Byte The Book’s April event was its first in the opulent surroundings of the Hotel Café Royal. With introductory drinks laid on by sponsors Blurb, the mood was set for a lively and engaging discussion on trends in food and drink publishing.
Our sponsors Blurb, in the form of the rather lovely Milena Canazares and Kent Hall
Chair Eric Treuille, of Books For Cooks, opened the floor by asking publishing director of Octopus Books Stephanie Jackson how aspiring food writers should go about approaching publishers. “There are no rules,” replied Stephanie (a phrase which she employed more than once over the course of the evening). “In fact,” she added, “sometimes I despair because I don’t get enough people approaching me”. She went on to describe the publishing world as a “relationship business”, revealing that she finds many of her clients by getting out to restaurants, meeting chefs and making personal, face-to-face connections.
Our fabulous panel from left to right: Lizzie Mabbot, Eric Treuille, Kathy Slack and Stephanie Jackson
One of Stephanie’s authors, food blogger Lizzie Mabbott, joined her on the panel. Although Lizzie has a considerable platform on social media, Stephanie was quick to point out that, while an author’s profile is important, she didn’t publish Lizzie’s book Chinatown Kitchen because she was impressed by her follower count – she published it because she loved the idea (the book aims to de-mystify Asian ingredients, offering cheeky modern interpretations such as toasted kimchi and cheese sandwiches, and udon carbonara). That said, when it comes to actually selling the book to readers, a healthy online following can of course make all the difference. Lizzie explained that she sells most of her books to her Twitter and Instagram followers, and has had to learn to be, as she put it, “more American”. British awkwardness and self-deprecation, she told the audience, doesn’t sell books! Writers have to learn to “be their own cheerleader”.
Chef, food writer and blogger Kathy Slack has experienced the other side of the publishing coin. When Kathy’s food blog, which she started “for a laugh”, turned into a supper club and cookery tuition business, she realised there could be a book in it. Being impatient by nature, she created the book in just six weeks, and self-published it. Like Lizzie, Kathy emphasised that platform makes all the difference, explaining that the vast majority of her buyers are her blog readers, social media followers and people she meets at her workshops. Self-publishing cookbooks is an expensive business, she added, pointing out that your production values must be high if you want to compete with traditionally published titles.
Anna Faherty asking one of the great questions from the audience during the Q&A
The discussion ended with some interesting reflections on where food and drink publishing is now, and where it’s headed in the future. Kathy pointed out that cookbooks used to be about experts imparting their knowledge to rookies, but in the digital age, that dynamic has shifted. Now, when your readers sometimes know nearly as much as you do about your subject, it’s all about staring stories. Lizzie agreed, noting that she often buys cookbooks simply to hear the stories behind them, as opposed to actually following the recipes. Eric concluded that “if you want to write a new recipe, you have to create a new ingredient”, as certain areas (such as Middle Eastern cuisine) have become totally saturated.
But of course, as always it’s all about the networking
Finally, Eric closed the evening on a satisfyingly positive note, when he announced to the room: “It’s a happy business to be in, so when you write a cookbook… make it happy”.
Thanks once again to our brilliant sponsors Blurb and our hosts The Club at The Hotel Cafe Royal
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