A guest post by Mary Cressler and Sean Martin
We had spent two years preparing for the launch of Fire + Wine: 75 Smoke-Infused Recipes from the Grill with Perfect Wine Pairings. That included another six months of planned book tour and events post launch.
And then the world shut down in March. But we still had to do cookbook promotion in a pandemic.
The two of us can chuckle now at the mention of “pivot,” but that’s exactly what had to happen. All of our planned in-person events that would have generated media and buzz were cancelled for the rest of the year. Immediately. They included:
- a book tour
- TV promotional segments
- summer cooking events
- speaking engagements at bookstores and other venues.
After strategizing with our publisher and agent, we decided we had worked too hard to panic and stop promotion of the book. There had to be other ways to get the cookbook in front of people. It would just require us to think digital.
And speaking of that, we are doing a giveaway of Fire & Wine: 75 Smoke-Infused Recipes from the Grill with Perfect Wine Pairings! If you would like to win a copy, leave a comment.
Here are some of the strategies we employed to a do cookbook promotion in a pandemic. If you have a book launch in the next year, they might be helpful:
1. Communicate with your publisher.
Together we had to create a new plan to get the book in front of media for reviews, focus on social media strategy for messaging, and avoid stepping on each other’s toes.
Our publisher released the book earlier than the original April 28th date because people were home and looking for things to cook. So as early as mid-March the book started shipping to existing pre-orders and we had to be ready to promote. As we did so, our publisher amplified the book events we did online.
Our promotion efforts didn’t end after the first 30 days. We continue to lean on our publisher for book giveaways and assistance in amplifying our messaging.
2. Plan out your live social media.
When the pandemic began, we went live on social media — like everyone else, it seemed. But we also needed a plan of how we wanted to engage with our current and potential readers. We didn’t just want to go live and then let that fade away after the launch. We had specific live events that worked for each platform and created a weekly schedule:
- Facebook and YouTube: These platforms are great for longer demos, particularly cooking demonstrations. The streaming service Streamyard let us see and interact with comments, and users stayed engaged longer.
- Instagram: We used Instagram for interview style events, and also virtual wine tasting. Its interface is more casual and not so user friendly for a full cooking demo.
- Pinterest: We created various cookbook pins, including videos, that we published as a supplement to our current recipes and to drive traffic to our website to purchase books.
3. Partner for online cooking events.
We approached other creators in our niche of food and wine to ask if they would do a virtual cooking event with us. Once creators received our book, we asked if there was a recipe they liked and if they wanted to cook together using one of our virtual tools (like a live Facebook event for both of our pages). Our creator community rallied and continues to support us today.
Content was either a fully-produced cooking segment, a series of stories showing the book and ingredients, or even some photos in their carousel of content. We saved these promotions so we can re-publish on platforms like YouTube and IGTV. These creator relationships provided exposure to new audiences who might enjoy the book.
4. Double down on media.
Whether TV, radio, or print, we called and found every possible outlet willing to do cookbook promotion during a pandemic. Some of these are pretty standard when promoting a book, but we doubled down on them:
- Virtual TV segments: Producers still needed content. We used our digital setup at home to do TV segments on our local ABC affiliate morning show, AM Northwest. Every few weeks we called into Skype or Zoom and to share a recipe from the cookbook and chat with the host.
- Radio and Podcasts: We did both radio interviews and podcasts. This style of interview is fun because it allowed us to speak about the book and our story in a conversational and casual manner with the host(s), versus a more formal timed TV interview, for example.
- Engage new readers: This is where both our own relationships and the publisher’s were so important. We found opportunities for recipe and book features in print publications with a reader base around the world, from regional publications like Sip Northwest to GQ UK.
- Network online: Participating in Zoom conversations with media and professionals in our niche was a great way to build interest in the book and sell. We could host and invite them, or ask others who have these private discussions to join and talk about the book.
5. Contact local businesses to help you promote.
Don’t underestimate all your pre-existing business relationships and partnerships . We made phone calls to find opportunities to sell books through outlets online or through curbside pickup. Here are a few examples:
- Virtual cooking classes. These are for wine club events at local wineries. They can host anywhere from 20 – 80 people. At one winery, a host led the event. We had a camera for cooking a recipe, and another camera for interview questions and we were ready to go. Zoom’s webinar feature works best for this. The wineries got to offer a unique experience to their loyal customers and we got to feature the book. Some wineries will offer a discount bundle on the book and the wine.
- Events with food businesses: We called every grill, knife, and meat company we have worked with and asked if they could do a feature. It was very helpful because we did some social media takeovers, email features and giveaways, and offered free recipe snippets for their own newsletter community. This amplified our reach by thousands by getting in front of new audiences.
We sold the idea of the book “experience.” Instead of just asking businesses to buy and sell the book, we imagined an experience where customers could buy uncooked meat and ingredients, a copy of the book, and some wine, all as a bundle with a discount. Then customers could cook the recipe themselves at home, creating their own unique experience.
- A few in-person events: Once local wineries began to open, we could cook at live in-person events, selling both food from the cookbook along with autographed copies of the book while interacting with guests with proper social distancing.
We continue to learn new ways to do cookbook promotion in a pandemic, even though the in-person events and speaking engagements we planned so long ago are still not happening. Our book is here for the long term, though, so we’ll continue to get people to see the cookbook, and find complimentary ways to work with creators and other businesses that benefit both of our audiences.
So if you happen to have a book coming out within the year, don’t panic. Just pause, pivot, and plan. Remember all the great work you put into the book. It’s certainly not how we pictured this process, but we’re riding out this storm the best we can.
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Now, for the giveaway of Fire & Wine:
If you’d like to win a copy of our new cookbook, leave a comment below by July 31, 2020. Dianne will pick a winner at random from Random.org. This offer is available to residents of the USA only.
Update: We have a winner! Thanks to everyone who entered.
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Mary Cressler and Sean Martin blog about BBQ and wine on their website, Vindulge, which received an IACP nomination for Best Recipe-Based Blog in 2017 and also 2020. Mary is food writer with credits in Wine Enthusiast, Serious Eats, Weber Grills Online, and a frequent judge for wine competitions. Together they also run the catering company Ember and Vine, which serves Portland and Oregon wine country. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook.
(Disclaimers: I worked with Mary Cressler and Sean Martin by coaching them through a cookbook proposal. I introduced them to their literary agent. Learn more about how Mary and Sean’s journey and how their cookbook came about on this podcast by Food Blogger Pro. I am an affiliate. Also, this post contains an affiliate link. — Dianne)