A guest post by Susie Norris
I sent off the proposal for my third cookbook with a hopeful heart. I had a good agent, a new IACP Digital Media Award for FoodMarketGypsy.com, my culinary travel blog, and thousands of Twitter followers. Creating a self-published cookbook was not on my mind.
But the news was bad: traditional publishers now found my platform too modest. After a lifetime of baking and teaching the classics, I knew I had something to say — and maybe they did too — but letting me say it was no longer the priority.
The path to publishing now required me to make a choice:
- build my platform with a professional social media team (which still required spending my time in tech classes, social-media scrolling, engaging with my audience, and lots of money)
- or just write the cookbook, A Baker’s Passport, and publish it myself. The platform would come later.
Great advice came from an IACP webinar where authors Kathy Strahs and Emily Kaiser Thelin chronicled their independent publishing process very clearly. I hired Dianne, who coached me to refine my goals (and who edited the final manuscript – she’s a polymath!)
I worked with Reedsy.com, a cool platform for freelance writers and designers where authors choose designers and editors based on their style. It was so refreshing to have a choice! There I found designer Cecile Kaufman, who produced the book cover and elegant design that I so appreciate, and several helpful copy editors.
I published on Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon’s platform for on-demand books, so I don’t have a huge pile attracting rodents in my basement.
Here’s what I learned about publishing a cookbook and building a platform afterwards:
1. You’ll need a budget.
A simple spreadsheet to anticipate costs (book designer, editors, photography, marketing, travel, publicity, etc.) will help you face the financial commitment involved in self-publishing a cookbook.
Some authors choose a Kickstarter-like plan to generate the funds they need. I relied on my old-fashioned day job as a grant writer, because I didn’t want to owe anybody money out of the gate. The spreadsheet grew and grew and became my marketing plan, task list, and balance sheet.
But I went over budget. Color photography was the biggest wild card for me. It drove my book costs up, and yet, the book now gets regular praise because of the many color photos. I chalked this up to the price of happiness.
2. Hire a good editor, copy editor and testers.
In the beginning, self-published authors had only optional commitment to the literary standards imposed by the publishing business. A good editor will help you avoid this pitfall. They help you focus on what is clear to the reader, help you avoid repetition, or hammer the passive tense out of your prose (as Dianne so kindly did for me).
Once you complete the manuscript, it will be full of seemingly invisible typos and recipe glitches. You will need help fixing them.
Plus, you or your testers should make every recipe at least three times. Make sure this line in your budget is fat, as the cost of ingredients add up!
3. Plan for lots of promotion.
With a self-published cookbook, no shortcuts exist for the considerable work to get the book reviewed, marketed, and promoted online and at events. You’ll probably need to travel and get some help from a publicist who specializes in food, like Trina Kaye.
The good news is that promoting your book will increase your platform. You have to be out there, making sales, engaging with readers, and doing so will bring more attention to your book.
4. There will be tech emergencies.
When you hit a wall with technology (the files won’t load; the photos won’t resize), you have to be the fixer. The best solutions for me were FixRunner.com and Yoast.com. Both specialize in WordPress services but allow you to chat with a real fixer who actually knows solutions and ultimately gets you over the technological hurdles. I thank customer service techies, whoever they were.
5. Yes, you can build a platform with a self-published cookbook.
My happy ending felt planned, earned, and also full of surprises (like an invitation to a press junket about the culinary treasures of Greece…score!) Here’s what else happened:
- My email list and blog followers tripled.
- A Baker’s Passport got over 20 positive media hits and good juice from my fellow food bloggers, which built my portfolio and helped me build a YouTube channel.
- I did book signings at chocolate salons, farmers’ markets, and kitchen shops – all the places I love.
- I have content galore to feature in blogging, posting, and refining my concept for the next book.
A Baker’s Passport is selling steadily, but I’m still on the hustle. The best part is that my close friends, the ones who bought the book just to be nice, tell me that they really use it and like it and thank me for those classic recipes. My heart swells. My platform is bigger, better, and just the right size for me.
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Susie Norris is a pasry chef, educator and food-focused traveller. She taught baking at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and ran an award-winning artisan chocolate business in Los Angeles for a decade. Her books include A Baker’s Passport, Chocolate Bliss, and Hand-crafted Candy Bars with Susan Heeger. See more at her award-winning website, FoodMarketGypsy.com.
(Disclosure: This post contains affliate links.)