Promoting Your Cookbook with a Virtual Potluck

by diannejacob on July 2, 2012

Debbie Koenig hosted a potluck for her book, selling out on Amazon in a day. (Photo by Bennington Photographers)

Your cookbook’s coming out and you’d like lots of  bloggers to cover it. How about an event where all their posts appear on the same day and drive sales?

Debbie Koenig coordinated a potluck party for her first book, Parents Need to Eat Too: Nap-Friendly Recipes, One-Handed Meals, and Time-Saving Kitchen Tricks for New Parents (Morrow, 2012). A book marketing executive turned food, diet, and parenting writer, Koenig sold out Amazon in one day, when bloggers reviewed her book and posted recipes.

In this guest post (the first on my three-year-old blog), Koenig explains how a virtual potluck for bloggers works, and why hers succeeded. 

By Debbie Koenig

I first heard the term “virtual potluck” three years ago, when Monica Bhide was preparing for the publication of her cookbook Modern Spice. Monica hosted the potluck as a one-night-only, online gathering of food bloggers, all cooking from her book and

posting about it concurrently. I wrote about her rather spectacular Rice Pudding and Mango Parfait, one of two dozen posts that appeared across the blogosphere that day. A month later, inspired by Monica’s success, Tara Mataraza Desmond and Joy Manning threw a similar event for their cookbook, Almost Meatless. They snared more than 30 participants (again, including me).

Having worked for years in book marketing, I recognized genius when I saw it. I was knee-deep in my book proposal for Parents Need to Eat Too, so naturally I stole the idea—and ultimately my publisher, William Morrow, loved it. Jean Marie Kelly, senior marketing director at Morrow, did the heavy lifting for my own virtual potluck, which took place this past February. Together, we hashed out specifics:

  • Our goal: We aimed to drive orders before the book came out, helping us get as much velocity as possible on day one.
  • Our approach: We compiled a list of food and family bloggers. Some I knew personally and others who’d never heard of me had followings so large I could only hope that they’d join us.
  • Our hook: To entice participants, I approached KitchenAid, which provided prizes. Morrow also provided books: one copy of Parents Need to Eat Too to use and one to raffle, as well as a thank-you package of other Morrow cookbooks.
  • Our rules: During the three weeks before the book’s on-sale date, participating bloggers would cook at least one preapproved recipe and blog about it—a single post would enter the blogger into the raffle for a KitchenAid stick blender, and three posts might win her a fancy-shmancy food processor.

Six weeks before my on-sale date, we sent out the call for participants. We wound up with nearly three dozen partygoers and around 50 posts—and as a result, Parents Need to Eat Too sold out on Amazon in less than a day.

By now you may be itching to host your own virtual potluck party. Learn from our collective experiences, and you’ll do just fine.

1. Know your goal.
Do you want to drive pre-orders, as I did, or create the equivalent of a launch party, with all participants posting the same day? Are you hoping to have your book appear everywhere, or would you rather devote your efforts to snagging a handful of high-profile bloggers?

2. Consider the reach.
Monica’s advice: “You need to invite bloggers with big numbers. When Heidi Swanson cooked from Modern Spice (on her own accord, not part of the potluck), the numbers on Amazon rocked. They went into the hundreds. I have only seen that happen with NPR coverage!”

Tara’s approach is slightly different: “I think the most important thing you can do is invite bloggers whose audience is different from yours. To boost sales, we have to do all we can to tap into people who are our actual target market.”

Since my own book was aimed at new parents—a well-defined, non-food-related niche—Jean Marie and I reached beyond the food blogging community. Roughly half our participants were so-called mommy bloggers.

3. Don your PR hat.
“Write personal invitations to bloggers,” recommends Tara. “Be specific about why you’d like an individual or certain blog to participate. Don’t go the way of bad PR pitches and send a blanket invite to everyone. Offer to help the participant at every turn, so they don’t feel like they’re mostly doing you the favors.”

Make sure your invitation clearly states what bloggers can expect in return for participating: for example, social media support via tweets and Facebook postings (ideally from you and your publisher), books, a prefabricated Q&A, downloadable images and recipes for posting on their sites, and if you’re going that route, the chance to win prizes themselves. Point out the FTC requirements for disclosure when offering any type of product, even books.

The best part of a virtual event is that because nothing ever really dies on the Internet, the effects can continue for years. “Three years after the potluck, I started a Modern Spice Pinterest board and I pinned all the images from various people who cooked from the book,” Monica said. “It has given a new lease to my book and lets people see what the food looks like, as the book only had eight photos.”


[This article first appeared in the Words, the newsletter of the Food Writers, Editors and Publishers special section of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. It also contains an affiliate link, which means I can earn up to several cents if you make a purchase.]


LiztheChef July 3, 2012 at 5:26 pm

This is one terrific idea – and I think another well-known blogger, Kelsey aka “The Naptime Chef” did a similar idea, not as well-organized. It’s a great way to support a friend’s new book.

diannejacob July 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Perhaps a reason bloggers do it is that when their book comes out, perhaps there will be returned favors. What I don’t like is when publishers want bloggers to write a half dozen posts based on one book. That’s crazy!

Averie @ Averie Cooks July 3, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Debbie great ideas and pointers and I see this quite a bit with bloggers who write books and have helped promote other blogger’s books in a virtual potluck kind of way…some highly coordinated on an exact date and other releases over a 2 week time period and others for certain publishers who will contact me, they want me to make a recipe from an author’s book, post about it, do a giveaway, etc. So many ways to help & be a team player 🙂

diannejacob July 3, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Well yes, I’m all for being a team player and all that, but how much is too much? All people had to do in this instance was write one blog post.

Jenny July 4, 2012 at 6:02 am

I, and a handful of other bloggers, recently did this for a friend. The first day his book debuted, it ranked very well on Amazon. I think i sold close to 300 for him, but I don’t know what the collective numbers were from the launch. What are good numbers to see when a book first comes out? I’m sure it varies considerably, but I’m still curious.

You mention two options: 1) driving pre-orders over a period of a few weeks and 2) having everyone post on the same day to drive sales up. Which is more effective in the end?

Michelle Dudash July 4, 2012 at 9:19 am

Diane and Debbie,

What a fabulous post! I’ve heard about virtual potlucks and have wondered about the nuts and bolts going into them. Debbie, you and I met at Greenbrier two years ago when you were working on your book and I was selling my proposal! I’m so glad to hear that your book is doing well. My book comes out in December.

To clarify, you gave the bloggers a range of time to post, not just one day? And, did you give all of the bloggers the same list to choose from or did you have different lists for more of a variety of recipe posts?

And, hi Monica, if you’re out there, you and I met at Greenbrier last year!

Thanks so much.

Michelle July 5, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Dianne with two n’s. Sorry! Typing on my iPad has its disadvantages…

Judith Newton July 4, 2012 at 9:32 am

This is just the best idea! Perhaps it could work for a food memoir with recipes as well. I’m going to read all the replies and try to fashion a good plan for mine. In one section of the memoir I cook a series of large buffets for the purpose of building a community. The potluck would be in the spirit of the buffets. A happy idea.

Dianne, I learn the most useful things on your blog!

diannejacob July 4, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Thanks Judith. It just might work for a memoir, if there are enough recipes for people to try. Best of luck!

debbie koenig July 4, 2012 at 3:32 pm

@Lizthechef, yes, Kelsey did do a blog tour for her book. I don’t believe it was billed as this kind of “party” though, more of a post-when-you-can/want situation. I could be wrong about that.

@Jenny, 300 seems like a LOT for one blogger to sell of another person’s book in one day–good for you! I think you’re right about the variation from blog to blog. I mean, if the Pioneer Woman posts about something I’m pretty sure it sells in the thousands, whereas my blog probably moves dozens. 😉 As for which timing option is more effective, I don’t think there’s a way to know that for sure. A lot depends on your relationships with the bloggers in question. Coordinating more tightly, dictating when the post should go up, requires stronger bonds with the folks you’re asking to participate.

@Michelle, hello! So exciting about your book! In the case of my own book, we had a three-week time period during which bloggers were invited to post. Monica and Tara both did one-night-only parties. IIRC I was assigned recipes to try for both Monica’s and Tara’s, and my publisher created a private page for my site that included a handful of approved recipes–all the participants were allowed to cook and write about any recipe in the book, but they could only post the actual recipe for the ones on that short list. You don’t want a free-for-all, or you could wind up with a too-substantial portion of your book out there for free.

@Judith, I’d say it could definitely work, since in the case of a memoir what you’re *really* selling is the writing. The recipes are gravy, so to speak, so sharing them should be just fine.

Kitty July 4, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Great idea! I think I will try it for my memoir of Morocco with recipes, as well. Thank you so much, Diane.

diannejacob July 5, 2012 at 7:33 am

Hi Kitty! Best of luck with your memoir. It sounds like a great read.

Josephina Yatar July 5, 2012 at 2:11 am

Thank you for sharing this great post with us. This sounds like a fun approach in getting possible press coverage for this type of event. I’m look forward to reading more of your upcoming posts. Thanks, Diane.

diannejacob July 5, 2012 at 7:34 am

You’re welcome, Josephina. Book promotion isn’t a regular topic. I’ll have to do more posts.

Susan Cooper July 5, 2012 at 2:26 am

What a great idea. I will catalog this in my mental file for future reference. Writing a cookbook is challenging enough. Then after it has been published, promotioning it can be all consuming. Great post and thank you for sharing it. 🙂

diannejacob July 5, 2012 at 7:34 am

That’s so true, Susan. I am still in book promotion mode and my book has been out for 7 years.

Laura @ hip pressure cooking July 5, 2012 at 10:09 am

Diane, let’s not forget that these pot-lucks are a two-way street!

Although not formally organized at all, and without any expectation of recompense, I asked a fellow blogger if I could help promote his upcoming book in any way. Even before cashing in on my offer he introduced me to his publisher!

Unfortunately it did not work out with them. Though, being so respected by a fellow blogger gave me the confidence boost to just GO for it – and now I have TWO upcoming cookbooks.

I definitely think that when organizing these parties, the author of the up-coming or just-published book, seriously consider not just what a blogger can do for them but what they can do in return. Often, an introductory e-mail to a publisher or referral to a killer agent has SO MUCH MORE value than a chance to win a Kitchen-Aid immersion blender.

My 2 cents.


diannejacob July 5, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Great story, Laura. And what a happy ending for you.

Laura @ hip pressure cooking July 6, 2012 at 2:15 am

Well, now the hard work is just beginning. For example, the up-hill battle for a non-English major to write something fit for print! Today’s cookbooks are so much about the story, as well as the recipe, that being a talented cook and long-time blogger is not really enough to prepare you for the conciseness and elegance that print books require for chapter and recipe introductions.

Having one of my chapters go through the bloody red ink of an editor has brought my writing confidence to an all-time-low but, at the same time, given me immense respect for the craft. With a few slashes and corrections, and editor is able to verbalize what I MEANT to say in fewer words and with greater clarity!!

Kudos to you Diane (no she is not my editor ; ) and all of your colleagues for making crappy writers look good while taking none of the credit!



diannejacob July 6, 2012 at 8:54 am

Hah! That is indeed what editors do, when they’re doing it right. It’s a big part of my job as well — making other writers look good. I hope you study her edits to see what you need to do. You will get there, Laura!

Michelle July 5, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Great idea, Laura.

Jackie @Syrup and Biscuits July 6, 2012 at 7:38 am

“Write personal invitations to bloggers,” recommends Tara. “Be specific about why you’d like an individual or certain blog to participate. Don’t go the way of bad PR pitches and send a blanket invite to everyone. Offer to help the participant at every turn, so they don’t feel like they’re mostly doing you the favors.” I think this statement by Tara, that Debbie adopted, sums up her key to the success of this event. Make the participate realize they are important to you and you’re grateful for their participation.

Some of these events have such cumbersome rules, it makes it not so much fun and really not worth the effort. Debbie’s sweet spirit and positive attitude came through loud and clear in the way she went about organizing her event. People like nice people and are more inclined to want to help nice people.

diannejacob July 6, 2012 at 8:56 am

Are you talking about invitations you get from publishers to participate in reviews? I have seen some of them and they made me so mad. Besides, who wants to write 6 posts so you can win a saucepan. Sheesh.

You are right that Debbie had the right approach. Many prestigious bloggers helped her out.

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