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The Most Fun Way to Fund a Cookbook

Social media and guts. That’s what it takes to fund your own cookbook. 

“I didn’t think I would self-publish to be honest,” said Yellow Table blogger and freelance writer and recipe tester Anna Watson Carl. “In the end, though, I realized I wanted full creative control, plus I didn’t want to wait. Publishing companies told me that if I started now, the book wouldn’t be on shelves until late 2015. So I thought, ‘I can do it on my own this fall or I can wait two years.’” So she did it on her own, in her sixth-floor walkup apartment in New York City, roping in friend Signe Birck to take the pictures. 

Of course it helps if your profession has to do with food, like Carl’s, which has afforded her many profitable relationships, but we learned some things from her that can apply to almost anyone with a little bit of time and a whole lot of energy. 

Crowdsource. Carl developed 107 recipes for the book—including 23 vegan and 58 gluten-free ones—but who would cross-test them to ensure they work well? Recipe testing costs money, which Carl knows well. Enter the blog: “I put up a blog post calling for volunteer recipe testers, and now people all over the world—in India, Sweden, France, Chile, and the US—are each testing 4-5 recipes for the book.” The same thing happened with the book design. “I put up a blog post saying, ‘Do you want to design this cookbook?’ I got 50 emails from designers with their portfolios attached, and that’s how I found Katie King Rumford, who’s incredible.”

Do your research. I found out that the Canal House women started by self-publishing their first series of books, and that they worked with Worzalla. So I got their contact, met with them, and was able to get quotes. The cost is high—it’s $21,000 printing costs alone—so that’s why I’m doing the Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is not enough. “With Kickstarter it’s all about momentum,” Carl told us. “I need to pre-sell 1500 cookbooks, but my friends and family and even my blog reach might not be enough to make that goal.” So Carl decided to go on a cross-country road trip, hosting collaborative dinners in seven cities. She’s already done New York, Raleigh, Nashville, and, last night, New Orleans; next it’s Austin, Los Angeles, and finally Seattle. “The road trip allows me to partner with other people. I’ve made these friends—other food bloggers, florists, etc.—via the Internet, so now I’m taking that relationship and making it real.”

Make friends via the Internet. Carl met food bloggers, such as Joy Wilson and Jeanine Donofrio, through her own blog—it’s still a world of link love and call-outs, which is good news when you’ve got a project this big to promote. “When I started this whole idea of the road trip, I had no idea if people would be game,” she said. “And for someone like me to reach out to Joy the Baker or Love and Lemons—they’re in whole other category than I am—they could have totally ignored me. But they both said overwhelmingly ‘yes!’ and were really pumped about the idea.” And as for her designer, “I would have never met her had it not been for the blog.”

Have no fear. “I reached out to brands directly to ask if they would partner with me on this.” Carl, who doesn’t have a car, cold called Volkswagen and they responded by lending her a 2014 Beetle TDI that had less than 1000 miles on it. Whole Foods is covering the food and wine. “I just reached out to them—I’m astounded that they said yes.” That has been the biggest lesson, says Carl, “getting over the fear of just asking.”

Say yes to help. “I hate the word ‘entertaining’ because it feels like it’s putting on a show,” says Carl. “It’s not a one-woman or one-man show; that wears you out.” So when friends offer to bring wine, flowers, or anything, really, Carl says yes. “Being in this industry, I now happen to have a lot of friends who are artisans of these things, so that makes it all the better.” For example: Sam Kirkpatrick of Boulted Bread brought bread to the Raleigh dinner, Morgan Williamson of Handmade Studio donated plates in Nashville, and artist Rebecca Rebouché made watercolor menus for the dinner in New Orleans. 

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, and Pinterest. Share everything you do on social media, tag everyone you’re working with, get your friends with followings to retweet your posts—all of it. For example, Carl’s international recipe testers? “I’ve asked them, when they’re testing, to host gatherings of their own. I created menus for each of them.” Then, of course, they’d post about it. “It’s a good way to spread the word.”

And a damn fun way, too. 

Julia Bainbridge
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The kickoff party was held at Carl’s own apartment in New York City, and she did, well, everything, including the place cards. Photo credit: Eric Ryan Anderson
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Jean-Luc Le Du, who was the sommelier at Daniel for 10 years and contributed wine pairings to the book, poured the bubbly. Photo credit: Eric Ryan Anderson
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Carl’s Asparagus Naan Pizzas were served first. Photo credit: Eric Ryan Anderson
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The main course: Seared Halibut with Pea-Fava Purée and Roasted Carrots. Photo credit: Eric Ryan Anderson
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The second dinner was held at Beausol Farm just outside Raleigh, North Carolina. Carl served her Crudites with Lemon Parsley Tahini Dip to start. Photo credit: Mike Gilger
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Megan Gilger of the Fresh Exchange skipped the chairs and opted for a low table around which guests could enjoy the grass. Photo credit: Mike Gilger
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Tallahassee May at Turnbull Creek Farm did the flowers for Carl’s Nashville, Tennessee dinner. Photo credit: AWC
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Leigh Vail hand-wrote the menus and Morgan Williamson of Handmade Studio donated plateware for the evening. Photo credit: Heidi Ross
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Held at the Peter Nappi studio, Ruthie Lindsey styled the differently shaped tables into one big, beautiful jumble. Photo credit: Heidi Ross
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A look at last night’s dinner in New Orleans, co-hosted by Joy Wilson (a.k.a. Big-Time Food Blogger Joy the Baker). The watercolor menus were done by local artist Rebecca Rebouché. Photo credit: AWC