per day for food and limited my alcohol consumption. I ate at least one meal a day at my friend’s home, bought snacks and meals from grocery stores, and relied on a meal from my cooking class. Otherwise, I was so busy I didn’t have time to go out to many restaurants. But I did budget for a couple of small splurges, at one restaurant I’d been wanting to eat at on each coast.
3. At bookstores, do inexpensive tastings and streamline.
Prior to my tour I decided to rotate my free samples at bookstore events samples between one of three inexpensive recipes. I limited the tasting dishes to a couple of bites per guest, one or two per event.
This advance planning helped me purchase a streamlined traveling pantry of ingredients and equipment. I knew I’d need some basic kitchen equipment such as a small cutting board, peeler, knives, and storage containers for transporting ingredients. I purchased the necessary items at a discount retailer.
Regarding ingredients, I used bottled ingredients or dried goods for numerous events. The costs were either covered from a previous event or spread out over several events. Often I’d have some extra fresh or dried ingredients left over from a demo cooking class or dinner.
The cooking school hosts asked if I wanted to take any of the ingredients, and I would do so when I needed them for the next day’s bookstore samples.
4. Make an income by teaching cooking classes.
Before I left, I reached out to cooking schools to ask if they would host me for an event. I learned the more established cooking schools pay a teaching fee. The range was anywhere from $20 per student to $500 for the class. A couple of them even offered to assist with my accommodation, either by hosting me at their home or an extra apartment, or to pay for a room. As a way to entice out of town writers and chefs to come to their space, one cooking space even offers to cover transport costs. In my case, that amounted to a cheap 2-hour bus ride.
When I taught at a new cooking school, and I was one of their first authors to visit, I did not ask about receiving a fee. (I did this to support them getting through the tough first year of business. But, for future reference, I shared with them how established, successful schools compensated visiting authors.) Instead, I asked them to purchase copies of my book to provide to all class participants. The costs were covered in the class fee.
5. Ask your publisher for financial assistance.
Having heard from other writers about the lack of financial assistance new writers receive from publishers, I was hesitant to ask mine. However, once I drew up a projected cost of various parts of my national cookbook tour, I felt more confident to ask my publicist. We agreed that the publisher would reimburse costs I incurred for events and interviews they set up, some in-city travel costs (such as public transport, taxis, and ride sharing), and the odd bookstore event where I provided a recipe sample for tasting.
At the end, here is what I spent:
- $332 for flights
- $135 for trains and busses
- $512 for taxis, ride-sharing and subways
- $386 for accommodation
- $500 for meals
- $174 for miscellaneous expenses
The total expenses were $2039. My income, however, was $1625, leaving me a net cost for my national cookbook tour of $414.
When planning your national cookbook tour, it’s possible to do so for less. Advance planning, teaching cooking classes, and having your publisher cover some travel expenses will help you make the cost more manageable.
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Cameron Stauch is a chef and former member of the cooking staff for the Governor General of Canada. He has cooked and lived in Vietnam, India, and China (Hong Kong) and has travelled extensively in other parts of Asia. Cameron now lives in Bangkok. Vegetarian Việt Nam is his first cookbook. He started his blog, A Global Kitchen, in 2013.
(Disclosures: This post includes an affiliate link. I coached Cameron with his cookbook proposal.)
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