415: How and Why To Self-Publish a Cookbook with Matt Briel from Lulu

Listen to this episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast using the player above or check it out on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

A photograph of two people cooking from a cookbook with a blue overlay and the title of Matt Briel's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'How and Why to Self-Publish a Cookbook."

This episode is sponsored by Clariti.

Welcome to episode 415 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Matt Briel from Lulu.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Kyleigh Sage. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

How and Why To Self-Publish a Cookbook

Have you ever dreamed of writing a cookbook? Are you intimidated by the process of finding a publisher? Or are you just curious why a food blogger might want to write a cookbook? If you answered yes to any of those questions, this podcast episode is for you!

Matt Briel is an entrepreneur and the Vice President of Marketing & Communications at Lulu.com, a print-on-demand, self-publishing, and distribution platform.

Bjork and Matt chat about the differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing, why you might want to consider self-publishing a cookbook, and how to be successful when self-publishing content. It’s a super informative episode that will give you a lot to think about when it comes to cookbooks!

A photograph of a woman reading a cookbook with a quote from Matt Briel's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast: "Having [a] book creates opportunities for credibility and authority."

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • More about Matt’s background and how he came to be interested in publishing.
  • What marketing looks like for Lulu and why they prioritize helping creators sell more books.
  • The differences between print-on-demand and offset printing in the publishing world.
  • Why print-on-demand is a more ecologically friendly option.
  • What the print-on-demand process looks like from start to finish for a cookbook.
  • What it takes to successfully self-publish a cookbook, and who you need on your team.
  • What a success story looks like for creators who self-published their cookbooks.
  • How self-publishing a cookbook can help you diversify your income streams.
  • The non-financial benefits of publishing a cookbook.
  • What to do if you’re curious to learn more about self-publishing a cookbook.


About This Week’s Sponsor

We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our sister site, Clariti!

With Clariti, you can easily organize your blog content for maximum growth. Create campaigns to add alt text to your posts, fix broken images, remove any broken links, and more, all within the Clariti app.

Sign up for Clariti today to receive:

  • Access to their limited-time $45 Forever pricing
  • 50% off your first month
  • Optimization ideas for your site content
  • An invitation to join their exclusive Slack community
  • And more!

You can learn more and sign up here.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

A blue graphic with the Food Blogger Pro logo that reads "Join the Community!"

Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Clariti. C-L-A-R-I-T-I. Here’s a question: are you manually keeping track of your blog posts on a spreadsheet or project management tool? Maybe it’s like Airtable or Asana, or maybe you’re not even keeping track of anything at all. When it comes to optimizing and organizing your content, how do you know what to change? And how do you know what you’re doing is actually moving the needle?

With Clariti, all of that stuff is easier. It’s easier to keep track of things. It’s easier to know if the changes you’re making are having an impact … And that’s why we built it. We realized that we were using spreadsheets and cobbling together a system, and we wanted to create something that did that for you.

Clariti brings together WordPress data, Google data, like Google Search Console, and Google Analytics. And it brings all of that information into one place to allow you to make decisions, and also inform you about the decisions that you’ve made and if they’re having an impact.

I could talk on and on about the features, but the best way to understand it is to get in and to work with the tool yourself. And the good news is Clariti’s offering 50% off of your first month if you sign up. And you can do that by going to clariti.com/food. Again, that’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food to check it out. Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this episode.

Emily Walker: This is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team, and you’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. This week on the podcast, Bjork is interviewing Matt Briel from Lulu. Matt is the vice president of marketing and communications at Lulu, which is a print on demand, self-publishing, and distribution platform.

In this interview, Bjork and Matt chat about the differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing, or print on demand, and why you might want to consider self-publishing a cookbook.

Matt talks a lot about what it takes to be successful when self-publishing a cookbook: hiring a team, promoting your book, and other things you’ll want to consider. If you’ve ever dreamed about self-publishing your own cookbook, or publishing your cookbook any other route, this is a super-informative listen, and we know you’ll get a lot out of it.

Just a quick reminder here: that next week’s podcast episode will be coming out on July 5th, which is a Wednesday, even though we normally release episodes on Tuesday. Because of the 4th of July holiday here in the US, we will be releasing the episode a day late. So keep an eye out for that wonderful episode next Wednesday in your podcast feeds.

And with that, I’ll let Bjork take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Matt, welcome to the podcast.

Matt Briel: Thanks. Good to be here. I appreciate it, Bjork.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, we’re going to start by … I’m actually going to pull a little line here in about you, which I really appreciated. It says, “I’m a combination of equal parts loud music, Disney culture, tattoos, and book nerds.” Which it feels like if you’re playing a game of Build a Person, those would be the foremost random cards that you could pull … but all really awesome.

So the two that I’m specifically interested in: loud music. When you say “loud music,” in what category? What is that?

Matt Briel: Oh, gosh. Okay. You’re about to lose most of your listeners right now.

No, I grew up on a lot of punk rock and metal. Then as I got older, you would think that that would’ve softened, but it actually leaned even harder into a lot of stuff that’s Borg labeled; what they would call hardcore and deathcore. But a lot of it’s also kind of silly. But yeah, the loud music refers to that.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. Loud music, both in the general feel of it, but also probably the volume at which you listen.

Matt Briel: Yes, absolutely. Both ways.

Bjork Ostrom: But then, Disney culture coming right after that. Are you a Disney fanatic?

Matt Briel: I am absolutely a Disney fanatic. Yes. I was born and raised in Florida, so around Disney, obviously. Then in college, I worked at Disney for a while, and that solidified my love of Disney and Disney culture and just …

I think back then I didn’t realize it, but I really think latched onto a lot of the culture that was their employment and hiring practices, and the way they treated their employees. And I think maybe that’s what resonated with me beyond just the whole lore of Disney.

But I always gravitated towards Walt Disney as well, and just some of the stuff that he did. Then later in life, especially as I could afford it, I’d start going back all the time. And especially now that I don’t live in Florida anymore, I go even more so.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s awesome.

Matt Briel: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: My really good friend has a podcast with, I think it’s three other dads, maybe two other dads in his neighborhood called Disney World Is Awesome.

Matt Briel: Oh, wow.

Bjork Ostrom: They just get together once a week and they’re like, “Let’s talk about the three best rides to go on with kids.” And they’ll all go around and debate. Or they’re like, “Let’s do a virtual walkthrough of EPCOT,” or something like that. All of these different-

Matt Briel: Yeah, I love that stuff.

Bjork Ostrom: … kind of nostalgia, trying to access the magic of Disney. So a little shout out to the Disney World Is Awesome Podcast.

Matt Briel: I’ll have to find that. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: But also have a huge expertise in sales and marketing. You’ve been working in that world a really long time. And most recently, and what we’re going to be talking about today, in the world of self-publishing books.

Matt Briel: That’s right.

Bjork Ostrom: You work for Lulu, which is a company that helps people do that. How did that come about? How did you get into the world of self-publishing, as we use that as a transition into talking about how digital publishers can publish physical books?

Matt Briel: I’d like to say it was pure luck, but it wasn’t. I went to school; my degree was in English and creative writing; and I always thought I’d work for a publisher. And after college, I realized that was not the path for me; at least not initially, because they didn’t pay very well. And there was a lot of red tape … and not enough loud music, honestly.

But later in life, about seven years ago, my wife was working for Lulu at the time, in a completely different department. I was looking to transition away from where I was at, and they just happened to be hiring for a growth hacker in marketing. I interviewed and got the job, and never looked back since.

Always had an affinity for books and reading and writing. And again, early on in college, I always thought I would work for a publisher. I just came full circle in a stroke of either luck, or just because I have an awesome wife … one way or the other.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, probably both.

Matt Briel: Yep.

Bjork Ostrom: So my guess is in that position of growth hacker marketer, the intent is Lulu’s bringing you on to think strategically about growing and building the business for Lulu.

But a piece of that also, I would imagine, with a company like yours, any success that you find in getting more books sold is also success for the creator that you’re working with. Their success is your success.

How much of what you’re doing is thinking about how do you sell more books? Because then you benefit from that, Lulu benefits from that, versus growth in general as a marketing engine for Lulu?

Matt Briel: Yeah, you’re 100% right. In fact, you already know more at this point than I did when I first came to Lulu. About what we do and what my job would be.

But absolutely, the business model that Lulu has, and some other self-publishers, is that we actually only make money when books are sold: because we don’t charge any fees upfront or anything like that. So it’s in our best interest to help our customers sell more books.

I’d say a good 70 to 80% of my time and my marketing team’s time is spent on finding ways to help our users sell more books. Whether that’s exploring new technology that we then take to our development team and say, “Hey, can we build this in? Or can we create this?” Or whether that’s just understanding what the latest trends in marketing and sales are. That is the focus of most of the time that we spend on what we do, is educating and helping users sell more books.

The other 30 to 40% of our time is really spent on some of the normal marketing activities around any brand or business, whether it’s PR-related things or stuff like that. But you’re right: the bulk of it is really helping people sell more books.

Bjork Ostrom: Can we talk about the mechanics of what it would look like? Let’s just use the cookbook publishing world as an example.

Matt Briel: Sure.

Bjork Ostrom: I think people have generally a good idea of what it looks like if you’re going the traditional publishing route, where you get an advance. And that money is this upfront payment that you have to pay back over time.

If the book does well, eventually you’ll get into a point where you’ll collect royalties, or you’ll collect an additional percentage … Fingers crossed for anybody who’s not watching. Point being, a lot of times that doesn’t happen, depending on what the deal is. So the advance really is what you’re getting, unless it sells really well.

The other world is self-publishing: where you’re not getting an advance, but everything that you do sell is, or potentially is, just profit in your pocket.

Can you talk about maybe some of the mechanics of what it looks like to sell a self-published book? And my understanding it would be print on demand. Is that always true? Or is that specifically what Lulu’s doing?

Matt Briel: It’s not always true. These days, you will find that more and more self-publishers utilize print on demand versus the other way, which is offset printing. It’s just more cost-effective for both parties involved in the long term.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about the difference between those two?

Matt Briel: Sure. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: For those who aren’t familiar?

Matt Briel: And it’s much better for the environment. You have print on demand and you have offset printing.

Offset printing is what most books in bookstores are using to print. It’s the process of printing 5,000 copies of one book at one time. So the machines, you don’t have to switch out rolls of paper or anything quite as frequently, and it’s a little more cost-effective to do it that way.

Most of the inexpensive printers that are located in China, that’s offset printing. You can go and get 5,000 copies of a pretty standard book printed in China for relatively cheaply, then shipped back over here. And then you figure out how to fulfill them, to ship them out for every order that comes in.

Versus print on demand, which utilizes pretty much the same kind of printers, although more on the digital end: and a lot more, I think, innovative these days. And that digital printers that are set up for print on demand, they’re able to print one book at a time. I mean one specific book, one after the other, different types of books.

So you could load up on one machine, 57 different books and print one copy of each of those 57 books in a single roll of paper within minutes of a time. So it’s much more ecologically friendly, and it’s much better for somebody who is maybe only selling 10 copies a day of their book, or two copies a day, or even 500 copies a day. It’s just a little bit more economic and ecologically friendly.

Offset printing requires a large upfront investment as well, as you can imagine. So if you’re going to order a couple thousand copies of your book upfront and have them offset printed to save some money, you still have to pay all that upfront. Then they’ll get printed and shipped over, usually from China or India. And then you have to store them and then ship them out. Whereas with print on demand, there’s no upfront fees.

Again, as a book sells, it’s then printed and shipped, and it’s paid for at that time. It also helps to offset the costs upfront for anybody who’s looking to get into it in a low-cost way.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that makes sense. You talked about it being ecologically friendly. Is the reason that’s true because you’re not potentially having a bunch of inventory that doesn’t sell? Or is it more of the shipping that’s happening when you purchase overseas? It has to be shipped over and everything that goes into that?

Matt Briel: It’s both. I was going to go into that when I went back to your original question of the mechanics of the two. But that’s a great, great question. And it’s both.

Ecologically friendly: we’re referring to, again, let’s say a traditional publisher, Simon & Schuster, wants to do your cookbook. The initial run is probably going to be something like 10,000 copies. They’ll stock a bunch of Barnes & Noble with it and other stores. And so their offset print facilities in China will print the 10,000 copies, ship them over to the States and anywhere else that they’re going to be sold.

And then what happens is if those books don’t sell, there’s a number of different things that could happen. But almost always, it results in waste. There are some recycling possibilities. But these days, what they do with pulping books and recycling books really isn’t that much more friendly for the environment.

Then on top of that, yes, when you talk about shipping items to the United States from other countries, there’s the obvious carbon footprint there of … Again, you’re loading them into containers. They’re put on ships that are crossing the ocean, and all of the trucks and everything else to deliver those books from the different ports to the stores.

Again, with print on demand, you’re eliminating a lot of that: but especially the upfront waste that can happen, too.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Matt Briel: That’s a great question.

Bjork Ostrom: And in the case of let’s say you’re printing on demand: can you talk through what that looks like start to finish?

Matt Briel: Yep. Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: So somebody comes on and they say, “I want to buy one of these books. Here’s my address, here’s my credit card.” What happens on the back end?

Matt Briel: Absolutely. In the situation where somebody is selling their book directly from their website, which is what we always push; then you go on and you buy, let’s say, my cookbook from my website.

What happens if they’re using us, what’ll happen is because of the direct integration, you’ll click Buy, you’ll put in your credit card info right there, make the purchase. That order data is transmitted behind the scenes from my website to Lulu’s print facility. That book will be printed and shipped directly to you. And most of it happens seamlessly behind the scenes.

And what has happened on the front side, if I’m the creator of that cookbook, is I’ve created that book and I’ve loaded my files into Lulu. And inside of my Lulu user interface, if I’m using Shopify, I’ve connected to my Shopify store. Or if I’m WooCommerce for WordPress or any of those other things. So it’s actually pretty easy and seamless. Once the connection is made, that data’s just transmitted automatically for every transaction.

The really cool thing is that if I’m the seller of that book, if it’s my cookbook that you just bought, I’m collecting all that money up front immediately. Then when the book is printed and shipped from Lulu, I just pay whatever the small manufacturing shipping cost is. That’s different than any other retail model, so that’s really cool, too.

Bjork Ostrom: Point being, the transaction happens. Lulu takes a significant cut because it has to, because of the book being printed. That’s the most expensive part. But then you as the creator, get your percentage of that. In the case of Lulu, is it in a Lulu account that then you can transfer into your bank account? Or does it directly go into your bank account? How does that work?

Matt Briel: No, that’s the beauty of it. What you’re describing is a mix of selling direct and the old way of … If you’re self-publishing, and a lot of times maybe you did it through Amazon or one of the others, they take a huge cut. If you’re selling direct from Lulu, we’re not actually taking a huge cut.

So if you set the retail price of your cookbook at, let’s say, 25.99, and it costs us, let’s say, $8.50 to print it, that’s what you’re getting charged. So you’re keeping every last bit of that.

Whereas in a different model; if you’re using Amazon and you’re selling through Amazon; they’re going to take the manufacturing cost. But then they’re also going to take a percentage of the royalties, like you said.

Bjork Ostrom: Marketplace cost for-

Matt Briel: That’s right.

Then when it comes to the actual receiving the funds, because you’re the one facilitating the transaction on your website using Shopify or whatever it is you’re using, it’s actually super easy. You have that money immediately. You’re not waiting for it from Lulu. In fact, you just have a payment on file with Lulu, so you might keep a credit card on file with Lulu.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. It’s the other way around.

Matt Briel: That’s right.

Bjork Ostrom: You get all the money, and then it … that makes sense what you’re saying.

Matt Briel: 100% the other way around. That’s the way it should be, to be honest with you.

Bjork Ostrom: So you sell a book for $25, somebody buys it. There’s a, whatever, 3% credit card fee that goes into it, like there would be with any other transaction.

Matt Briel: That’s right.

Bjork Ostrom: And then it triggers the process on Lulu’s side to print the book.

Matt Briel: That’s right.

Bjork Ostrom: And then you have some automatic payment set up to say, “Okay, you printed this book, shipped it. We’re going to cover the cost of the printing and the shipping.”

But in my mind, one of the things that exists is, “Oh, usually if you’re self-publishing or just in general, if you’re selling a book or cookbook, it’s single-digit dollars that you’re getting.” But you’re saying that doesn’t always have to be the case.

My guess is one of the biggest variables is what type of book you’re publishing. Is it every page color and hardcover book? That’s the biggest equation that you’re working with from a cost perspective?

Matt Briel: That’s right, 100%. With taking on the process of selling direct, you also take on a little bit of the responsibility to understand what type of book you’re going to create.

If you create top-of-the-line 8–1/2 by 11, full premium color on the inside; full, beautiful, photographic color, everything; yes, the cost to manufacture that book is going to be a little bit more. And you may have to sell it for more.

Quite frankly, I was at Barnes & Noble the other day. Really high-end cookbooks that are full color, they’re not cheap. But they’re also not cheap to produce. So something like that, let’s say 150 to 200 pages, you’re probably going to sell that for between 30 and $40. And it’s probably going to cost you about a third of that to produce it.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Matt Briel: But you’re keeping all of the rest of that. Whereas you go, again, with anybody else, you probably are bringing home single-digit dollar numbers.

I think the most important thing here is that understanding with what technology exists now versus three years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago, you are able to obviously keep a lot more of your profit and handle all of that stuff up front. And tools like Shopify or some of the others on the front end, you can spin up a website in a day that looks beautiful.

And Shopify’s tools, they’re going to handle all of the processing fees for the credit cards, the taxes, all of that stuff. It’s become really easy to be your own store.

So for people who have built up a blog following, or a lot of traffic or anything like that, you’ve got that audience already. And so the last step there in your journey really is to just sell the products directly, instead of letting the retailer take a cut.

The other side to that, though, the real benefit, I think, and what people really need to start paying attention to, is that when you do something like that, when you take that on, you are keeping all of the customer data. That’s something new that nobody really gives you. When you sell through a third party retailer, you don’t get any of that. You have no idea who bought your book, which means you also can’t really remarket to them.

Even if you have 100,000 followers and you say, “Hey, my cookbook’s coming out tomorrow. Please, everybody go buy it. I’ll put a link up,” or whatever that might be; and you send them to a third-party retailer, you really have no idea how many of them actually bought it, or who bought it. So when you come out with the next version or some other product or an online course about how to make the perfect dumpling or something, you don’t have that built-in database. And that’s the real benefit.

So if you’re interested in building a long-term following and a long-term business from your content, it’s imperative that you start collecting data as soon as possible, if you’re not already.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. Love that. And it’s interesting, in the world of publishing; you would know this better than I would; but it seems like there’s really been a shift where 15 years ago, 20 years ago, what would’ve happened is you would’ve been relying on the power behind the marketing engine with a publishing house. Where; and I think this probably still exists; they’re going to be able to get you in front of people in certain ways and have connections. And that’s all still very real.

But what also is true, and has shifted, is that individuals now have an immense amount of power to be marketers. They have a following on social, they have an email list, they have obviously a blog. And I’ve heard; we haven’t experienced it, because we haven’t gotten through the process ourselves; but I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the expectation in their relationship with publishing a book was that they are going to be the ones that are promoting it, marketing it, selling it. They take on the role of not only creator of a cookbook, but also then marketer of that cookbook to their audience, which makes sense. You have an audience, you have a following; it’s the best place to go for that.

But I can see how, in certain situations, it would make sense to say, “You know what? I’m going to go through the process of doing this on my own, and place the bet that this is going to do well, and that I’m going to capture more of that.”

You talk about going into Barnes & Noble and looking at one of those hardcover books, it’s maybe 30, $40. Are you able to produce a similar type of product on demand? Or are there limitations in terms of the type of product that you can get in on demand versus printing 5,000 copies?

Matt Briel: Yeah, no, that’s great. And what you said leading up to that question was also pretty spot on. I mean, the differences between what you might have got 15 years ago being traditionally published and now, there’s a huge delta there. In fact, most traditional publishers these days don’t want to take anybody on unless they have a massive following already.

The marketing budgets for traditional publishers is tiny these days. They don’t want to do any of that. So you’re right. I mean, they’re looking for people who have a following already, because that’s the easiest place to start.

So when you talk about traditional versus self-publishing and the quality of the books, it’s actually in many cases better on the self-publishing side, when you’re using digital print on demand, because of how advanced the technology has gotten. You can imagine if I say “offset printing press,” exactly what you’re thinking about in your head is very similar to what’s going on.

So when you think about digital printing presses or digital printing machines and book creation machines, also what you’re thinking about is pretty much what it looks like. All the innovation is happening there, and the quality happens there.

We have examples of people who’ve created amazing, beautiful cookbooks, photo books, art books, using all the premium-color presets that we have. You could set that next to a book on a bookshelf in any bookstore, and you would not be able to tell the difference. In some cases, the self-published one that was print on demand might look better, actually.

That quality component has come a really long way. Which honestly, I think has been a big part of what’s helped self-publishing take advantage of the shift that’s been happening that you just talked about.

If the quality hadn’t caught up to some of the other technology that’s made it easier to self-publish, then we still wouldn’t be experiencing what we’re doing, what we’re seeing right now. So the quality keeping pace with the technology on the other side of publishing, I think is what’s made for that perfect storm.

The quality is no longer a question. Any self-publisher that can’t show you an example of a quality book is definitely one that you don’t want to go with.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah, yeah.

Matt Briel: But amazing, beautiful books. Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: And I think probably what exists in my mind is one of the realities of what you have to deal with in self-publishing is, there is no gatekeeper. And that’s why it’s wonderful. Anybody can self-publish a cookbook, whereas in the traditional publishing world, there are lots of gatekeepers.

Matt Briel: That’s right.

Bjork Ostrom: But what ends up happening then is there’s a natural selection process for who can eventually do a traditional publishing. And they probably have graphic design departments and support and all these different filters that something has to pass through before it gets published traditionally.

With self-publishing, what you’re saying and what we’re talking about, is the actual product: the color quality, how do the pages look, how’s it put together? But it’s like you could come in and use clip art from the ’90s and technically still self-publish something. There’s nobody that’s going to stop you from doing that.

So then what has to happen is if you want something that is to the standard of traditional publishing, you have to have the product that you’re creating, the digital pieces of that that eventually get printed: the design, the writing, the quality of the pictures. All of that stuff has to be up to a certain standard.

Matt Briel: That’s right.

Bjork Ostrom: What do you see in the finished products that are at that traditional publishing level, but are actually self-published? Are you able to identify any commonalities or themes for people who get an end product that is just excellent? What are they doing to get to that level?

Matt Briel: Yeah, the commonality there is that they paid somebody to help them, plain and simple.

Self-publishing is what it says. Literally, like you said, there’s no gatekeeper. So you can step up to the plate and publish a cookbook, or any other book for that matter, in any way that you want. You can use Microsoft Paint from 10 years ago and put out something that is arguably subpar. If that’s your brand and you’re comfortable doing that, you can do that.

The really high-quality stuff that we see coming through right now, they are utilizing freelance help; or they have friends that are designers or editors. Or the point is they’re getting help. So the files, by the time they’re getting uploaded into Lulu, the cover file was done usually in a pretty top-notch program like Adobe or Affinity or our cover tool.

We just released a new version. It’s actually pretty advanced. You can create a really nice cover on Lulu now, which is great: because up until about a year ago, our cover tool was pretty garbage as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Matt Briel: But yeah, the commonality is you get some help. You don’t go it alone, even though it is self-publishing. And it’s not as expensive as you would think these days. There’s a lot of great designers and editors and layout people who are on Fiverr, 99designs.

You probably know somebody and maybe you don’t even realize it, and it gives you another opportunity to connect with other creators in the process. But again, you could design or have designed and composed a really nice book, whether it’s a cookbook or not, for less than 700, $500. It’s not hard, but I would recommend it.

That is the common theme to any book you see coming through a self-publishing platform that looks like it was produced by Simon & Schuster.

Bjork Ostrom: Is that you are working with somebody who’s really good at what they do.

Matt Briel: That’s right.

Bjork Ostrom: You can probably find those people, like you said, in those marketplaces. My guess is also in; as is often the case with freelancers, contractors, anybody that you’re working with; as you get more of that better skill level, better history, the price also probably goes up.

Somebody with a lot of history who’s had repeated success with it, definitely can find those people for 250 bucks on … Not Upwork; what is it now? Elance? No. Upwork.

Matt Briel: I don’t know what the new name is.

Bjork Ostrom: I think it’s Upwork. But point being; and I think this is a good takeaway; you’re building a team. Whereas if you go the traditional publishing route, they probably have those people, they have those recommendations, but they’re maybe expensive. So that’s either coming out of your advance, or built in in a way where you’re not getting paid as much because it’s a part of the budget.

So I think what’s great about it is for those who are hungry and ambitious and are used to working with a team, or have some specific skills and abilities in a certain area, it’s a way to do that same behavior that you’re doing online, but creating a physical product. And instead of somebody doing a web design, they’re doing book design; and somebody doing blog copy, they’re doing book copy.

And so you can see for people in the digital publishing space, I can imagine a lot of that crossing over in terms of skills and abilities.

Matt Briel: There’s not a lot of difference, either, though, these days. Again, let’s say, like you just alluded to, if you’re just a graphic designer by trade and you’re used to doing mostly web design or working on some other types of graphics for other clients, designing a book cover is not much different than a homepage on a website these days. You’re literally working with certain templates and size parameters. And so these days you’re not seeing that it’s that far of a stretch, and there’s a lot more designers that are adding that to their services offered. It is easier to find it.

And you’re right, the level of expertise and quality will probably change at each price point break. But we’ve definitely, on a pretty regular basis, seeing quite a few coming through where it did not cost an arm and a leg at all. So you’re right there.

Bjork Ostrom: What are the book-specific experts that you should have on your team? Because I’ve never published a book; I wouldn’t know. But I would imagine similar to running a website or building an Instagram following, once you really understand the industry, there’s a lot of nuanced insights or advice or tips that you can have. Even thinking of, how do you best structure table of contents? What does the flow of a book look like?

Are there experts or advisors that you could hire? In traditional publishing they’d maybe have that. They’d say, “Here are the steps.” Is there somebody who would do that in the self-publishing world that can come alongside you and help fill those different positions? Or the unique positions that maybe exist that we don’t think about?

Matt Briel: Yes, absolutely. Again, another great question and point is that, again, if you go with a traditional publisher, if you’re lucky enough, they do have a team that does a lot of that. If you’re self-publishing and you want to do it right, you do need to find some of that guidance and some of that help.

There are people out there that specifically operate in the world of book layout and book design. That’s all they do, so that stuff is just second nature to them. Table of contents, where do the copyright page go? Metadata, all those things. We actually have templates and things like that on our site for all that as well.

Again, if you’re overly ambitious and you really want to go at this yourself and give it a shot, you can do it. That’s the beauty of a lot of this, too: is that for so long, the gatekeepers did a really good job of not only gatekeeping, but also making people think that this was just too hard to do on your own. And it really isn’t.

I promise you: if somebody like me could figure it out, anybody in your audience could figure this out. It’s not complicated, but there are people that specialize in it. They are easy to find. You won’t have trouble finding somebody to help you with that.

And some of this stuff sounds a little daunting, like, “Oh, table of contents and metadata; what is he talking about?” Those are all things that are oftentimes already packaged in a template you’ll find for free online, either with us or somewhere else. But you can find book layout and other people who specialize in those types of things.

Again, they’re all pretty good at what they do. We’ve not really seen anything come through where somebody utilized freelance help in the way of editing and layout and design. And it just threw us like, “Whoa, what in the hell are they …?” Most of the ones that we’ve seen, they’re really well done.

And so I think that if somebody goes out there and says, “Yeah, I specialize in this,” it’s pretty safe to say that they do. And honestly, you would know pretty quickly if they didn’t. Because what you would get back, even you would understand, “This is not a table of contents. This is not what a glossary or resources or footnotes look like. So I’m going to hard pass on this one.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure.

Matt Briel: But yeah, there are people that specialize in that.

Bjork Ostrom: How about some success stories that you’ve had? I’m guessing that you’ve had a lot of exposure to different publishers; a lot of exposure, I would guess, even to people who are publishing cookbooks.

Can you talk about some of the people who have found success? And maybe why you think they did find success, whether sharing specifically who they are or not? Just in general, I think it’s helpful to hear stories that people have had around successful self-publishing.

Matt Briel: Yeah, I’m going to start from the backside of that question, because I think that’s important to define the success stories: is why they found success. We’ve talked a lot so far, we’ve crammed a lot in so far about publishing, traditional versus self-publishing, and some of those things.

I think what’s important to understand is that especially with this new wave of creators that have come on in the last three years or so, as people really start to understand just how fulfilling this can be to make a go of this as a career or whatever that might be, treating it like a business is something different than just doing it as a hobby.

When you flip that switch and you have that business mindset and you say, “Okay, I want to productize what I do,” or, “I want to monetize my content,” or, “I want to create a book for whatever purpose that might be,” or any other product, for that matter; it doesn’t necessarily have to be a book.

But the point is, is when you make that decision to turn it into a business, some of these things that we’ve just talked about, they become arbitrary. They fall away. So whether or not some of the old tried and true romantic notions about publishing still remain, it’s not important when you’re treating it like a business. You could treat self-publishing as merely a manufacturing goalpost. That’s it, right?

If I have, again, a food blog or website or some other business that’s parallel to food, for that matter, and I’ve worked hard to build an audience and I’m ready to monetize or productize what I do because I have an audience that’s ready for it as well, I’m merely looking for a manufacturer or a company, a business that can make this product for me.

So really what you’re looking at are the things that we most recently touched on, which is quality and delivery: getting it into market. And those are the things that matter. So looking at how fast I can get my product into market, and at the quality that people should come to expect from me as a creator and as a brand.

So some of that other stuff, really at the end of the day, becomes a little bit arbitrary.

Bjork Ostrom: When you say “the other stuff,” what do you mean?

Matt Briel: Yeah, so when we talk about things like advances or having a team at your disposal and working with a traditional publisher, things like that, that’s less of a concern when you’re approaching your product that’s based on the content that you’ve created. You really want to stay in control of all of that; you don’t want to give that control to anybody else.

Similar to anybody else that’s just started a business, whether that’s productized or whether it’s something that’s not necessarily monetized just yet, you don’t want to give any of that control over.

So in self-publishing, you keep total control over that. You decide who your team is going to be, you’re going to find a freelance designer, if you’re not a designer. Or if you don’t want to go at it yourself, you’re going to find an editor. You’re going to find the right person to help you lay it out.

But at the end of the day, you’re going to make the final decision about how that book looks, what paper weight it’s on, what stores you’ll sell it at, and how it’ll look on your site when you deliver it to market and all of those things.

Whereas with a traditional publisher, you’re really relegating yourself to the world of publishing. You’re saying, “Okay, I’m just a author. I’m going to give this book to Simon & Schuster now, and they’re going to do with it whatever they do with it. I’m just the author of that book. I don’t actually own it. It’s not my business. It’s their business now.”

And oftentimes what’ll happen is what goes to market is not the cover that you chose. It might not even be the title you chose. In fact, they might cut out 20% of the recipes you had in there. But you don’t have any control over that anymore; you lost that.

Bjork Ostrom: Well, they can also decide to stop publishing it, right?

Matt Briel: That’s right, 100%. Again, in that scenario, you’re an author; you’re not a creator or a business owner. In this scenario, you’re a business owner, you’re a creator; this is yours. Again, some of those other things, they’re not as important anymore because you’re not doing this to be an author and be published by a big traditional publishing company. You’re doing this because it’s what you want to do.

And if it’s a long-term game, the things that you really should focus on are what we’re about to talk about: which again, are quality, money, delivery to market, logistics, those kind of things.

So when we see these success stories, and I’ve got a few here for sure, those are the things that they have focused on. They worked to build an audience around what they were doing. All of the ones, or the few that I’m going to talk about here, they were bloggers; still are. And again, got to a point where they realized, “It’s time to monetize or productize what I do, I have an audience that’s asking for it, and I’m going to make a go of it.”

These three specifically, they went the route of selling direct. They all used Lulu, but only as a manufacturer. When one of their customers gets one of their books, it comes from them, so we white label it. It doesn’t come from Lulu, it comes from them. And they’ve all spent time to get a really nice finished product.

Bjork Ostrom: What you mean, “it comes from them,” just real quick: even on the return address, it says whatever the name of the brand is.

Matt Briel: Yeah, that’s right. One of the first ones I was going to talk about real briefly, this is Peachie Spoon. She has a great blog, obviously food related, and she talks a lot about blood sugar balance and things like that.

Again, beautiful book. She did a lot of full color on the inside. But she did a great job of building her audience first. She created the book. She worked with some people to help her create the book, connected it directly to her website, which is The Peachie Spoon. You can find the book there. And she offers it in two different formats. Sorry.

That’s really important for her, because she wanted to be able to offer it in a lower-cost option, which is a coil bound, so it can lay flat on the counter while you’re cooking or making these recipes.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Matt Briel: Then there’s a hardcover option, which is a little nicer and costs a little bit more, and obviously doesn’t lay flat quite as nicely on the counter when you’re cooking. But she did a wonderful job of creating these products, taking them to market, did a great job of hyping them up to her audience, and very quickly over 1,500 copies sold so far. Did a great job, and is continuing to push that book.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome.

Matt Briel: Again, though, really treated it like a business and thought about, “Okay, what’s the best way to take this to market to my audience, and then grow beyond my audience?”

Another one is Lauren Levy. She does Lauren Fit Foodie, another really cool one. We like to use her as an example a lot. Also, pretty much the same story. Did a pretty good job of building an audience first and then realized, “This is a great opportunity for me to look at how to monetize my content.”

The obvious step for her was a book, but she decided to do a meal planner instead of just a traditional recipe book. Again, she’s at about over 2,000 copies sold so far. This is all direct to people who are already her audience. A great-looking book.

And then one of our favorites: this is a couple that they’re local to where we’re based out of, which is Chapel Hill, Raleigh-Durham area. This is Tiny Home, Big Flava, Justin and Juby.

When they created this book, which is all plant-based recipes, they … Kind of see it on the cover, for those of you who are watching the video. But if not, it’s them on the cover. And they lived, I believe, and still do, out of a converted school bus.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome.

Matt Briel: That’s where they cooked all of their meals. And they basically put together 50 of their favorite recipes, all plant-based, into a beautiful book. I promise you this thing probably looks better than any book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.

Again, when it was time to push this out, they told their audience, “Hey, we appreciate all the support. We’ve got a book coming out. We’d love for you to buy it directly from us.” And again, wonderful sales numbers for them.

But that business mindset: it wasn’t that they were going to create a book, then find a traditional publisher to take it off their hands, and they were just cookbook authors. They wanted to completely own that business and make a better life through some of those choices they made.

So a lot of this also, like we said, just revolves around how much control do you want of your content? What are your goals? There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Hey, I want to be famous for my recipes. I want to be the next, I don’t know, Joanna Gaines or whoever’s really out there on TV all day every day right now.”

That’s fine if that’s your goal. Then if that’s the case, you should shop that around the traditional publishers and look for the best deal. But if this is something you want to do long term, you enjoy creating content, and you want ways to monetize it, I think this is the best route for creators these days, for sure.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome. One of the things we talk about occasionally is this concept of an egg carton method for diversification of income. It’s not that you have to have 12 sources of income, but it’s just a visual for people to think about.

Okay, if your goal is to get to a certain amount, whatever that dollar amount is, one of the ways you could think about it is like, “Okay, I’m going to get this much money from advertising, and it’s all going to come from advertising on my blog; or this much from sponsored content.”

But another way you could approach it is you could say, “I’m going to try and make $1,000 a month from publishing a cookbook. I’m going to try and make $1,000 from ads.” And you can start to fill those different spots in the egg carton with different income sources.

This, to me, feels like a really tangible way to do that, where you can say, “Okay, what would it take for me?” And you can break it down. “If I’m going to make $10 per published cookbook or whatever that number might be, and I want to make an additional $5,000 a year, $10,000 a year from it, how do I do the math on that to say I need to get to selling one a day or two a day, or whatever it might be.”

And you can play the numbers game with that in a way that’s maybe a little bit more abstract or difficult in the world of traditional publishing: where you can’t play the numbers game in the same way, because it’s more obscured. And maybe even if you are selling really well, maybe you haven’t earned your advance back yet.

Matt Briel: Well, that’s the other part of it too, right? When you publish traditionally; if you’re lucky enough, by the way; we talked about those gatekeepers. That’s literally what they’re paid to do: is to make sure that they filter out 99.5% of the manuscripts they get.

But if you’re lucky enough, and they do give you a decent advance, it will take you a while to advance out and to pay off that advance. Then once you do, you’re going to get a very small royalty per book sold after that. But these days, most people aren’t advancing out. It’s not common. It’s really hard to do.

I like that egg carton approach. That’s pretty cool. And we tell people all the time, “Yeah, absolutely. There are lots of ways to diversify and monetize your content. And you should explore whichever ones make sense for you. Never have all your eggs in one basket,” I guess, to follow the same pun.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Matt Briel: And the more reliant you are on one particular platform, the more danger you’re in of disrupting your financial flow. So having something like a book or … I don’t know, your own line of cookware where it’s not dependent upon whether or not some billionaire wakes up in the morning, deciding he wants to buy YouTube or Twitter and make it go crazy. You’re better off if you’ve got some more stability in your product lineup.

And with books, you literally can earn while you sleep. Because once you set it up, they’re just buying it right off your website, as long as you’re telling them where to get it and reminding them that it’s there.

Like you said, maybe you’ve got that goal set to sell 100 books a month, because you have a fixed amount you want to make. You just make sure you’re pushing that book at every opportunity you get.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Can you talk about, as we close out, some additional questions that I think would be interesting? One of them is, can you talk about the benefits of a book that are non-financial? Because I know that that’s a huge component of it, too.

Matt Briel: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Even in the world of search, you see that where it can be a variable in authority; you have more authority. The potential to be looked at differently in the world of search that exists … Or I know people talk about that.

But also I know a lot of people who have published a book for the sake of being known as an expert in that field.

Matt Briel: That’s right.

Bjork Ostrom: You think it’d be the other way around, where you have to become this massive expert, and then you publish a book. But I think a lot of times people have that expertise but aren’t viewed as an expert yet, but want to solidify that with a book. Can you talk about that a little bit, or other angles that you can think about that are non-financial?

Matt Briel: Yeah, those are my favorite parts of publishing a book, by the way. You can make any amount of money you want, but that’s all going to be up to you, and how hard you push it. So the financial aspects aside of publishing a book, I’m much more excited about the other opportunities having a book creates for you.

One of those is, yes: it’s almost instant authority and credibility in whatever field you’re in. We all see it. You might see somebody on social media or LinkedIn or at an event or somewhere like that. Next to their name, it’ll say, “Published Author” or “Bestselling Author” or “Literally wrote the book on the subject.”

Subconsciously, we can’t help it. We immediately think, “Oh, I’m going to listen to this person and see what they have to say, because they know what they’re talking about.” And the beauty of what’s going on right now is that nobody cares if you were traditionally published or self-published.

If you have Published Author next to your name, or the fact that you have a book and you appear in search results because somebody searched for whatever; best plant-based recipes for blood sugar, and your book comes up; that’s a win right there. Having that book creates those opportunities for credibility and authority where you might not have those otherwise.

We like to joke, “It’s better than a business card these days, is having a book.” Handing somebody a business card happens probably every 20 seconds or more. Handing somebody a book and showing them that, “I took the time to do this. I am an authority on this. There is a lot that I have to offer.” It’s a whole new ballgame.

There are other opportunities that come with books as well. We see this all the time with people who are really trying to grow their audience and establish a community around what they do.

Having that physical touchpoint for people to interact with each other as well as the creator, and it creates that source of conversation. And another reason to communicate with each other is great, especially in the food world, where recipes can become such a touchpoint for people and a communication point.

And then another way is obviously with the amount of creators that are entering the creator economy, whether it’s in food or any other vertical, there are times where you probably feel like, “Oh, why would I do a book or anything else? I’m just another food blogger,” or, “I’m just another art blogger,” or whatever.

But one of the best ways to stand out and differentiate yourself amongst a lot of that white noise is to have something like a book. Because again, it shows authority, credibility; it shows that you took the time and felt that your content was valuable enough to put it into a book. People will really recognize that and respect that.

You’d be surprised how many people will pay what you want for that book, just based on the hard work that you put into it, especially if they were already followers of yours to begin.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. And I think that’s a great note to end on. This technically last question: my guess is coming out of this, there’ll be a lot of people who will have additional questions, curiosities, or will just want to learn more.

What’s the best way for people to take the next step? If they’re not at the point where they’re like, “I know I’m going to do this.” But if they’re self-publishing curious, what does that look like for them to dig into that a little bit more? Is it reaching out to you? Is it exploring on Lulu, the different resources? Would be interested to hear your thoughts on that.

Matt Briel: Any and all of those ways will work. But I’d say the easiest way for people to really take a deep dive into what we just talked about, because it can be a little bit overwhelming. We’re cramming it all into whatever, 30, 40 minutes here. And when I talk about it, I take it for granted. I tend to make it all sound so easy, and a good part of it is. But some of it’s not.

So I would go to lulu.com. At the top, there’s a tab for Resources. And in that tab you’ll find all of great things to help. The biggest source of help will probably be our blog. But you’ll also find a link for Hiring a Pro, or I think maybe it says Partners Page now. But that’s where we’ve listed a lot of people that we’ve worked with that we know are good freelancers and things like that.

But if you’re more of a visual learner, we have an amazing library of videos on YouTube. So you can just go to YouTube and look for lulu.com. And we have our Lulu University series, which literally breaks down every aspect of self-publishing. We have cookbook-specific videos, videos to help you learn how to sell direct and set up your stores, all of that stuff.

So again, if you’re visual, hit up YouTube. If you prefer good old-fashioned blogs, just go to Lulu.com and pull down the Resources tab. But always feel free to email me or anybody else you can get your hands on at Lulu as well. We’re always happy to help.

Bjork Ostrom: Email is … Are you okay to give it out of the podcast?

Matt Briel: Absolutely. Yep. Yep. It’s M-B-R-I-E-L, [email protected]. And I’m sure Bjork will probably put it in the Show Notes.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. Hey Matt, super fun to talk to you about this. I think it’ll open the door for a lot of people to step into the world of publishing in a really great way. Thanks for coming on and sharing your insights.

Matt Briel: Awesome. I appreciate it, Bjork.

Alexa Peduzzi Hey there. Alexa here. We hope you enjoyed this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Thanks for tuning in this week.

Wanted to let you know that we actually recently launched something called the Member Directory. All Food Blogger Pro members have access to it, and they can access it by going to foodbloggerpro.com/directory. And it’s there that you can see and connect with all of your fellow Food Blogger Pro members and industry experts, and those of us on the Food Blogger Pro team.

You’ll see different things like social links and blog links and bios and just ways to connect. It’s just such a fun place to go if you’re looking to build your own community on a social media platform, or just be able to connect with other people and see what they’re up to on their blogs. Again, that URL is foodbloggerpro.com/directory.

And if you are a Food Blogger Pro member and you’re interested in filling out your profile, you can do that over in the Edit Profile area of your membership. Then once you fill out that information and you’re exploring Member Directory, you can filter by cuisines. So if you’re blogging about vegan recipes and you want to connect with other vegan bloggers, it’s very easy to do that on the directory. It’s very fun, very cool, and just a really awesome place to connect with one another.

So if you’re a member, be sure to check that out at foodbloggerpro.com slash directory. And if you’re not a member, all good. If you’re interested in joining, you can learn more at foodbloggerpro.com/membership.

But otherwise, we’ll see you here on the podcast next time. And until then, make it a great week.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.