So how much of a long shot is this?
December 27, 2009 1:53 PM   Subscribe

I would like to publish a cookbook as a community service project. Am I delusional?

So, I need to put together a rather large-scale community service project for this program I am in. I will be presenting this idea to a panel that can award me up to $1000 of seed money which could defray initial costs. The idea would be that this cookbook would be focused on a theme such as fair trade (a program I'm involved in is very involved in direct trade coffee, so perhaps I could go in that direction) and every recipe would incorporate coffee/chocolate/whatever. 100% of proceeds would also be donated.

I'm a HUGE fan of food blogs and subscribe to at least 20. I was going to try to solicit a (or more than one) recipe from each author I subscribe to, though I know many will say no. I hope that the gimmick of me being 16 and the fact that 100% of proceeds will go to charity will help. I might also ask them to solicit recipes from readers, and of course everything would be thoroughly tested before publishing. Do the ones with published books likely have some sort of exclusivity deal with their publisher that would prohibit this? What kind of chances do I have of them saying yes?

I know how impossible it is to get a cookbook published, so I was thinking of going the self-publishing route. It would be a smallish book, full color, and I am initially interested in Dog Ear, since their prices seem reasonable.

I am aware of expenses such as layout, photography, etc. I'm no photographer, and don't know any well, so I'd need to get someone to do that for me. I don't know if I could find a hobby photographer on craigslist, or perhaps solicit donations of (at least discounted) time from a local food photographer. I live in a big city, so I probably have more options concerning that. I am quite a visual person, though, and though I don't know any design software well at all or whatever, I am confident I could self-teach adequately (this book has been invaluable to me in the past. I recommend it to all.) and DIY that part. Several years ago, I did self-teach photoshop and got really, really good at that stuff, if I do say so myself. Indesign or similar couldn't be much harder, could it? I'm mostly scared of things dealing with true colors and whatnot.

I could get fellow volunteers to help test recipes (and prepare them for photography), as well as help in spreading the word, etc. The program I'm involved with could provide support and perhaps some contacts. Am I crazy for even thinking of trying this? How do vanity presses work - would that be a better option? Do you have any ideas for a better theme for the book? I'd really like it to benefit some sort of pressing cause that's international rather htan domestic - clean water is a big one, obviously, but "recipes that incorporate water" is, um, slightly less compelling.

Thanks for reading so much, and thanks for your help. I'm trying to be realistic here but I do get kind of carried away sometimes.
posted by R a c h e l to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You need to think about who is going to buy this cookbook. From my perspective, the cookbook market is really saturated. The self-published cookbooks that I know about have all been put together by a community (typically a church or synagogue sisterhood) and then sold to their own members - sales beyond the community are a bonus and not to be counted on.

How about a theme of very low cost, healthy cooking that when completed would be distributed for free to people using the local food banks as well as sold to the general community. You might consult the food banks on ingredients that would be readily available to their consumers and maybe even post a request for recipes from their consumers.

Also, it wouldn't need to be half as fancy as you are planning. Maybe a local food bank might agree to support the project by sending flyers to all of their donors (with the profit benefiting their agency) or as a thank you gift to large donors (where the agency would pay the costs of publication).
posted by metahawk at 2:04 PM on December 27, 2009

Not much of a long shot at all. Lots of community organizations publish a cookbook with recipes contributed by residents. Ours publishes a spiral bound book with a glossy cover featuring a neighborhood landmark and no interior pictures. I don't recall what the initial costs are, but we have it done at a local printer. Most competent print shops can handle something like this, no need to farm it out to someone on the internet.
posted by electroboy at 2:05 PM on December 27, 2009

Response by poster: metahawk: my idea for sales would be that I get a couple big shots to write a recipe, and then they feature the book (I admit, I am COMPLETELY picturing David Lebovitz) once it is published, generating some initial buzz. Many of these services would allow me to sell via amazon and such, so with a few reviews written and whatever, I could sell a decent number. Maybe? Maybe not, though.
posted by R a c h e l at 2:16 PM on December 27, 2009

Best answer: I think what I'm not seeing is how this counts as community service. For community service, I think you should be doing more to connect with your community. Who are you trying to help out with your cookbook? Where do the proceeds go? If they are going to a particular charity or community group (and they should), you should solicit their help and input for recipes and helpers. Having the input from the community group/service will also give your community more reason to participate and purchase your recipe books. What connection do food bloggers have to your community?

Community service is all about helping your community, so you need to think within those small boundaries to be able to have the most impact. It should both involve and benefit the community that you are serving.
posted by that girl at 2:25 PM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You do need to think about how elaborate a book this will be and who the target market is.

I'm a Junior League member and the League has a long history of printing cookbooks. These are full color, professionally photographed and each recipe is triple tested to make sure it's tasty and the directions are accurate. We have roughly a thousand members per chapter and many members buy a case of 12 books. We also have good relationships with local restaurants and bookstore which feature and sell the book for us. Add to that, we usually get excellent support from our local newspapers and community. With all of that in place, we can do a profitable, full color cookbook.

You can absolutely do a cookbook. A profitable cookbook is quite another matter. Like anything you want to sell, you need to have your marketing mix in place before you get too far into the process.
posted by 26.2 at 2:35 PM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Create some kind of "eat local" awareness campaign, of which a cookbook could be a part. Find recipes that emphasize locally-grown foodstuffs and get local celebrities and VIPs (mayor, business owners, etc.) to contribute recipes. Get local stores to carry it. Convince local restaurants to feature a recipe, or to use locally-grown ingredients in their dishes.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:18 PM on December 27, 2009

Response by poster: Okay, I guess it isn't so much "community service" as a "service project". I wouldn't be including my local community that much, beyond enlisting help from people as recipe testers, certain contacts that I have as editors, etc.

My hope for this is that it would look professional and people would actually want to buy it for reasons beyond helping the cause - there would be good recipes, good design, good photos, etc. Am I biting off waaay to much?

I would be using a print on demand service (also looking at Lulu, in addition to Dog Ear and others) so that I wouldn't be required to invest in this beyond the cost of getting some sort of distribution package to get this onto amazon, etc. That would be paid for with seed money, so all proceeds could go to the cause.
posted by R a c h e l at 3:24 PM on December 27, 2009

I'm not sure what panel you will be presenting this to, but you may have to work on your 'service project' angle a bit. From my initial reading, it seems like the only elements of service are: the 'fair trade' bit and that the proceeds will be donated to a charity.

You should look into the mission statement of the organization and make sure your proposal really aligns with their goals, because I'm guessing simple fundraising for an unnamed charity won't cut it.
posted by Think_Long at 3:56 PM on December 27, 2009

Why not just make a website instead of a book? It would be a lot cheaper, and then you can keep expanding it, and also promote it via social media (put it on mefi projects, for example). Once it gets popular, you can sell a printed version (with extra features) and/or you can sell advertising.
posted by bingo at 4:23 PM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: A bit of background on the program: I've been going to meetings for said program for a few months now, where we've talked about brainstorming our project ideas but also heard from speakers, done assignments to explore the neighborhood that it is located in, etc. The idea of the program is more to inspire people my age to do something and sort of get the ball rolling than actually to get anything done, if you get my drift. The project must have certain elements, such as involving other people (I intend to have friends help me with testing recipes, seeking out hobby photographers, etc. which I have discussed and does meet that requirement), benefiting any cause in some way (the idea here is to both raise some money but also to raise awareness. I will probably focus exclusively on direct trade and coffee farming, since I'm currently immersed in a bunch of direct-trade stuff and will visit the actual farm from which I am now selling coffee in June). I feel like I've addressed it pretty well, though I welcome suggestions on how to promote the message further or things I could do post-publishing to promote the message.
posted by R a c h e l at 4:31 PM on December 27, 2009

Community cookbooks sell best to the community. Local bookstores will likely take it on consignment. The food writer of the local paper might do a story. Get local celebrities to contribute recipes - the popular weather guy on local news, chefs at popular restaurants. Photography is very expensive; consider drawings. Local cookbooks often have a comb binding, which is excellent for cooking, and you may find local printing at a discount. You can involve others in marketing, picking up and dropping off stuff, design, graphics, etc. Go to the local bookstore and see what they have for fundraiser cookbooks; this will give you some ideas.
posted by theora55 at 8:08 PM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: bingo: (sorry, missed your post before). Since I will be using a print on demand service, upfront costs are low, so I'm not really saving that much. I honestly doubt people would be as willing to contribute recipes to a website, and even that I could draw that many people to a website since there are far more expansive options. This also needs to raise some money, which would be difficult to do upfront with a website.

theora, thanks so much for the community-based recommendations, very much taking that into account.
posted by R a c h e l at 10:58 PM on December 27, 2009

An idea we've tried is to have some sort of local "celebrity" cookoff and then publish the recipes and bios of the chefs and their entries. Our church community had a "Men Who Cook" event, sold tickets to the event, sold drinks and other items (silent auction) at the event, and then sold the cookbooks at the event and afterwards. Very successful, netted about 5k for scholarships.

Our guys were inspired by the competitive nature of the event as there was popular voting and a celebrity panel of judges. Pride was on the line so our Chefs devoted themselves to perfecting their dishes. Chef entrants donated 200 tasting portions of their own food so the ticket sales were mostly profit.

People bought the cookbooks either because they raved about the food and wanted the recipes or because of the "celebrity" effect. Works well if you can get the local councilman, mayor, police chief, CEO, etc.
posted by cross_impact at 5:32 AM on December 28, 2009

Here is an article on my wife's aunt, who did something along the lines of what you want to. Note that it took a team of six people 3 years to put it together and they only have 60 recipes. It doesn't mention it in the article but these are all well-to-do people who probably bankrolled the project themselves without much difficulty. The end result is a beautifully-photographed large format (almost coffee-table) book. I don't know if they have turned a profit but it is being sold outside the immediate area. My sister was involved in this Junior League cookbook and the Augusta Junior League has been selling these cookbooks for over 30 years. So it can be done and in the last example I gave (at least) can be quite profitable. As someone suggested above if you have any Junior League connections they might be a good source of advice on how to go about it. From what I have seen it is always a team effort and delegating the various tasks well is very important.
posted by TedW at 6:40 AM on December 28, 2009

« Older I Want to Invent a New Word   |   Looking for good books to help me age (> 65). Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.