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Welcome to episode 52 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! In this episode, Bjork talks with Megan Gilmore from Detoxinista.
Last week, Bjork talked with Aaron Scott from Your Brand Week about creating a powerful brand for your business. To go back and listen that episode, click here.
We all know that writing a cookbook is a LOT of work. From the recipe development to the photography, a cookbook author is a busy bee. One thing you might not know, though, is that the author is also expected to presell copies of their book to their audience before it even publishes. As you might imagine, this can be quite the task!
When Megan Gilmore, the author behind Detoxinista, set out to presell copies of her first cookbook, they expected the average number of sales - somewhere around 500 cookbooks. Instead, she blew everyone at 10 Speed Press out of the water with a whopping 4,000 cookbook presales - the largest presale in the history of 10 Speed Press. Today, she’s here to tell us how she did it.
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Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to episode number 52 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Hey, everybody, it’s Bjork Ostrom. You are listening to episode number 52 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking with Megan Gilmore from Detoxinista.com. If nothing else, Detoxinista is just a really fun name to say, and then when I say it, I actually kind of screwed it up a little bit. Detoxinista, man, isn’t that great? Megan is going to be talking a little bit about her blog, but we’re really going to be diving in and talking about her history with cookbooks.
The first cookbook that she ever released was actually the most successful preorder campaign in the history of Ten Speed Press. I’m really excited to talk to her about some of the strategy that went in behind that, and the things that she did to really be intentional about building up momentum, and following, and people that were anxious to preorder that book, and some of the strategies she implemented for that.
We’ll also touch base a little bit on what the advantage of a cookbook is. Sometimes you can get a really big contract that pays really well, but if you’re in the early stages, sometimes that might not be possible. What are some of the other benefits that come along with having a cookbook? We’re going to cover all those things as we chat today with Megan Gilmore from Detoxinista.com. Without further ado, Megan, welcome to the podcast.
Megan Gilmore: Thanks for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. We’re going to jump in here and we’re actually going to focus in on cookbooks and what it was like for you and your experience releasing a cookbook. As we exchanged emails talking about this a little bit, you had mentioned it was one of the most successful or the most successful preorder campaign in the history of Ten Speed Press, which is so cool. I’m so excited to talk to you about what was involved with that. Before we do, I always want to take a little bit of time to hear people’s story. I’m guessing that you haven’t always been working on your blog, so I’m curious to know what did life look like for you pre blog, and then how did you transition into doing what you’re doing now?
Megan Gilmore: Yeah. I started off … actually, I still work as a greeting card illustrator, that’s my main job.
Bjork Ostrom: As a quick aside, I recently ordered a card for Lindsay for Mother’s Day, we don’t have kids, but it was from Sage our dog.
Megan Gilmore: How sweet.
Bjork Ostrom: It was just this beautiful card. That would be something that you do, you literally will be the person that will illustrate the cards?
Megan Gilmore: Yeah. I’ve been doing it for 10 years. If you can … Yeah. They’re at Target. I do American Greetings and Recycled Paper Greetings.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. That’s one of those jobs where it’s like you will probably only meet one person in your life that has that job, and for me, that’s you.
Megan Gilmore: Yeah. I feel super lucky. It’s a fantastic job.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Okay. Background in art? I’m guessing of …
Megan Gilmore: Yeah. I have a degree in graphic design and illustration. I was actually really fortunate. My husband and I, we met in Kansas and that’s where we went to school for college. We moved to Los Angeles about 10 years ago, and that’s kind of how the blog got started. We moved everything we owned in one car, so we had to be super picky about what we brought, which meant no cookbooks for me.
Originally, my blog started as kind of a recipe collection of … not recipes I wrote necessarily, but just recipes I wanted to have when I was in this new kitchen without all of my stuff. Originally, that’s how it started. Then I had a terrible diet in college. I sit at a desk all day for my job and so I wasn’t really being the healthiest. My blog really started as a way to develop recipes that still tasted as good as I wanted them to but not make me gain a million pounds.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. For sure. It’s funny they say, because Lindsay and I talk all the time about how it’s like, we have this jobs where we’re primarily behind the computer. You hear that all the time where people are like, sitting is the new smoking.
Megan Gilmore: It totally is.
Bjork Ostrom: It is. Yeah. It’s interesting to hear you talk about that, and I think a lot of people process through that. You started your blog, Detoxinista, and the intent wasn’t necessarily to have like detox diets, right? It was like, hey, how can I introduce healthy food that’s going to make me feel better and help to balance this some of the … or not necessarily balance but adjust some of the lifestyle stuff from before. Is that right, in general?
Megan Gilmore: Yeah. The blog actually had a totally different name when I started it, and it was super embarrassing.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Are you going to share it? Please do.
Megan Gilmore: It was called the Healthy Hoggin’.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. No, that’s good.
Megan Gilmore: My husband and I like affectionately referred to the way we ate as hogging, because we’re like piggies.
Bjork Ostrom: I feel like everybody has their business idea story of some way, shape or form.
Megan Gilmore: It was terrible. I knew I had to change it when I was really embarrassed to say my blog’s name out loud.
Bjork Ostrom: Right.
Megan Gilmore: Yeah. I had studied under a couple of detox mentors at that time. At one point, I had done some pretty drastic detox things and they didn’t really serve me very well, and so my blog has evolved over time to be much more moderate and just have a whole foods focus on it.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Megan Gilmore: That’s pretty much what I share now. It’s just whole food ideas and I actually emphasize not doing anything drastic, because I don’t want people to go through what I did.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. For sure. It’s interesting to read through that and kind of hear your leaning towards that, with the idea of balancing that, which I think is cool. This is something that I would be curious to hear what that looks like for you right now in terms of the balance side of things?
Not necessarily balance the diet, but knowing that you have your job, and knowing that you’re also doing the blog, and then knowing that you did this very successful cookbook as well. I think a lot of people can relate to that in that they’re in this balancing stage where they have these multiple things that they’re doing. What does that look like for you on a day to day basis? Before we get into the main topic, which is the cookbook, do you have any advice for people that are trying to do that juggling act?
Megan Gilmore: You have to have a lot of patience and really love what you’re doing. When I was writing the first cookbook, I got my cookbook deal when I had had my first baby, he was three weeks old. I was working from home with my design job, and I work from 6:00 AM to 3:00 PM every day, and then I had this baby, and then I had this new book deal, and then I still didn’t want my blog to die a slow and painful death while I did all this other stuff. I did a lot of babywearing and I would work on my cookbook recipes usually around midnight. You kind of go in this weird super mom mode where you are used to not sleeping anyway, so it didn’t seem like that big of a deal to work from like midnight to 2:00 AM, just because your body just gets used to not sleeping.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Megan Gilmore: It’s not something I would recommend people do. This time around, I have help. I have somebody who watches my son during the day, which really helps my grandma nanny, my mom helps with that.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Cool. Moms are so incredible. I just want to say that. I can’t imagine what that would be like, not only just to have this new life that you’re bringing into the world, but also doing all these other things. It’s so incredible.
Megan Gilmore: Yeah. It’s crazy. Actually, we just moved back near our mom’s, so that I would have that help.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Smart move. Here’s a thing that I want to dig into a little bit, it’s actually talking about that cookbook. I know that, and you kind of hinted at this as well, you’re in the process of doing another one, is that right?
Megan Gilmore: Yeah. We actually just wrapped up the photo shoot for the second one today.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Congratulations.
Megan Gilmore: Thanks.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things I’m curious about and I kind of want to divide this up into two things, it’s like pre book, or pre publish, and then post book, post publish. To talk about each one of those sections, and I know there is multiple little subsections within that, but looking at the pre book section before it’s published, at what point do you know, hey, this is something that is going to be worth it from you? What was it for you where you said, somebody is coming to me or maybe I’m coming to somebody else, I don’t know what the situation was for you, but I think at this point, I want to move forward and actually publish a cookbook. What did that phase look like in terms of figuring out when that was or when it made sense?
Megan Gilmore: For me, figuring out when it was, was it kind of came altogether, I had been approached by a couple random publishing houses when I was blogging. I didn’t have like a huge following at that time, but apparently, I had enough page views to be noticed by a publisher. They didn’t seem like a very good fit, so I kept pushing it off. Then an agent reached out to me in New York and he was the perfect fit for me. He totally got what I was doing, he had some really good relationships with publishers and so he’s kind of the guy who pushed me to write the proposal and he also gave me the guidelines. I had no idea what you needed to write a proposal. I didn’t know what the structure looked like. First hooking up with an agent and having him guide you was my step for moving forward.
Bjork Ostrom: We’ve talked about this, this was a podcast episode a while back with Dianne Jacob and she talked about some publishing stuff and agents and working with agents. I think it’s really good content especially for people in this space. Just at a high level, can you talk about the difference between like a publisher coming to you versus working with an agent?
Megan Gilmore: Yeah, as far as I know, most large publishers like if you want to work with one of the top like Random House, Simon & Schuster, Ten Speed, they will only work with you if you have an agent. It’s pretty unlikely that a large publisher would come to you with a deal. Then just knowing from the negotiations with my first book, I think a publisher would really low ball you if you didn’t have the agent working on your behalf.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. The agent is essentially somebody that’s saying I’m going to work on your behalf, I’m going to fight for you in the negotiations. Similar to what it would be if you were an athlete and it’s like athletes are not negotiating their salary. They have an agent and then the agent typically takes a percentage of whatever is agreed upon, is that right?
Megan Gilmore: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you know is it common for the agent to take a percentage of just the advance or the advance in royalties or what does that look like and how does that work as far as you know?
Megan Gilmore: They take a percentage of everything.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay.
Megan Gilmore: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: The range of that could be … I’m guessing it depends on the relationship and your negotiations with that agent but do you have kind of a range?
Megan Gilmore: I don’t have a range. I’ve heard pretty standard is 15% and so I wouldn’t really go over that.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure. To drill into this a little bit more in kind of this pre publish stage and I know that you can’t talk specifics for you because of your relationships with your publisher and things like that but in conversations that you’ve had, research that you’ve done, let’s say that you’re in this early stage, an agent comes to you and says, I’d be willing to work with you and you’re like okay, I think this makes sense.
Do you have any guidelines or suggestions or things that you’ve learned in this initial stage in terms of at what price is it worth it? Because I think a lot of times, if somebody was starting out, they would maybe hear a number like $5,000 and that’s like that’s a lot of money and that’s really helpful but then maybe you get into the process and you’re like, by the time you break it down, it doesn’t end up being that much per hour. It’s maybe minimum wage or something like that.
Megan Gilmore: Right. Yeah. You definitely don’t write cookbooks for the money. I would say going it with the intension that you’re doing this for free and then every check you get is like a happy surprise.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk specifics about that and so there’s the advance and then there’s checks after that you’d get paid, what’s the difference between those?
Megan Gilmore: I can only discuss my experience with advances even but even the advance you get is broken up, in my case, into four different sections. They discuss a whole advance number but then you get a quarter of that when you sign your contract and you get a quarter of that when you turn in your final manuscript and then you get a quarter of that when your book is released and then you get a quarter of it six months after your release date.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Megan Gilmore: Even when you’re talking advance numbers, you pretty much have to be able to afford to buy all your groceries to develop those recipes. You have to really be self sustaining as far as financials go just because you’re not going to even be getting that full advance until a year or two later.
Bjork Ostrom: Right, because essentially the publisher is saying, we’ll give you an advance but it’s not like we’re going to write this large lump sum check at the beginning. They have maybe goals and different milestones that you need to hit along the way in order to move things forward.
Megan Gilmore: Yeah, I think that’s their way of keeping their authors accountable and yeah. Then royalty wise, you get, depending on, the advance you have to earn back so some people might not get their royalty check for a while because it might take them a while depending on how much their advance was to earn that advance back.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. One of the things I’m curious about, so is you have your advance, are you earning it back with the royalty amount that you have like is that what’s going against the advance?
Megan Gilmore: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, got it. Essentially, you’re chipping away at your advance. At some point hopefully, that tips over into you’ve paid it back and then it goes to actually collecting royalties on whatever it is that sells above and beyond that.
Megan Gilmore: Right, exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Side note, side story, my dad who’s also an artist, when he was, I think it was maybe a few years out of college or beyond that a little bit, he and his friend, designed these coffee mugs and like memorabilia for lutefisk. Do you know lutefisk, is that a thing or is that just Minnesota?
Megan Gilmore: I’m not familiar with that, no.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Lutefisk is I don’t even really, I wouldn’t be able to describe it very well. It’s like a very Scandinavian Minnesota type thing and it’s like a … It’s terrible if you ask me. It’s like a type of fish and so they did this … This is the biggest tangent I’ve ever gone on in a podcast but I’ll bring it back around, you’ll see it happen. What happened is so they designed these little coffee mugs and things like that and the campaign was lutefisk, just say no. It’s kind of like drugs, just say no or whatever that campaign was but it was about lutefisk because it was this weird Scandinavian dish.
Anyway, it was so interesting because growing up, I remember occasionally, he would get these, they weren’t very big but he would get these checks in the mail as recurring revenue like it was this royalty which I think is so interesting as that’s a potential for people that are doing cookbooks. As we were discussing before and before we pressed record, one of the things you said was like cookbooks aren’t … You hinted at this a little bit ago. Cookbooks aren’t necessarily the best way to build a business, purely based on revenue and passive income. Can you talk a little bit about what you mean by that and why it’s potentially still a good decision?
Megan Gilmore: Yeah. Yes. I would say given that you’re not getting your advance for potentially, you’re getting your advance potentially over a course of two years. Financially, depending on what your advance is, that might not be enough to pay your mortgage and pay for your groceries. I wouldn’t say get a cookbook deal and quit your day job but in terms of people who are bloggers, who are already making the passive income with their blog, the cookbook ends up being a really great thing just because it really increased my exposure.
People were finding my book in Barnes & Noble and they may have not heard of me otherwise. It was kind of like this form of free advertising where not only am I making royalty checks for my book but then I’m also bringing in new readers to my blog which also earns an income.
Bjork Ostrom: This idea that a book or cookbook in this case can just generally elevate your brand as opposed to being this one side off thing that you just offer to your readers and it’s additional revenue stream. It really is like a blanket thing that can be applied and it elevate the brand all around which I think it’s a really important takeaway and something that it doesn’t necessarily tie back to here’s why you create an income from cookbooks.
It does generally impact things and make things better. One of the things I’d love to talk about a little bit with the preorder stage of things or like the before publish stage of things is this, the fact that it was one of the most, or the most successful preorder campaign in the history of Ten Speed Press which is awesome. What is that …
Megan Gilmore: At that time, that was a year ago but …
Bjork Ostrom: What does that look like in terms of numbers if you’d be able to share what that is and then I’d love to talk a little bit about some of the intentional decisions you made in order to make that successful?
Megan Gilmore: Sure, I had known nothing about this until I was in the field myself. I think the average goal for most publisher is that you will sell 500 books as a preorder. I think that’s most people’s goal. You’ll see a lot of people who are selling books, they’ll give away 500 something small. That’s because their goals is to sell 500 books.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about what you mean with that, they’ll give away something small like 500 X, Y, Z …
Megan Gilmore: I’ve seen a spoon, some sort of spoon. Sometimes they’re a physical product. Sometimes it’s the first 500 people get a discount code or the first 500 people get some sort of special offer from another brand.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Some type of bonus that incentivizes people to do preorder as opposed to just wait until it’s published.
Megan Gilmore: Right because the preorder is just very important to publishers. I think it shows what they expect. It’s really important for making sure there’s enough copies printed by the time the release date really happens. I think they expected my book to sell 500 or less and so they had only ordered a print order of 500 copies. By the time my book came out, I think they had already gone to its third printing. I think what we ended up with was about 4,000 copies sold.
Bjork Ostrom: Wow, that’s incredible.
Megan Gilmore: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Which is awesome.
Megan Gilmore: Yeah, it was very surprising and I mean, everyone was just shocked.
Bjork Ostrom: Let’s dig into that a little bit because I’m guessing that there’s some things that you’re pretty intentional about doing and maybe things that worked really well that you didn’t expect to work well and just by chance, it was like this is awesome, this works. When you looked back to that, what are some of the things that you’re like this was a really good takeaway and maybe some things that you’ll apply to the second book that you’re doing now.
Megan Gilmore: I think you’re giving me a lot of credit because I don’t think a lot of it was intentional on my part. The only thing that I knew I wanted to do was some sort of preorder bonus which is pretty commonplace and so I knew I was going to develop a special like digital recipe pack. I developed seven exclusive recipes that you couldn’t find in the book and you couldn’t find on my blog ever.
Bjork Ostrom: How did you go about doing that, so was that the one thing you focused in on, you did these seven recipes that I’m guessing overlapped with the book but were only available via preorder, is that right?
Megan Gilmore: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: What did that look like? I’m guessing they’re digital so PDFs but how did you go about setting that up, distributing that, making sure that people got those? Was it sending out 4,000 individual emails, was there some type of automated process?
Megan Gilmore: That was one perk of working with my publisher was they’re very experienced in doing that so all I had to do was develop the recipes and take the photos. I sent everything to them, they made the ebook and they had a special form that would as soon as people entered the receipt number it would be like an auto download.
Bjork Ostrom: Great. They had that automated where they probably had it stored somewhere and then once people dropped in their receipt number, then that gave them access to the PDF or whatever?
Megan Gilmore: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: I’ve seen it before where there’s a book that I ordered for Lindsay as a gift and there was a similar kind of bonus thing. It was very much like a manual process but it still worked where I had the receipt, I forwarded that to somebody and then a couple of hours later, somebody emailed me back and said, here’s the free download or whatever it was. We’ve also done similar things before but we’ll set up like a separate email account that and you’d have to be careful about this because it’s automated but we’ll have am auto responder whenever somebody emails that and the auto responder has within that a download link to whatever it was that people needed. It removes that step or that process.
Megan Gilmore: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: You put this together, you have these incentives for people that do the preorder and then you just do a blog post about it, what are the other things that you do to raise awareness and to get 4,000 … That’s a lot of people, 4,000 people to purchase a preorder for this book that they’ll probably have to wait a while to get.
Megan Gilmore: Right. I think one thing that I did that was not commonplace was I started talking about my cookbook earlier than was even necessary. I think I announced it like a year before it was going to come out. Which is kind of just like almost unfair to readers, it’s like here’s this thing that you won’t see for a whole year. I think when you write a book, you’re writing about something that you’re super passionate about and that you hopefully love and I think it’s only natural that it comes up in regular conversation.
I did mention it on my blog. Sometimes, I will do these posts, these what I ate Wednesdays and so sometimes, it would be natural to say, I’m eating this salad dressing that’s in my cookbook, it’s my very favorite salad dressing in the whole world. I could drink it and I as soon as the book was available in the Amazon, I would start linking to it when I would mention it. I started linking to it even before Amazon had a cover on there.
I think it was like six months before and some people would buy it. I don’t even know if I would have bought a book that didn’t have the cover yet. Some people did. I think that was one thing that I did different, normally for preorder campaigns, they don’t start till four to six weeks before the book is released. I think I probably ended up getting some people who might not have even been visiting my blog six months later.
Bjork Ostrom: Was there something that you had to do in order to get your book to show up like six months before? Because I think that’s a really nice thing to be able to do is as you’re building up to it, because as you know you’re probably working on it a year plus before it comes out, so it’s nice to be able to … especially if there’s a link to that page. Was that something that you had to request or is that something that usually happens when a book is coming out? It’s just that it’s not like the official prelaunch campaign?
Megan Gilmore: Yeah, it is normal but I actually wasn’t even the person who discovered it was on Amazon. I think my mother did.
Bjork Ostrom: Nice, classic mom move.
Megan Gilmore: She was just like did you know that your book’s on Amazon already. I can’t believe it. It was just one of those happy surprises one day and I think I shared it on Facebook or something. That’s kind of how you just discover it one day and then I ended up sharing it. I would really only share that link without the cover when somebody would specifically ask. If they asked in a comment like hey, do you have a cookbook coming out then I would share it but I didn’t really start sharing the link heavily until at least the cover was attached to it.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure, which makes sense. One of the things that you’d said, as we’re kind of chatting a little bit about the podcast interview was as you were working with this agent, you said that you were lucky enough to find an amazing agent to walk you through the process. What were some of the things that the agent was really good at walking you through and for those that are looking to maybe connect with an agent, what are some of the personality traits or some of the questions they can ask them to make sure that they’re a good fit?
Megan Gilmore: I think you’d want to know who like what publishers they have relationships, then who they have worked with in the past, I think that’s important. As soon as I heard from this guy, I did a Google search on him just to make sure he was legit and even then, you’re still like I don’t know all the agents like he works for an agency and I wasn’t even familiar with the agency. I think doing a Google search is just like a safe bet.
Bjork Ostrom: Due diligence, a little bit of research …
Megan Gilmore: Yeah, exactly and then just for me, it was a gut feeling, I felt like he really understood, you could tell he had spent some time on my blog, you could tell that he had a really good idea of which publishers would be a good fit for me and which one wouldn’t. I really think it’s more of a gut feeling with that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, absolutely.
Megan Gilmore: I guess a really big thing is making sure that your agent doesn’t ask for money upfront. They don’t get paid till you get paid, that’s kind of the traditional way it works.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that I think is such a big deal and something that I wouldn’t assume takes too much time is doing that background research. Like people are actually knowing what it is that you do and things that you’re into and I know that when we get an mail from somebody that specifically highlights certain things, it’s like you have read the blog, you’re familiar, you know what’s going on as opposed to those blanket emails that you get that just appear to be copy and paste.
Megan Gilmore: Yes, my favorites are the Dear Sir/Maam.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. I get a lot of those too because I have a one of those names where it’s like Bjork is like, most people know Bjork as a girl. Sometimes, at the worst, it’s not Dear Sir/Madam. It’s just like Dear Maam or it will say like I’ll see a customer support back and forth email and it will say she and I’m like, I put my head down, softly weep to myself. Anyways, so let’s talk about you have these preorders. You get to the point where you’ve had 4,000 preorders and I’m sure you’re pretty excited about it. Tell me what’s like the day that it switches from the preorder point to this is open and the books are shipped out, what is that like?
Megan Gilmore: The week that your book comes out is really busy. I think one thing that goes kind of into the pre book space is that you’re kind of building relationships as you go. I had been blogging for I think off and on with my old blog and then my new blog since 2009 so I had made a lot of friends who are in the blogging space just naturally. Then I had also mentioned brands. I think by the time my book had come out, I didn’t do a lot of sponsored posts but I would discuss brands that I loved and just came across naturally. Some of those became a natural fit to help me promote the book as well.
The week of the book coming out, I had … anyone who I had a relationships blog wise promoting the book for me, they would write posts or do a review and then I also had some brands doing it and I actually, part of my preorder bonus, the other half, other than the seven recipes was I partnered with a company who I had loved for years called Physique 57. They’re a workout company that do barre workouts. They had just launched an online streaming workout system that I felt … I mean their workouts are amazing. They’ve completely changed my body and my life and I love them.
Bjork Ostrom: Is that B-A-R-R-E, barre, is that how you spell it?
Megan Gilmore: Yes. They had just launched this online streaming system and I reached out to them and I said, hey, wouldn’t it be awesome if you gave my readers who preordered like a free week of workouts. Then it’s kind of helping to promote your online workouts and then at the same time, my readers get this awesome extra perk. I think that probably also helped because their workouts are awesome and they’re kind of a pricey boutique type of workout. It was a really nice way for people to try it for free without paying for it.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. How do you have those conversations with people so let’s say that there’s a few bloggers that you know and you reach out to them. Is it simply asking them and saying as friends, would you be willing to post about … do a post, dedicated to this cookbook or do you say, hey, you can use a recipe from here in the photo. What does the exchange look like in terms of having those conversations to promote the book?
Megan Gilmore: I was lucky in the fact that I had had a few friends who already had cookbooks released that who are in the blogging space. I know I had I had already promoted their cookbooks so I had a feeling that they would probably help me out too in exchange. I did reach out to some people I had never met before who are kind of in a similar nice as I was who I thought our recipes would be a good fit and maybe we could help each other out. I rarely reach out to anybody just asking for a favor. I think that’s kind of a weird thing to do.
I do feel like when you have a book coming out, it’s like the one time that you force yourself to be bold with those kind of questions. Usually, I would try to keep an eye on people who you know how sometimes you read somebody’s blog and you just feel like you would be friend with them?
Bjork Ostrom: For sure.
Megan Gilmore: I just had a list of people in mind who I was like man, I want to be their friend so sometimes I would reach like four or six months before my book was coming out and say hi. If I knew they had something coming out, I would offer to help promote it and then hoping that they would exchange the favor then the time came.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s such a big part of it. This was a while ago but we talked to a friend of mine, John Corcoran about connecting with influencers and one of the things he talks about is like it’s not about connecting somebody and just asking them to do something for you like that’s not how it works. You have to connect with people and establish a relationship and to give a lot before you ever get to the point where you say hey, I have a book coming out can you publish that. I think it’s important for people to hear that now that think maybe in a year or two they would be at a point where maybe they would need to promote a cookbook or something like that, I think that’s a great takeaway.
Megan Gilmore: Yeah, definitely.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool.
Megan Gilmore: Yeah, that’s basically how I did it and the same kind of went for brands. Any brands that … Like I said, I didn’t do a lot of sponsored work for brands but any brands that seemed like a natural fit for me, we would kind of reach out and do things like that too.
Bjork Ostrom: I know it’s hard to say because you can’t exactly see the analytics or the metrics behind that stuff but what do you feel like was the most effectively use of your time during the promotions stage of things?
Megan Gilmore: Definitely reaching out to bloggers. I feel like that was by far everyone who I didn’t know they’d be like I heard about you on Oh She Glows or I heard about you from Inspiralized. I mean those are definitely huge … I feel like that’s a huge outreach.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. For sure. To connect with people, other influencers and then to have them speak to their audiences who maybe there would be a little bit of overlap but the reality is the vast majority of who they’re speaking to is a different audience than who you would connect with which I think is it’s a great way to cross pollinate in terms of connecting with other audiences and other people so it’s cool. Great.
Megan Gilmore: The publisher does some on your behalf as well. They would have part of the reason why it takes so long for books to come out in the first place is that many magazines have an eight month lead time so they need to have the cover for your book and the interview for your book eight months before your book even comes out. If it’s going to be featured the month that your book comes out, so my publisher did do things like I think they got me in Dr. Oz’s magazine and there would try to get interviews scheduled and stuff like that.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting, I don’t know a lot about this industry but I’m learning as we talk to people that are doing it, one of the things that is interesting to see how it shifts is more and more publishers aren’t necessarily the people that or the place where you get exposure from. It’s they, it seems like, more manage the process, maybe get you some exposure in certain areas but really it’s leveraging your connections and your audience in order to help build awareness around the book. Would you say that’s accurate or …
Megan Gilmore: Yes, I would absolutely say that’s accurate.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you feel like its 60/40, 90/10, like what is the burden that you feel like you have as the author as well as the promoter versus for the publisher?
Megan Gilmore: I would say, I’m sure the publisher feels like they have a lot of responsibility for it but I felt as an author, it felt like I had about 90% of it on me.
Bjork Ostrom: Then that’s seems like for the people that we talked with to be the general trend is that it’s one of the advantages for publisher working with an author or an established influencer is that given that they have their audience that then they will publish to, as opposed to years ago where it’s maybe somebody who’s really good at their craft but maybe doesn’t have necessarily a really strong following but the publisher then leverages connections or aisle placement in Barnes & Noble or things like that.
It’s interesting to see that shift. Related to that, I’m curious to know why go with a publisher and agent relationship as opposed to doing a book that would be self published. For instance, let’s just say that you were to make $10 per book and you were to self publish, potentially, even just from the preorders, you could make $40,000.
Megan Gilmore: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: What’s the decision process like for you in terms of deciding where to go and did any of that come into play as you’re looking to do you’re second book here?
Megan Gilmore: I did, I had briefly considered self publishing. For me, I really wanted a printed cookbook that people could order. I knew that the printing process during the self publishing route was going to be probably a lot more time consuming which I didn’t necessarily have at that time in my life. Then also I mean it really came down to when we were narrowing it down, I think we had four different offers from publishers and I went with the publisher who made the prettiest cookbooks. For me, I really wanted it to be beautiful and then they also have a huge reach.
Before my book came out, I think when the preorder started picking up, the UK bought the rights to my book before the book had even been released. My book came out at the same time in the US and also in the UK and Australia and so that kind of gave me exposure that I could have never really done self publishing just because I feel like shipping is pretty cost prohibitive when you start doing the self publishing route. Then since then we’ve also I believe sold the right to Spain and Italy, something like that, Germany. We’ve sold … It’s all over internationally and so I think that’s really helped bring exposure to the book and to the blog.
Bjork Ostrom: What does that look like, do they translate it then, as well? How does that work, do you know?
Megan Gilmore: They do, I actually just saw a peak at the Italian cover for my book and they actually completely redesigned it. It looks like the Italian flag now.
Bjork Ostrom: Interesting. What impact does that have for you in terms of does that all go into the general royalties bucket, do you know?
Megan Gilmore: It does kind of. It’s nice, you do get an extra advance when you sell a sub right like that. You get an extra advance, it’s not nearly as big as your initial advance but you’re also not doing any extra work so it’s kind of this nice bonus.
Bjork Ostrom: Is that something that you in some way shape or form pushed for or was it more of a pull from that market saying … or from the publisher saying, like hey, we think this would be something that would be really work here. We’re going to try and bring this in and we think you would be a good fit, or is somebody, your agent or your publisher pushing that to these other counties and saying we want to give this a shot and put this into these places to see if it works.
Megan Gilmore: As far as I know, it’s all in house publisher related. The UK version was purchased by my publishers under the umbrella of Penguin Random House and so there’s a Penguin Random House in the UK. I think it really helps that they have this relationship. I’m not even sure who asked for what but it was definitely all done within the big umbrella of my publisher.
Bjork Ostrom: You have the success with your first cookbook and it’s really a popular preorder campaign and you go through the process, you say hey, I’m going to do this again and that’s where you are right now. Can you tell me about what things that you’re doing the same that you did with that first round and what things you’re doing differently with the second round?
Megan Gilmore: Yeah. The second round mostly everything has been faster with the second round. Our negotiations were faster, I wrote my first book in six months and this book, I wrote in three months.
Bjork Ostrom: Can we pause there real quick and talk about what that’s like so when you say write, there’s usually with a book, it’s literally somebody writing but with a cookbook it’s a little bit different. What is the writing process for a cookbook look like.
Megan Gilmore: It’s a lot of cooking, lots and lots of cooking. You kind of in your proposal, you have to have the full list of recipes that you plan on being in the cookbook. You already have a strategy of what this cookbook is going to be about, what the theme of your recipe is going to be and a general list of what you hoped to accomplish and then you actually start getting into the nitty gritty of actually trying the recipes. I would say in the case of this last book, at least 40% of my recipes failed and I ended up having to do something else.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Megan Gilmore: I would say, most of the three months has been cooking and taste testing and getting your taste testers involved. I usually use my email list to get strangers to taste test my recipes for me.
Bjork Ostrom: They’ll make them and then test them …
Megan Gilmore: Yes, we would … This time, I did it over a period of eight weeks and every week, I would send them 10 recipes so it kind of kept me on track because I would have the school of finishing 10 recipes every week making sure they were in good enough shape for some stranger to try them. Yeah, then they would give me feedback and based on their feedback, I would either change something or cut the recipe altogether.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure, this is just because I’m interested in it so it’s really deep in but what is the process look like for managing all that content? Are you doing that in Microsoft Word or … is it physical notes that you’re taking? It’s so much content to try and …
Megan Gilmore: It’s so much content, you really trust your computer. I write almost all of my notes, I write all of my recipes on the notes app and on my Mac computer because it just has a really easy search function. Then once I … The recipe testing thing actually kept me really well on rack because I would write them all on my notes and I would change it there and then I would turn that into a Word document. Every week, I would have a document with 10 recipes and those would go out as a PDF to my recipe testers. I always have that, it was kind of this like nice, comforting … because I would have that file in my email in case just like anything crashed.
Bjork Ostrom: I was going to ask did you ever have nightmares about being on the last day and then waking up and your computer was stolen or something. It’s like, no …
Megan Gilmore: Absolutely, I still have those nightmares. I just finished my developmental edit yesterday and I was like what if something happens but I always have it on my computer and I have it on Dropbox and yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure. Anyways, we can come back out of that deep tangent that we were on but you’re talking about some of the things that you’re doing similar or some things that you’re changing in the second round. You were talking about one of the things that’s different, it’s a little bit shorter. What are some of the things that come to mind?
Megan Gilmore: We pushed for more photos in this book. That was one thing that I was really with the cookbook process and this even goes into the advanced aspect that we’re talking about earlier is your publisher sets a budget for photos. That also comes out of your royalties checks, just in case you’re wondering. We negotiated a higher photo budget this time around and so I was actually just in San Francisco on this photo shoot doing all the photos for that so this book will have almost double the number of photos that the first book did …
Bjork Ostrom: Why was that worth it to … Because that’s something, if I understand right, that you’re going to have come out of your royalties right? Why was that worth it for you to have more photos when that’s something that you’re going to have to pay for?
Megan Gilmore: It’s twofold. One is I just want to have a beautiful book and that’s where it goes into you don’t write cookbooks for money. You write them because you know you’re proud of it and it’s beautiful and it’s something that’s going to be there forever for you. Then also I do think from a marketing standpoint that a cookbook with a lot of photos sells better.
I know when I’m flipping through a book at Barnes & Noble and If I’m not familiar with the author, it better have some really enticing photos to make me want to cook those recipes. Even when I do know the author, I tend to not make recipes unless there’s a photo to show me what it looks like. I really pushed on this book to have my very favorite recipes in this book have to have a photo or else I’m afraid somebody’s going to miss it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s interesting to hear you talk about that just in terms of the cookbook side of things. I know that Lindsay when she talks about it, one of the things she always talks about is if or when she ever does a cookbook, she would want that to be essentially almost like a legacy thing. Like is my work in a physical form as opposed to just purely digital. I think that’s one of the other really cool benefits about a physical cookbook is that for a lot of us, we live in this digital world. Where like we have this conversation and it’s not like it goes on a cassette tape, it just lives on the internet or we publish these recipes but we look at them through our computer screen and there’s something really cool about that physical book.
One of the things I’m curious about is I’m guessing that there is this breakeven point or tipping point where somebody would … There would be some type of negotiation or relationship where somebody would get into the point where they’re doing it just strictly to create an income like it would be worth it. Do you have thoughts on when is that or what would have to happen in order to make that possible? Would it have to be a really big advance that somebody gets or would it have to be self publishing or would it have to be getting a really generous royalty, what does that look like or do you think that it is possible to get that point? I would assume it would be yes.
Megan Gilmore: Yeah. I know that there are definitely people who sell enough cookbooks that they are making quite an income from their books. I think I have heard of people who do the self publishing route really making a lot of money but I think then you’re relying only on the people you can reach as an individual so you have to have a pretty significant following to do that.
Bjork Ostrom: Inherently more risk as well like you could have 1,000 cookbooks in your garage …
Megan Gilmore: Yeah, you’re definitely risking the overhead for sure.
Bjork Ostrom: Right, there’s better ways to manage that inventory but that’s essentially you’re talking on the risk of like taking on inventory and paying for that and so that makes sense.
Megan Gilmore: Then I think the only way you would make a significant amount of money through an advance is again, if you already have a huge following and a proven track record. With my first book, my advance was significantly lower than my second book because they trusted that after the first book that I could sell a second cookbook.
Bjork Ostrom: Right, so you have that track record, you and your agent, I would guess, working with the same agent can go back to the same publisher or do you after that first proven cookbook, do you then take that and go to multiple different publishers again and say, here’s the success we had, negotiate to work with me.
Megan Gilmore: With my contract, my publisher had the first right to look at my next cookbook. I didn’t have to go with them but they were the ones who got first dibs I guess if they gave me a nice enough offer. Yeah, you could in theory switch publishers if you wanted to. I just happen to love my publisher already so it worked out well that way.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, which makes sense. Let’s say that somebody’s at the point where they maybe been building their site for a while, they have a decent following and they’re saying this is something that I think I may want to try to get into. I really like the idea of taking this first step into having a physical cookbook. I know that it’s not necessarily going to make me a millionaire. I might be able to make … create some income and justify the time that’s being spent on it, generally elevate my brand and they’re feeling like this is something they want to go and do. What would be the things that you’d say, make sure to consider these things before you step into this world of working on a cookbook?
Megan Gilmore: I would make sure that you’re really committed to enjoying the process. I would make sure you have a decent following because ultimately, it is going to be up to you to sell that book.
Bjork Ostrom: What does a decent following look like, do you think?
Megan Gilmore: I was actually looking at this when I was looking at my old proposal. I talked about this at Chopped Con last year in Kansas City. When I wrote my initial proposal, I had 22,000 Facebook fans which at that time, I thought was really awesome.
Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s what’s so interesting is I think there’s this weird dual reality of wherever we are, it always feels like this feels really good like we have a decent following.
Megan Gilmore: Totally.
Bjork Ostrom: Then at the same time, you can always see somebody else and be like, it would be awesome if you were here.
Megan Gilmore: Yeah, I’m still like that with my Instagram following now. My Facebook has grown just in comparison. I think I got my book deal in 2013 and I had like about 22,000 followers. Now, I have like 241,000. It’s seriously grown and maybe in part to the cookbook but yeah, and then you still see people who have triple that. You’re like I’m so behind.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure, which is it’s in some ways maybe a tiny way, a blessing of what we do is that there’s always this like way that you can prove and learn and implement new things. It’s also a curse for sure because it’s always like there’s the carrot on the stick. To go back to that original question, how do you know what a decent following is? Is that more of feeling like feeling out the territory a little bit and seeing what you could potentially get when you talk to an agent or is it saying compared to other sites and blogs, what does a decent following look like I guess?
Megan Gilmore: I think for me, it was, that’s kind of why I didn’t approach agents at first. I wanted to see like when does it get to a point where somebody notices me. I think had a little under a million visits a month at that point to my blog. I felt like my blog was doing well but that doesn’t necessarily mean like a lot of your visits could be random Google searches and they’re not necessarily fans.
Bjork Ostrom: Followers or fans.
Megan Gilmore: Right. That’s why I waited for somebody to reach out to me just because I didn’t know when I would be considered noticeable or worthy of a book deal but I do think you could kind of just look at what other people who are getting book deals have. Compare it … Really I feel like a lot of blogging is kind of seeing what other people are doing and deciding if that’s the way you want to go or not.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, to keep an eye on what’s happening and I appreciate you being open and sharing numbers from where you’re at. I think that people gauge even if it’s in a very lose way to say like okay, maybe at this point, it would actually make sense for me to move forward on something and to pursue this if that’s something that people want to do. I think that’s cool.
We’re coming to the end of the interview already, it goes by so fast. One of the things I always like to hear people talk about is if you could rewind and go back to when you were originally getting started with your site, other than giving it a different name when you were first getting started, what would be some of the other things, the advice that you’d give to yourself kind of in that early stages you were getting started.
Megan Gilmore: My god, I think the most embarrassing thing I did was I used so many emojis in my writing. I think in 2009, every blogger did it. Just like I don’t know what to say here and I’m not a very good writer so I’m going to throw in some emojis. I definitely wrote it as a journal that no one would read when started off. I think I would have started, I was one of those accidental entrepreneurs with my blog which I think a lot of bloggers fall into that category. I think I would have … I would advise my former self to be much more intentional about the posts I made.
Bjork Ostrom: Specific to that, what did you change like was it removing emojis which is something that’s hard for me to do because I’m a huge fan of emojis.
Megan Gilmore: I love emojis too but that’s the great thing about Instagram is it’s like so appropriate there. It’s actually interesting that the thing I think changed my blog overnight was these hate forums that would pop up on the internet. I used to treat my blog more as a journal so it would say like this is what I ate today. This is what my workout and here’s random thoughts of the TV shows I’m watching and don’t you love watching The Bachelor. Not that I don’t still kind of do that but I do it in a more …
Bjork Ostrom: I thought you meant watched The Bachelor. I thought you were speaking specifically to not that I don’t still watch The Bachelor.
Megan Gilmore: No, I do still watch The Bachelor.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, you were saying in general, not that you don’t still have some of those personality elements, is that what you’re saying …
Megan Gilmore: Yeah, I don’t think you want to strip a blog of your personality but what specifically happened was these hate forums were popping up and some of the blogs I was reading were getting crushed by these mean people online. My blog had popped up a couple of times on there and I was actually lucky they weren’t too mean about me. I think they made fun of my blog’s name but that was about it.
It made me realize that I think it was that wakeup call like strangers are reading your blog, you don’t know what you’re sharing and so it kind of made me focus more on the recipe aspects and to be more intentional about I’m going to develop recipes and that’s going to be the main focus of my blog. Then I’m going to share some personality but it’s no longer going to be my dear diary type of thing. That is probably if I could have started that sooner, who knows.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure. It’s interesting one of the things that it’s a little bit different I think from the stance that Lindsay and I have taken where one of the things we talk about and there’s maybe a balance to this but like potentially being like transparent in your personality could be a competitive advantage in that people connect with other people.
Megan Gilmore: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: I think it’s good and I know there’s other people that feel the same way where they have intentionally shifted away from that in order to lean more towards just the recipe side of things. Or if not just the recipes, maybe it’s more of fulfilling a certain need like focusing on your niche and saying I’m going to really focus in on this and try and communicate essential information to people that are trying to figure out a problem as opposed to injecting my personality. It’s interesting to kind of compare and contrast that. I think it’s different like I said, for each niche and it works in different ways but interesting to hear you talk about that. It’s such a bummer that those types of platforms or forums exist.
Megan Gilmore: I know.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s like who are these people.
Megan Gilmore: I mean I guess everyone needs to vent somewhere but …
Bjork Ostrom: It’s a reality …
Megan Gilmore: It is.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. That’s really good. I appreciate you coming on, Megan and before we wrap up though, I want to know where can people find you and follow along with that you’re doing and order your next cookbook, preorder it? Can we go, is there a cover on Amazon yet?
Megan Gilmore: No, we just shot the cover last week so it will be awhile but my blog is Detoxinista .com and all of my social media handles are Dexonista on Instagram and Facebook. Then my cookbook that’s currently available is called Everyday Detox and it’s on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, everywhere that books are sold.
Bjork Ostrom: Great. Do you have a title for the new one?
Megan Gilmore: The new one is called No Excuses Detox and it’s recipes that are 30 minutes or less and give you no reason to not eat healthy.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Megan, thanks so much for coming on and for sharing your story and I know that it’s something that a lot of people that listen to this podcast think about and are processing through so I know that it will help them get a little bit closer to clear decision on where to go specific to cookbooks and thanks in general just for sharing your story as well.
Megan Gilmore: Thanks for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, appreciate it. That’s a wrap for episode number 52. Appreciate you wherever you are listening to this podcast and appreciate you, Megan, for coming on the podcast and sharing the things that you learned and the successes that you had with doing your first cookbook. I know that people will find that really fascinating and encouraging and inspiring so thanks. That’s a wrap for this week’s episode, thanks so much as always for tuning in. Until next time, make it a great week. Thanks, guys.
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