by KATHY STRAHS
People often read the name of my publishing company, Burnt Cheese Press, and look amused. The quirky name is a nod to my start in the food world a decade ago as a panini press–focused food blogger (Panini Happy). It was also the first name out of the dozens I’d brainstormed that wasn’t already taken.
I launched Burnt Cheese Press in March 2015 by 1) filing the LLC paperwork, and 2) announcing it to the world. Voilà, I had a food-focused independent publishing company. That’s the short version of the story of how I started my own press. The longer version is a bit more involved.
What Came First: The Idea
My original idea had been to create a cookbook devoted to the 8×8-inch square baking dish. It is my favorite size dish for preparing weeknight meals for my family of four, and no other collection of recipes existed—that I could find—tailored for it. Publishers liked the idea but weren’t ready to get behind it. I already had a book’s worth of recipe concepts. All I needed was someone to greenlight the project. Maybe . . . me?
Friends had self-published cookbooks, and I’d seen examples of other authors who had successfully launched their cookbooks through crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter. With one traditionally published cookbook under my belt (The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook), and as a former marketer with an MBA from Stanford, it seemed like a viable option to go out on my own. I began to envision long-term opportunities—for myself and, ideally, others.
I released The 8×8 Cookbook in December 2015 following a successful Kickstarter campaign. It earned the Gold Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) for Best First Book – Nonfiction and was recently featured in The Los Angeles Times. My second title, The Lemonade Stand Cookbook—a children’s cookbook with an entrepreneurial focus—came out this past May on the heels of another successful Kickstarter. It has earned a Mom’s Choice Award, a National Parenting Products Award, and has been well received by parents, teachers, librarians, and enterprising kids alike.
Getting Things Off the Ground
My biggest challenge, in the beginning, was learning how in the world to be a publisher. My first step to figuring it out was consulting with a friend who had self-published a cookbook. She sagely recommended I read Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. It was a perfect starting point. On the advice of the book, I immediately joined the IBPA, which offered another treasure trove of education and resources. Slowly, I began to fill in answers to the many questions swirling in my head.
My next step was to put people and vendors into place. I hired the best editors, designers, and (in the case of The Lemonade Stand Cookbook) illustrators I can find. I sought recommendations from other authors, searched for specific backgrounds onLinkedIn, filtered through editor and designer profiles on Reedsy.com, and browsed the member directories of industry organizations to which I belong. My U.S.-based printer came highly recommended by a friend. I learned about my distributor through IBPA and a contact I met at their Publishing University conference.
There is a stigma about—and, dare I say, discrimination against—self-published books in some circles. They’re believed to be of inferior quality, lacking editing and other elements of professionalism. It’s definitely a stereotype.
The truth is yes, some examples of self-publishing are not ready for prime time. But many, like mine, are produced with the same standards, talent, tools, and production facilities as traditionally published books. The only real difference is how they were financed. Rather than one publishing house making a big bet on the success of my projects, hundreds of supporters have made smaller contributions to fund them.
I have applied for (and earned) several book awards. But some applications explicitly state “no self-published books allowed.” My publicists and I pitch book bloggers—and have received wonderful coverage from some. But others specify “no self-published books” in their review policies. I approach independent bookstores, many of which shelve my books. But upon learning that my book isn’t published by a major house, some send me straight to their consignment program—occasionally charging a fee—without asking if my books are available through their distributor. (They are).
What the Future Holds
I started Burnt Cheese Press with the intent to publish other authors, and that remains a goal of mine. I have received pitches from authors since the day I announced the company. The tricky part is the money. You might be able to launch a black-and-white, all-text novel for $5,000 or less, but a full-color, photo- and graphic-heavy cookbook costs at least five times that figure. That’s a lot of money to bet on myself, let alone on someone else.
I have heard some interesting hybrid publishing models in which the author shares in some of the costs, and in exchange receives a much higher than normal royalty. It’s a route I might investigate at some point. For now, though, I’m enjoying this publishing journey and soaking up as much experience as I can along the way.
Kathy Strahs is the award-winning author of The Lemonade Stand Cookbook, The 8×8 Cookbook, and The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook, the voice behind the blogs PaniniHappy.com and CookingOntheSide.com, and the founder of Burnt Cheese Press. Her work has been featured on Oprah.com, TODAY.com, and in numerous national publications. She lives with her husband and their two children in the Silicon Valley.
Excerpted from the Summer 2017 edition of the IACP Food Writers, Editors, and Publishers newsletter.
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