Creating and publishing a cookbook that sells

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Paul McCullough Cookbook

An interview with Paul McCullough and Jeremy Stanford

Promoting a cookbook

We spend lots of time on this blog talking about how to promote and sell eBooks. But we also like to provide tips on how to sell physical books too!

And who better to ask for advice on this topic than successful independent authors who have returned to BookBaby for multiple printings of their book. They’re obviously doing something right, right?

So I recently asked chef Paul McCullough (of the popular boutique catering company Paul’s Kitchen) and director/producer Jeremy Stanford about their collaboration on a cookbook called Roma-therapy, how they attracted attention to their book, how they converted that attention into sales, and the process of designing and printing a cookbook.

They were kind enough to share their story and advice in the following interview:

Before we talk about your book Roma-therapy, can you give us a bit of the backstory on your careers in the worlds of food and entertainment? The HOW, WHEN, and WHY of it all? 

Paul McCullough, Roma-therapy web Paul: I started cooking at age 19 when I was broke and living in NYC. It was cheaper to cook in my apartment than eat out at restaurants. I moved to LA in 1994 and landed a personal chef job for a doctor through a friend. I told the doctor “I have no formal culinary training, but I am a good cook. I have worked as a waiter so I know how to take care of guests.” He said, “Okay let’s see how it goes.”

The job was a perfect opportunity to explore cooking, try new recipes, and develop my culinary point-of-view. My ‘keep it simple and make it fabulous’ approach worked very well in Hollywood.

When I met my husband-to-be, (and future co-author) Jeremy Stanford, I was also introduced to all his friends in the film and television industry. I began booking other cocktail and dinner parties and started my own catering company Paul’s Kitchen. I also began catering VIP events for City of Hope here in Los Angeles. My stint as a finalist on Food Network Star has led to other opportunities as a media spokesperson and TV chef.

Jeremy: While I have always loved to cook, my background is in film. My day job is working as a director, producer, and writer of film, television, and live events. While I attended Stanford University I taught photography, and my master’s degree from USC is in cinema so I was able to use those photographic and design skills in creating the look and layout of Roma-therapy.

When and why did you decide to write a cookbook?

Paul: I have always wanted to write my own cookbook and knew it would help my visibility and credibility as a TV chef. Bookings are easier when you are an ‘expert’ and writing a book makes you easier to book. I had pitched various book concepts to publishers over the years, but I was always told the ideas needed a stronger hook.

Jeremy: Writers are always taught to write what they know and from their own experience. Since Paul was eliminated from Food Network Star ostensibly over a tomato question, I thought it was a unique starting point for a cookbook and would make a strong hook. It was a chance to turn that liability into an asset and write a book with everything about tomatoes. When we pitched that idea we found people really responded to that story which was uniquely Paul’s.

Paul: I came up with the title Roma-therapy as we developed the concept. In a sense, writing the book became my therapy after the rollercoaster ride of reality TV and being eliminated from the show. We use Roma tomatoes as a launching point, but the book features information and recipes using all kinds of tomatoes.

Did you feel like there was an existing demand for your book because of your experiences on TV, and your pretty impressive print media coverage?

Paul: In a word: No. As a result of Food Network I had a degree of visibility, but the only ‘demand’ for the cookbook was personal: I wanted and needed to write one. The cookbook market is extremely saturated and every well-known celebrity chef has a library of books (many written by ghost authors!). It is hard to break into that market. To make our book different, we created a concept that was not just about the recipes. The book is about ‘all things tomato’ and works not only as a cookbook, but also a great gift-book that is beautiful to look at. BookBaby gave us the chance to produce a quality book that fulfilled the concept with amazing color and photography.

How did you decide to tackle the writing of the book? What was your writing process? And how big a leap was it for you to jump from actually DOING the cooking to having to take a step back in order to WRITE ABOUT the cooking?

Paul: We wanted to create a book that was “everything you wanted to know about tomatoes.” After outlining the book, we basically split it in two… Jeremy handled the front half and I tackled the recipes in the back half. I am the kind of chef who doesn’t measure. I cook what tastes good to me and it’s a free flowing creative process. So actually sitting down and writing and testing recipes was hard work for me… seriously hard work. Jeremy tackled all the research about tomatoes. In Roma-therapy we cover the history of tomatoes, the Lore and Legend of tomatoes, tomatoes in Pop Culture, and so much more. Since we grow our own tomatoes there is also lots of information about gardening and tomato types.

What have you done to promote the book? Are you working with a publicist? Did you develop any kind of “marketing plan” (either formally, or just an idea for how to sell the finished book) that informed the writing process? 

Paul: Our goal was to write a book that was interesting to us, so marketing considerations did not really affect the content or the writing process. Our marketing plan has included a strong social media presence in addition to many events at test kitchens, restaurant and kitchen supply stores, gardening stores, nurseries, and tomato seedling sales… any place where we knew we would find tomato lovers.

We have thrown our own Roma-therapy parties, attended many book fairs and been lucky enough to be featured in TV segments on our Los Angeles ABC station and on several radio shows. We did look into getting a book publicist, but found it was just too expensive and with no guarantees. Our ‘self-marketing’ plan has involved lots of networking and getting the book into as many hands as possible. Then we find it sells itself.

For a novelist, it’s generally just text on a page. But for a cookbook author, you’ve got to think about photography, actually making some of the dishes for those photo shoots, text formatting, how to organize the recipes, etc. Can you talk about some of those other aspects of writing a cookbook that your average fiction writer might not have considered? What was your biggest surprise? Your biggest challenge? Your biggest achievement?

Jeremy Stanford fix 7 - Crop (3)
Paul: The biggest challenge (and achievement) was our photo shoot for all our recipes. Since our budget was tight we were hoping to shoot all our food photography in one day. When our food stylist Denise Vivaldo asked me how many dishes we were planning to shoot, I told her 30 and she told me I was crazy. “Shooting 5 dishes is a lot to do in one day and 30 is impossible!”  With a great production team including food photographer Jon Edwards and a lot of preparation and hard work we got it done. I manned the kitchen and Jeremy art-directed the look of the shots. I created the food in the kitchen with my team and sent it out into the studio. As we worked on the next dish, I would suddenly see the big beautiful images pop up on a huge high-definition monitor. It was surreal. I would say it seemed magical though there was no magic. It was one of the most intensely creative and satisfying days of my career… and at the end of the day we had our 30 shots.

Jeremy: After the book was written, the next challenge was layout and graphic design which was so important to a book like ours. We chose Adobe’s InDesign software which is pretty intuitive and allowed us to really experiment with the layout, especially in the recipe section. By creating certain ‘styles’ and then building the book using links to those styles, we had the flexibility to swap out styles and see how the book would look with a totally different font or page layout.

Paul: Because we were up against an event deadline, we did not have the luxury of ordering one book to proof. So we had to take a leap of faith and place a full order of hardcovers and softcovers. And then just two weeks later, BookBaby delivered boxes and boxes of our incredibly stunning glossy full color books. Our Roma-therapy baby was in our hands. I have never felt so proud.

Did you work with an editor? If so, what was the process like?

Paul: Jeremy pretty much functioned as our editor and we just kept revisiting every page and revising until everything was ‘perfect.’ It was amazing how we would ‘lock’ a page, only to come back a day later and find issues we wanted to change. Finally we had a couple of friends read through our final version and proof-read with fresh eyes which was also very useful.

When it came time to publish your book, what lead you to BookBaby? What has BookBaby enabled you to do as an independent author?

Selling a cookbook

Paul: Our book format was one of the driving forces behind the decision to use BookBaby. We wanted our book to be square so it would look a little different than all the other cookbooks out there. BookBaby offered many different format options and the website was simple and easy to use. We then discovered BookBaby’s customer service which is truly amazing and really stands out from the other self-publishing options out there. When we received our books we were really impressed with the quality of the book and the rich color of all our photography. Having printed so many runs of our book now, there are inevitably print issues which will come up. BookBaby’s team is so knowledgeable and responsive and always takes care of everything. We have looked into Amazon’s ‘print-on-demand’ just so we could save time with fulfillment and shipping books, but they only do softcovers and the one test book we ordered just could not compare with the quality of BookBaby.

Throughout the whole writing, publishing, and promotion process, what mistakes have you made? And what things did you get right?

Paul: I’m not sure about the mistakes but I had misconceptions about how long it would actually take to write and layout the book.

Jeremy: One issue we had was not 100% committing to the square format before we did our photo shoot. That would have changed the framing in a few shots and made the layout easier. We should have allowed more time to print a test book, even though we got really lucky and have found no typos or other issues.

What’s next for you — either as a chef or a writer?

Paul: I love being a chef and this last year has been one of my most creative and satisfying years yet. I’ll ride the Roma-therapy wave for a while, but I know I have another cook book in me so stay tuned.

To read more about Rom-therapy, or to order your copy today, click HERE.

If you’d like to publish your own mouth-watering recipes, check out BookBaby’s cookbook printing services; your satisfaction is 100% guaranteed.

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Chris Robley
Chris Robley is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."

3 COMMENTS

  1. I like to learn how others got their self-published cookbooks noticed. I spent so much time and effort creating my historic seafood cookbook that now it’s published, I’m kind of lost when it comes to promotion. I’m not new to self-publishing, but my cookbook is my first “big” book at over 300 pages and with a target audience larger than my local history books. Sales are very slow, even with a great Amazon review and a growing following on my blog. My next step this spring is going “door to door” to see if local bookstores will carry it, but it is discouraging. I’ve done much of what is suggested online except Facebook and Twitter but I’m having a hard time trying to stand out.

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