Earlier this week I had the pleasure of hearing cookbook author and food writer Julie Van Rosendaal speak about a plate full of things including our relationship with food, book distribution, clean eating, cookbook production, and self-publishing. All the things she spoke about interested me because I cook almost exclusively out of cookbooks, and I’ve worked in and around book publishing for my entire career, so I listened intently for her entire talk. But the most interesting take-away from her event was her decision to self-publish her latest cookbook Dirty Food. In the past, my review policy stated I do not accept self-published books for review*. Generally, I considered traditionally published books as the ‘gold-standard’ for authors to aspire to, but after hearing Julie speak, and seeing how wonderful her new book looks, I’m beginning to seriously re-consider that bias of mine. Perhaps it’s the awareness that Julie published exactly what she wanted to, but I couldn’t help but feel that she was speaking directly to me, the reader, in the introduction. Removing the barrier of a publisher as ‘gatekeeper’, books can feel more intimate and pointed, bringing the author and reader even closer than before.
Julie gives a thorough and convincing argument as to why she actively chose to self-publish this latest book in this column for the Globe and Mail, and given the success of self-published cookbooks alone (hello Looneyspoons!) one can hardly question her decision. But what about fiction writers? Will self-publishing your work of fiction be doing it any favours or is the traditional publishing house still the ideal? When it comes to fiction, I believe the work of a strong substantive/structural editor who is NOT paid by the author is still the most valuable. Because the editor works for the publisher and their goal is to sell the most books, their work should be making the book as best as possible, and are held to the standards of the publishing house rather than a specific client. Again, I know my bias is peeking through here, but I can’t see myself changing that opinion anytime soon. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this though, so please do comment and tell me I’m completely wrong!
In most cases, people who are offered a publishing deal will still take it, especially if they are relatively unknown or at the beginning of their writing career, but for established writers like Julie, self-publishing offers the creative freedom to truly print what you want, how you want it. The unique spine of her book is the perfect example of this:
Ashamedly, I cannot recall the name for this type of binding (tell me in the comments if you know the proper title for it), but it allows the book to lay-flat on the counter top when it’s open to each page which is obviously ideal for this genre. There are so many wonderful cookbooks out there, hundreds if not thousands being published each year, and yet, so few of them are as well-designed as this one. What’s the point of a beautiful hardcover cookbook if the ****ing thing won’t stay open while you’re trying to cook from it? But most traditional publishers wouldn’t approve this spine in the final design stages because a) it looks unfinished and b) it doesn’t look nice on a spine-out bookshelf display in a bookstore. However, for anyone who actually USES their cookbook, that doesn’t matter, so clearly Julie knows and understands her audience. For authors who have a clear grasp of who their readers are, I’ve come to the conclusion that self-publishing may be a better avenue for them. On another note, a traditional publisher most likely wouldn’t allow that cheeky back cover author photo to make it past the last stages of production either. Personally, I love it, and author photos seem to be getting worse and worse these days, but that’s a rant for another time…
Now I’ll admit I haven’t actually tested any of the recipes in this particular book yet, but I’ve followed many a Julie Van Rosendaal recipe in my time, and they were ALL a hit, especially with my kids. This chocolate marshmallow pie is one of my all-time favourites! I love her recipes because they are easy to follow and always turn out right, much like my cookbook idols The Best of Bridge Ladies (who Julie has also cooked with and written for!). Because of my cooking history with her recipes I will confidently recommend this book, and I plan on making some dishes from it soon-I’ll post the results on my twitter, instagram, and facebook page as proof!
So, has Julie’s talk spurred me into accepting self-published books for review now? Yes, and I’ve updated my review policy to reflect that*. I’m not entirely convinced fiction is best suited to self-publishing, but I’ve certainly had my mind opened to the possibilities for non-fiction. Clearly I need to re-think my past assumption that self-published books are ‘less’ than traditionally published, and if cookbooks are my gateway drug into embracing this new era of publishing, so be it.
*To be absolutely clear, I’m not currently accepting any unsolicited books for review, please don’t send me any queries or pitches, my bookshelves are bursting!