Hi, kids. I’m having a hectic week working on two different cookbooks at two different stages. First, let me talk about the first book. What, No Meat? is finally close to being finished. Not just yet, but close. My publisher, Rogue Books (an imprint of Bedazzled Ink) fell way behind schedule and even though I contracted with them last summer, I’m only now seeing the proof. The fact that it took so long in and of itself doesn’t upset me. What upsets me is that we missed the Christmas shopping season. Christmas is THE prime buying season for cookbooks because people buy them as gifts. I take partial responsibility for this because this is Bedazzled’s first cookbook and I knew about the Christmas season thing, yet didn’t say anything. Honestly, I didn’t think I needed to say anything because I kept thinking that it would be out by that time. By the time it dawned on me that it wouldn’t, it was too late to say anything. Don’t get me wrong, I did keep checking in from time to time, but I should have been more aggressive about it.
Compounding the problem of lost Christmas sales is the fact that they probably won’t be made up next Christmas. The publishing industry is a funny machine wherein timing is everything. In order to make decent Christmas sales, you have to release a book a few months prior to Christmas (around September), but no earlier than that, to create the right “Hey, here’s a brand new book on the market” buzz. In other words, a book that comes out between January and August are already old by Christmas. That’s not to say that they won’t sell at all. After all, publishers and authors alike hope that a book will have a long shelf life and a nice cookbook can sell as gifts for years to come.
What I’m talking about is the BIG sales spike on a newly released book, which affects the rest of the life of the book. Within a year, a book—any book—is considered “backlist”; that is, books that are still in print and available but are no longer actively promoted or pushed by the publisher. It’s kind of like when you buy a new computer with the latest technology, but your old computer still works, so you put it in the basement or the guest room and every now and then you turn it on to do something. But for the most part, you’ve forgotten it. That old computer has been backlisted. Fortunately, unlike computers, which become completely obsolete after a few years, books can have a long, healthy life in Backlistland and continue to sell very well. But unless the author is famous or something occurs that draws unexpected attention to the book, chances are you’ll not get a sales spike quite like the one you got (hopefully) when the book was initially released.
At any rate, I’m going through the proof now and it’s taking a while. A cookbook is a complex thing with many different elements that have to come together a certain way. There are lots of little things that require correcting (I suppose that it doesn’t help that I’m extremely anal and a stickler for consistency). Cookbooks are very visual, which is why books with color photos sell better than others. But photos are very expensive to print and not all publishers can afford to do that. That’s where illustrations come in. They break up the text and help readers visualize the recipes and ingredients. But even illustrations are expensive. And because I originally self-published this book, cost was even more of a factor. I was also lucky to have a very good friend, Linda, who’s an artist and did my illustrations for free.
Layout for easy reading is important, too. People should be able to bring their eyes back and forth to a page in a cookbook and easily find where they last left off. And the instructions should be easy to read. I dislike books with “run-on recipes”—recipes that just follow one another on the same page—because it makes it confusing sometimes. However, paper costs money and I myself had to do some run-on recipes when I self-published this book. But cookbook designers try to avoid that, if possible. The only cookbook I own that has run-on recipes and very little in the way of illustrations is Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Italian Cooking. But Hazan is an Italian cooking legend and she could write a cookbook on a roll of toilet paper and it would sell.
Moving on to the next project, I FINALLY finished the testing on my second cookbook. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. There are still a few recipes that I decided need one more run in the test kitchen. But the bulk of the testing is done and I’m not on this bullet train of daily testing anymore. I felt like I was doing nothing else, day after day. Alicia Silverstone came out with a vegetarian cookbook recently called The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight, and Saving the Planet, and Vegetarian Times interviewed her about it. She said that she was basically on lockdown in her house for 12 days testing the recipes. Now, I don’t know how she did proper testing for an entire cookbook in just 12 days, but it illustrates my point just the same: Developing and testing recipes for a cookbook is a laborious, time-consuming task. I started this second book in 2002. Can you believe that? Eight years in the making, and who knows how many thousands of dollars for ingredients. Well, phase 1 is over. Now on to phase 2: Trying to sell it to a publisher. That’s going to be the hard part. I still have this whole “platform” problem. More on that another time.
For someone who doesn’t have a job, I seem to be awfully busy, which is a good thing but it makes me wonder how I got anything done when I was working. How does anyone get anything done when they’re working? I’m going to try really hard to get through a long list of things to do this weekend and, hopefully, get in some exercise. It’s going to be fairly nice before another winter storm moves in. Sigh.
By the way, did you check out the photo of that old cookbook above? It was printed in 1747 and written by Hannah Glasse, but is attributed to “A Lady.” I love old cookbooks. They really are an insight to what life was like for the common woman. And reading through some of the recipes in pre-Fannie Farmer cookbooks, it’s amazing they were able to follow any at all and get it right.
Anyway, that’s enough for me. Hope you all have a great week!