There are so many op-eds these days on when or if to self-publish, and even more so, features (albeit they’re dwindling) on how inferior self-published works are — just by the very fact they are self-published. This premise is applied even if the self-publishing author has the budget, foresight and professionalism to engage all manner of expert editors, proofreaders, formatters, designersand thoroughly research the distribution and promotion of his or her work. There’s also a presumption (or fear) that without sufficient social media or a platform, books (even great ones) won’t get noticed — that is, if you publish it, who will find you or it? This suggests that Shakespeare or Elizabeth Gilbert, without the benefits of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or a YouTube video of “Othello,” would never have been discovered — which suggests that we, as authors, creators and publishers, actually believe form trumps content.
And these opinions never cease to amaze (and annoy) me. For one thing, there’s a passion, even a nervous derisioncol or tempered dismissiveness, offered to self-published authors in most of the opinion pieces I’ve read. There’s the assumption that a self-published author is a “never-published author” or “can’t-find-a-book-deal author.” The articles I’ve read also seem to refer to fiction writers when there are many other types of authors. I am, in fact, a cookbook author — another genre of author now in the fray.
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Cookbook authors are writers. We are not verbose home economic teachers –- we are specialty writers with a second specialty in food. Some, as I am, are trained chefs in addition to being wordsmiths. Consequently, our challenges are even more so than regular writers. We battle the plethora of amateur recipe blogs and zillions of free recipes, the charisma of celebrity chefs on TV, blogs or YouTube phenoms. In addition, our books require expensive food photography and complicated book design, our recipes need extraordinary copy editing, and we also need legions of volunteer recipe testers to make sure our recipes work. When it came to food photography in our cookbooks, many a time my advance (in traditional publishing) was a quarter that of the photographer’s budget.
In short, if you think self-publishing the average black-and-white 300-page paranormal novel is difficult, try self-publishing a 300-page full color cookbook.
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So it’s not about money –- self-publishing garners you 70 percent royalties versus 15 percent royalties at traditional publications. Indeed, if it were, wealthy authors would do it themselves. On the flip side, what is more prestigious is saying you’re a Random author or Scribner author -– at least, when that meant something and had a fiscal bottom line.
But here’s my pain: Overall, there is a premise that if you self-publish, you are either an inferior or unaware author. Having had a reasonable advance, you somehow chose to “go rogue” and venture into self-publishing, whether it is due to a misplaced vanity press adventure spirit or the idea you could out earn on your own what a traditional publisher would be offering you.
As a traditional and well-established cookbook author with a track record and solid book sales, I don’t see myself represented in these discussions, and yet I am part of a silent majority –- the mid-list cookbook author.
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After 25 years of great publishers, great cookbooks — and what I thought was an upward spiraling career — I self-published my first cookbook, “When Bakers Cook,” two months ago. I did this not because I wanted to but because I had to. I love words, books, and in my case, creating ambrosial baking that I want to share with my readers. As publishing up-ended itself, I realized — with skepticism, then denial, anger, sadness and finally, pro-activeness — I had three choices. I could quit and be a Wal-Mart greeter. I could take tiny (untenable) advances and supplement that with freelance writing. Or I could dive into the Bermuda Triangle of self-publishing.
I’m a Taurus and we don’t quit, so I chose Door No. 3 — self-publish.
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And let it also be said that we can no longer assume that having a traditional book deal ensures a “team” of editorial and sales help –- things are lean everywhere. Speaking more directly to that, I recently was in Barnes and Noble and stumbled on a cookbook by a great colleague, produced by a huge publisher renowned for their wonderful cookbooks. In this book was a neat three-page addendum of text and recipe errors. My point is, we can no longer assume perfect and quality is only the domain of traditional publishing.