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The Ingredients for Success with a Book for Busy Cooks

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Funny. I read Jan Nathan’s article about daring to dream just as I was struggling with the concept of success. It’s difficult reading all the “success” stories in all the newsletters that I get. I have to constantly shore up my ego and try to convince myself that I am proceeding on the best course. I have found marketing ideas to be more plentiful than my capacity to grasp their potential and follow through on them. And my biggest enemy seems to be time itself–time to sell, time to write my next book, time to run my business, time to spend with family and friends.

So here’s my success story. I own a print shop. It took me three years to write, design, photograph, and physically print A Busy Cook’s Guide to Spices, all 240 pages, on my company printing press. I wrote the book because I couldn’t find one designed the way I–and many busy people like me–prefer to cook. That is, you go home, see what’s in the freezer, and cook one of the 10-12 standard meals you always make. Wouldn’t it be great to not have to change your grocery-buying habits, but still cook something new and different?

To make the spice book useable, I cross-referenced the spices with the everyday foods that we eat. Thus the page on corn (or ham, or salads, etc.) has both the spices that go with it and recipes containing corn. The idea is to get you thinking creatively by using different spices.

Now it’s been a year and I’ve sold only 678 books! What’s wrong with me? Am I a failure? Compared to the publishers in the newsletters, I am. But I like to look at it another way. If I’d gone through the traditional channels as a self-publisher, I would have had to sell about three times as many books to net the same amount. If I had gone through a publisher, it would have taken even more sales. So maybe the idea isn’t to talk about the number of books sold, but the net income those sales generate.


Marketing Moves

Did I start with a marketing plan? Not really. I jumped in, found ideas in some of the self-publishing manuals, and floundered around–persistent, yet unorganized. I invited all my customers, friends, and vendors to an open house at my print shop, made cookies from my book that used different flavorings, and sold 67 copies. My husband invited a lot of people from his work who bought quite a few.

As a result of that open house, my car mechanic offered to take some books on consignment for his shop. One woman bought five copies and invited me to a Pampered Chef party the next day, where I sold two more. A customer of mine who owns a bed and breakfast invited me to a cookie exchange, where I sold another six. One of my vendors later liked my book so much that she printed up gold oval “autographed copy” labels for me for cost and bought another book for a friend. Even my hairdresser set up my books to be sold in her salon.

I didn’t exclude all traditional venues and sold books to the Denver Public Library and Tattered Cover Bookstore. A local mystery bookstore agreed to carry the book for their Christmas gift baskets. Also, I worked on getting my name in the papers–i.e., free publicity–but it took time. Probably my best exposure was with Colorado Country Life, a magazine for rural electric users. Later I utilized PMA target marketing programs. I came to realize that publicity was more important for showing potential buyers that you are for real than for selling books outright. However, one contact will result in a radio appearance. She wants me and Paul Prudhomme (author, Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Seasoned America) to discuss spices on the air. I am psyched!


Still More Markets

One month after my book’s pub date, I signed up for a half booth at a local book festival and sold 50 books there. (The publisher of Bloomsbury Review bought one.) The next month, I went to the Colorado Independent Publishers College and sold enough to pay for the fee just by putting the books on a table.

I went through the Yellow Pages. Under “Kitchen Shops,” I found several buyers and did a book signing for one. Under “Spices,” I found a company that sold coffee, teas, and spices. The owner has sold four dozen books. For “Cooking Schools,” I am pursuing a friend who is the Dean of Students at one facility. I want him to send a testimonial that I can then use to sell to other cooking schools. Grocers were too complicated, but I did get around the bureaucracy of one by selling directly to the store buyer. I also looked under “Nurseries,” thinking that people who grow herbs may need to know how to use them in cooking. Although I need to pursue this more, I’ve already gotten my book into one gardening store.

After I met a woman in the library who suggested home schoolers, I found a book fair for them where I sold some books. I attended several craft fairs and even sold two books to an organizer whose show I didn’t attend. Also, I tried a six-month lease at a craft mall, but decided that “crafters” are not my market.

Cashing in on Catalogs

My biggest break came when a friend showed me some spice catalogs. I got the owner when I called the 800 number and told him I thought my book and his catalog were a good match. He bought one, liked the book, and said it kept him from having to write one like it himself. He asked about inventory, and I turned the question around and asked him how big his mailing list was—350,000 each quarter! Sometimes you’re just lucky. He was nice enough to use my 100-word description and my color cover. His company and one other have sold 235 books. Later, I went to the library to look up The Catalog of Catalogs by Edward L. Palder, but it looks as though I’ve already hit the cream of the crop in the spice catalog category.


The Internet & Others

Although ignorant of e-mail and Web sites, I got my husband to put together a site for the book. Without any real links or sophisticated programming, I’ve already generated enough income to almost pay for the first year’s fee. This is also on my list of things to work on–more Internet sales.

I have to admit that the most fun I’ve had in selling my books has been in turning the tables on salespeople, who have walked into my office hoping to sell me something. So far, a post office employee, a couple of phone solicitors, a printing equipment rep, and a copy-shop person have bought my book. I spend a lot of time at the post office and even managed to sell a book while waiting in line! I also get a kick out of selling to bookstores at full price. When their customers want it, they have to get it to them somehow.


Measuring Success

I guess the moral is to measure your success against yourself and not others. If you finished your book and registered your copyright at the Library of Congress, you are well on your way to immortality. Just slowly work your way to all the potential buyers out there. Three calls a day add up to more than a thousand contacts a year.

I can’t wait to figure out how to sell my next book.


Linda Murdock has owned her own print shop in Denver for 12 years. Before that, she worked in the tax office of a gold-mining firm, at a small railroad in Illinois, and as a stockbroker. Murdock has a degree in math and her guilty pleasures include reading mysteries and collecting Jackie Chan DVDs.

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