Essential tips for self-publishing your cookbook

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Essential tips for self-publishing your cookbook
Published by Alison Brook in Industry News · 23 December 2019
By Alison Brook, Bay Road Media

With the traditional publishing industry shrinking and publishers reluctant to offer deals to untested authors, more chefs are turning to self- or indie publishing.

Self-publishing can offer the satisfaction of complete creative control and ownership over the project. Indie authors, can set the retail price, retain the full profits of their venture and can use the books how and where they want to promote their business.

For Bevan Smith of Riverstone Kitchen, creative control was the was a key driver in the decision to self-publish. “I had already published two books through the traditional publishing route, but I wanted to have more control of the final product. I already had a good idea of what I wanted to achieve so it made sense to self-publish on my own terms.”

There are a number of things you need to be aware of before you embark on the self-publishing route and the following article provides some essential tips to ensure you have a successful indie publishing experience.

Hire a professional team
Creating a cookbook is all about teamwork, and in realising what everyone involved brings to the table. A gorgeous book design where the font is too small or unreadable, poorly composed or lit photography or a confusing book structure can ruin the reader’s experience. Even something as seemingly mundane as an index can make a cookbook a pleasure to use or close to unusable. It is worth getting the best editors, designers, photographers who have had experience with the unique features of cookbooks.

Bevan Smith, who is just about to release his fourth book, Riverstone Kitchen Modern-Day Classics, and his second under his own “RK” imprint, agreed successful self-publishing was all about the team.
“I am lucky enough to have a talented book designer as my restaurant operations manager, and my partner Emma Willets is an established photographer and took the stunning photographs. We asked Bay Road Media to project manage and consult on the project again as it had worked so well the last time around. When you have the right people involved it’s a simple process and makes self-publishing a no-brainer”
Make your content sizzle
Great cookbooks are more than a collection of recipes, they can inspire and entertain, delight and educate. They can be a beautiful work of art or encourage readers to venture into cooking their own meals for the first time. The reasons why many chefs choose to indie-publish is the creative control it gives them.

Getting the word out there
In the past, a traditional publisher would put a lot of investment into creating a full marketing plan for your book. However, as publishers’ margins are getting increasingly squeezed, the author is now expected to bear most of the burden of promotion.
Having a “platform” is important however you choose to publish. If you have an established market for your book whether through foot traffic to your restaurant, an email database, or enthusiastic followers on social media, going through a traditional publisher makes less sense.
Distribution matters
Book distribution can be very confusing process and is an area where publishing houses have traditionally excelled. Sales reps would sell-in to stores and book buyers would make a decision of how many copies they purchased. Books were usually only in the store for a month (the launch period) and only remained in a prominent position if they were perennial sellers. Bookstores buy books on a “sale or return” basis so if they don’t sell in the expected numbers the unsold books will be returned to the publisher or distributor.

As an indie author you will need to decide whether to use a wholesaler or distributor, how the books will be fulfilled or sent out to purchasers, how to get the books into stores or if you should even bother. The answer to these questions depends on a number of factors including where your customers live and your own goals. If you absolutely want to see your books in store (even if in small numbers) you may use a book distributor.

If you are likely to have a lot of online or international purchases, you may just opt to sell through an online retailer like Amazon (in addition to restaurant and website sales). With a book website linked to your social media and a listing on Amazon you can reach a significant audience worldwide. Amazon alone (even without distribution to other online or bricks and mortar bookstores) sells 65% of all books sold online and represents roughly 50% of all print books sold globally.

Financing an indie publishing project
There’s no getting around it, producing a cookbook is not a cheap proposition. That was one of the primary reasons a traditional publishing offer was so sought after. In the past the book advance would pay for a good chunk of the author’s costs. The author regardless is required to cover the costs of food styling, photography, recipe testing and development. There may have even been an amount left over to compensate for the time involved in preparing the manuscript.

These days however the advance, if it is offered at all, will be quite small and will probably not cover all the costs involved for the author in producing the text and photographs. Remember also the advance is a pre-payment of royalties so you won’t receive any payments at all until the advance is earned out.
The future of cookbook publishing
The publishing industry has changed completely from what it was only a few short years ago, and it will continue to evolve at a fast pace in the years to come. From an author’s perspective this is mainly good news, as digitisation means with a book website and a good online platform they can access a global market with relative ease. Despite the availability of online recipe content there continues to be a seemingly insatiable demand for printed cookbooks. In the US, cookbook sales for the first six months of 2018 were 21 percent higher than the previous year with around 17.8 million cookbooks sold. The 2019 figures are widely expected to eclipse that.

About the author
Alison Brook is a cookbook publisher who spent a number of years in traditional publishing before setting up Bay Road Media, which helps chefs and restaurants self-publish their own cookbooks. Bay Road Media offers a complete publishing solution from concept to market.

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