I never expected that the life of a working mother would qualify me to write a cookbook. My career started in the aerospace industry and then took me to the fast-moving hi-tech start up world, with long and exciting days. After two children, however, the excitement wore off and the days seemed rigid and restrictive. I wanted more time with my family. I also wanted greater control over my own work and destiny, to be my own boss, and to express more creativity.
I asked myself a few questions:
1) What do I like to do?
2) What do I want to be doing in 5 years?
3) What’s the most important thing to me?
The answers led me to consider starting my own business.
That’s when I called my college friend, Wona Miniati, with the business idea: a cookbook using ingredients from our favorite grocery store, whose prepared sauces, marinated meats, and prepped vegetables gave us miraculous culinary shortcuts. Wona was in a similar situation, struggling to find the best way to juggle a career as a marketing consultant while finding time for her family. She loved the idea and was ready to jump on board with me to make this book a reality.
The beauty of this cookbook was that it was more than just a book. It represented a survival tactic we had developed over the years that allowed us to put homemade healthy food on the table every night, despite working full-time jobs. Fast food and take-out simply weren’t options for us, and this new style of cooking helped us feed our families in the way we wanted. We decided other busy moms and professionals could use these time saving tips too.
Writing a book is the ultimate flexible job – you can use snippets of time to write -you can choose to do it part- or full-time. In the traditional approach, it takes no upfront capital, so why not consider the possibilities? Here’s how to start.
1. Brainstorm! Write about what you know and love. The world of fiction novelists might be intimidating to most and hard to break into, but the world of non-fiction writing is more accessible and just as enticing to readers. Consider all the nonfiction topics you could write about: how-to’s, references, self help, hobbies, personal stories based on life changes like parenthood or a career change. If you collect Southwest pottery, write about how to acquire and identify it. If you’ve adopted overseas, share your success story. If you have a unique viewpoint on how to organize finances, make homemade baby food, or become a successful consultant, that’s your niche. Come up with something interesting and unique-your hook
How we did it: There are hundreds of cookbooks on the market, but we knew the idea for ours was unique. As for how I stumbled upon the idea originally – it came to me almost effortlessly, because the subject matter was ingrained in my day-to-day life. If you write about a topic that has personal significance to you, not only will the writing be easier, but you’ll have fun doing it!
2. Size your market. Be realistic about how many people might be interested in your topic. Think about your audience-who will buy this book? How much are similar books selling for, at what volume, and is that enticing enough for you? Broadly speaking, topics like weight loss, sex, parenting, finances, cooking, and health sell well.
How we did it: We had a clear picture of who would buy the book. We knew that if we had seen this book on the shelves, we would have snatched it up! When everyone we polled said, “What a great idea! I want to buy one!” we knew we’d found an untapped market.
3. Write! Now it’s time to put your ideas on paper. Start by creating an outline so you can see the progression of your work. Give yourself uninterrupted blocks of time every day to brainstorm and write. Carry a small notebook so that you can jot down ideas throughout the day.
How we did it: We spent a lot of time upfront talking about the title, theme, and what would be covered in this cookbook. Once we had a table of contents outlined, we began to slowly add recipes to each section. We dusted off family recipes we had informally created over the years. As the book took shape, we added descriptions that truly captured the essence and quality of the food.
4. Enlist help. Tell everyone you know about your new project. You just never know who might have valuable knowledge or helpful contacts. A friend may have a connection to a publisher or agent, or your father-in-law might be a great editor (mine was!).
How we did it: To save money, we decided to take food photos ourselves rather than hire food stylists and photographers. We were lucky to have professional photographer friends who willingly gave us crash courses in food photography. It was tough but really fun!
We also enlisted help from our children and husbands for food tastings. It became standard practice in our homes for us to cook several meals and photograph them throughout the night. I knew how involved my 5-year-old had become when he said, “Wait!” and stopped us from eating freshly made pancakes. After he took a picture with his toy camera, he said, “Okay, now we can eat.” Now he thinks about recipes and even comes up with some of his own– like rice cooked with shrimp and cilantro, and he adds, “Make sure you tell Ms. Wona about this recipe, okay?”
5. Follow your act! Before you even finish your first book, consider your second book. Does your idea lend itself to volumes and follow-up editions? Plan out your path. This will decide whether you’re looking at a one-hit wonder or a publishing career.
How we did it: We brainstormed other titles in the series upfront. This helped us stay focused on what this book was and was not (i.e., recipes that would fit better into future titles). It also helped us design a better cover, knowing that the format of the title would have to accommodate future variations.
6. Publish your work. You have several choices when it comes to publishing.
a. Self-publish using Print on Demand (PoD): This option represents the least risk and likewise the least financial reward. The concept is simple: books are printed as orders come in. Providers like cafepress.com and lulu.com make it possible for practically anyone to write and publish a book, even on a shoestring budget. Pros: You don’t print books until they’re sold. Cons: You get no volume discounts since books are printed one at a time.
b. Self-publish in volume. Be your own publisher and distributor. Pros: You maintain complete control over your book; you don’t need anyone’s approval. There is also potential for higher profits since you’ve cut the middlemen out. Cons: Prepare to front all the publishing and distribution costs, which can be significant. These include: editing, typesetting, cover design, printing, warehousing, and distribution.
c. Submit your manuscript to conventional publishers. Pros: If your proposal is accepted, the publisher will take care of all the editing, printing, and distribution costs. Cons: The publisher is in control and decides if your book has merit or not. Publishers need to be convinced there is a market for your book, and that you’re the right person for the job.
How we did it: Because we felt confident enough in our cookbook, we decided to self-publish in volume. It was a lot of work to split up between just the two of us, without the benefits of large staff at publishing companies, but we called all the shots.
7. Promote your book! Whether you self-publish or go through a publisher, no one will promote your book better than you. Think about your target and the best ways to communicate with them. Whether it be via online methods such as a website or email campaign, or offline methods such as book signings, print ads, or PR, get the word out as quickly as you can. Finally, don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth-tell your friends, family, and people you run into around town.
How we did it: We launched a website announcing our book, contacted every food editor we could think of, reached out to bloggers, and hired people to pass out flyers promoting our book. Most importantly, we asked friends and family to help spread the word. Our first orders were from friends and family, and they were critical to building the buzz about our new book.
You can find an unlimited source of information on the internet and in print (yes, there are lots of published books about how to publish a book!). Be focused, creative, persistent, and you might find that publishing is your dream job!