Steve Frabitore put together a major cookbook publishing deal in two weeks simply by calling a publisher and submitting a two-page outline. But it was only afterwards that the Asheville, North Carolina, restaurateur discovered that his approach veered dramatically from publishing industry norms.
“Our approach is not to be fearful, but to be fearless,” says Frabitore, the owner of two Tupelo Honey Café restaurants and a thriving online retail site. His book, Tupelo Honey Café: Spirited Recipes from Asheville’s New South Kitchen from Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, is his gift to that city’s culinary community.
“The depth and breadth of the food in this region is amazing,” he says. “I designed this book to compel people to visit Asheville and enjoy its unique culture.”
Food writer Mollie Cox Bryan used the more conventional “submit a 30-plus-page book proposal through a literary agent” model for a book about Mrs. Rowe’s Family Restaurant and Bakery in Staunton, Virginia.
Because the popular Shenandoah Valley restaurant had already self-published a cookbook, publishers were interested in a new take on the original cookbook. The result was Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant Cookbook from 10 Speed Press and later, a spin-off, Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies.
“Because the self-published cookbook included recipes from customers and friends, the new book focused on the restaurant’s signature recipes and family favorites,” Bryan says.
While Frabitore and Bryan went the conventional publishing route, chef Peter Davis of Henrietta’s Table at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts, self-published Fresh & Honest: Food from the Farms of New England and the Kitchen of Henrietta’s Table.
Self-publishing gave Davis more control over the project and allowed for a more aggressive production schedule—while most cookbooks take about two years from concept to store, Davis finished his project in about a year. Published in November 2008, Fresh & Honest was released just in time for the winter holiday selling season.
Control was important to Davis because the cookbook is the restaurant’s primary marketing tool. “We use it instead of paid advertising to spread the word about the restaurant,” he says. Potential customers see the book in friends’ homes, bookstores, and supermarkets, including the Central Market chain in Texas, where Davis did book signings.
There’s another big difference between traditional and self-publishing: The cost to the author. With the traditional book publishing model, the publisher offers the author payment in the form of an advance against royalties to write the book. In addition, the publisher covers the “manufacturing” costs—cover and interior design, printing, distribution, and some marketing. (Some pay for a cookbook’s photography while others include that expense in the advance payment.)
In contrast, Davis and his Charles Hotel investors, who give the cookbook to special hotel guests, spent $120,000 producing 10,000 copies of Fresh & Honest. And while Frabitore received a $20,000 advance from the publisher for the Tupelo Honey Café book, much of that was used to hire a professional writer. His company also spent an additional $50,000 for a professional recipe tester, marketing materials, publicity help, and online order fulfillment.