Friday, September 24, 2010

Know Your Audience, Go With the Flow, and Tap Into Your Dreams

Maybe writing a book has long been your dream, but for a book tour it's good to remember that people are looking for their own dreams and the event is all about them, not you. I think people attend book events because they believe your book may enhance their lives and they want to connect with you, the author, in some way. Learn as much as you can ahead of time, and if possible visit the venue before your event. Observe everything. Take it all in and then focus your presentation.

This past week I had cooking demos at two wildly different events-- The Veg Fest in Portland and Barbara Jo's Cooks to Books.

At the Seattle Veg Fest years ago, I did a demo for my first book. It was a wild crazy event, with little room for food prep, no formal kitchen and back-to-back demos. The Portland Veg Fest was a new experience for me and my new book. I wondered if it would it be like the Seattle event--aisles and aisles of vendors hawking their products and people grabbing free samples of vegan foods and shoving pamphlets in bags.

The Portland Veg Fest appeared to be much the same type of event but when I read the instructions for cooking demos, but there was no mention of a stove or even a burner. But what demo doesn't have some kind of burner? I wondered. Just in case they didn't, I planned a recipe where I could use an electric skillet. I'd ask about the stove later, not really worried about the details once again.

One thing led to another and I never did ask about the stove, and then a day before the event I got a phone message from one of the coordinators.

"I just wanted to make sure you knew we don't really cook at the cooking demo." I heard her say.

I phoned back immediately. "What did you mean no cooking?" I was puzzled.

"We've worked with a number of chefs for years. Some simply pretend to cook; you just have to make your dish ahead of time. It should be something that can be served at room temperature."

"Precooked you say?" I asked. Pretend to cook? I struggled to picture how I could make this demo happen.

"It must be prepared before the demo," she patiently said again. "We have a tiny space near the sink you could use but it's crowded with people doing dishes and going in and out. Your dish should be okay to serve at room temperature."

It took me a minute to put it together. I could change the recipe into a grain salad, add some balsamic vinegar. Then I remembered I had 150 copies of the original recipe from my book--just a minor problem that I could easily explain at the cooking demo.

I didn't give much thought to actually cooking in my hotel room until I checked in and wheeled my suitcase filled with cooking equipment to my room. I got up at 6am, thinking it was so early no one would detect the smell of shallots and grains wafting under the door. There had been a wedding on an upper level in the hotel the night before so I hoped many guests were sleeping late.

I clearned a little table off, set the skillet up and once the shallots began to sizzle in the olive oil, I looked up and saw the fire alarm as the steam from the shallots began wafting towards it. I quickly covered the skillet and for a second the form I'd signed when I'd checked into the hotel flashed through my mind. The form specified that I wouldn't smoke in the room or the management would kick me out. What about cooking?

I felt my pulse quicken picturing the fire alarm sounding and some hotel bouncer tossing me out. All for a few shallots? I forced myself to quit mulling over details, and took a deep breath. I cranked open open window and blew steam outside as the grains cooked. Luckily, the room was on the 3rd floor so the smell disappeared into the city outside.

When the grains were cooked, I felt like a child who had gotten away with breaking the rules. I couldn't help smiling as I signed out, butI wondered what the maid would think when she opened the door and got a strong whiff of caramelized shallots?

At my "cooking" demo I told stories about my road to becoming a vegetarian, vegan cooking classes, and a recipe column in the early 1990s for small publication called Vegan Network. I talked about being a locavore and staying vegan and when I put the salad together, I couldn't resist telling the story of how my recipe for Orzo with Shallots, Kale and Walnuts had turned into a Balsamic Quinoa-Orzo Salad with Peppers, Carrots and Basil in my hotel room.

After my demo I strolled through this great vegan event and became inspired by all the latest information about the healthiest diet and decided to lose the eggs, cheese and butter for 30 days. If Oprah can do it anyone can.

Books to Cooks
A day after arriving home from the Veg Fest in Portland, I drove north to Vancouver, BC where I had a cooking demo event at Barbara Jo's Books to Cooks. I was looking forward to this cooking demo where an assistant would cook the meal while I did an easy demo for it and talked about my book. I was also looking forward to the event because I hadn't been to British Columbia for some time and had decided to make it a really fun trip and stay in a nice hotel on Granville Island.
I've never seen a store quite like Barbara Jo's. It's a fantastic cookbook store that must house over 10,000 cookbooks. Everything you could ever want is here including quirky books like After the Hunt (a thick tome that included a fried squirrel in gravy recipe), A Recipe for Murder(with a recipe for Hannibal's sweetbreads) and Marijuana Cooking (of course with the famous brownie recipe). As if that isn't enough, Barbara Jo's also has a demo kitchen for classes and events.

I phoned a few days ahead and spoke with Barbara Jo McIntosh who told me the night I'd be in her store to do a cooking demo, a film crew would be in the store because Barbara was going to be inducted into the BC Restaurant Hall of Fame this year. I suddenly stressed over what to wear what to talk about for this event.

I arrived at Barbara Jo's a day ahead of my event to meet Barbara. I was tickled to learn that she recently released her book, Cooking for Me and Sometimes You: A Parisienne Romance with Recipes (French Apple Press). After learning how the event would go, I bought Barbara's book and went home to read this treasure about Barbara's month in Paris and how it had always been her dream to spend a month eating in this great city. I thought reading the would give me a clue about how to phrase my talk, but instead I fell in love with Barbara's passion for the city of her dreams. I slept deeply reviving some of my own dreams.

The next evening I told stories about childhood dreams and the path that led opportunities that opened doors to those childhood dreams. "I'd always dreamed about writing a book," I said. I laughed about the two bad novels I'd written before I turning to nonfiction--farms and food. Then I talked about my opportunity to write The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook and about meeting Northwest farmers for my farmer profiles. I told farmer stories and talked about the challenges of growing local foods. I talked about Dunbar Farms in southern Oregon that started with pears 1909, about Nash Huber of Nash's Organic Produce winning Farm Steward of the Year Award from American Farmland Trust and Jeff Miller of Willie Green's who cashed in a life insurance policy, rode his motorcycle Washington and started farming. When you think about it, anyone can relate to childhood dreams.

If you're having a little trouble recalling your own dreams, take a trip to Vancouver and talk to Barbara Jo about her dream. Then visit Granville Island and indulge in one of these edible dreams--well unless you are dedicated to a healthy vegan diet for 30 days.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Book Tours, The Downside of a Shoestring Budget, and Hiring A Tour Manager

I'm thinking about hiring a tour manager. It's partly because I'm guilty of scanning details for book tour events, and because I never gave much thought to things like mileage, food and lodging expenses when I signed the book contract. Those new to the publishing world take note: deal with these cost issues early on because if you can take care of petty things like mileage etc, you'll have a less stressful booktour. One idea is to clarify exactly what the publisher will pay for on book tours when you sign on the dotted line.

Try to bribe your agent and get a bigger advance of say $400,000 or more, then your book tour is a snap and every stop you'll be all smiles. Just ask Sarah Palin how she's enjoying the ride. Since I don't have a jet or a bus funded by a big fat advance plus contributions from right wingers who hope to get into the power spot next election, I brooded about tour expenses on the drive home from my last stop at Bellewood Acres near Lynden, Washington. It was a fun, crowded event but I paid my own way, paid full price for all the apples I ate while I was there and it was a 180 miles round trip. Whine, whine, whine-- but I've driven to Bellingham twice in the past few weeks for book events and I don't have anyone picking up the tab at the gas pump or the lunch counter.

So what's an author to do when most or all these expenses fall on their shoulders?

It's time to get creative, that's what. I started searching the Internet the other day to see what other authors have done to fund their book tours and here's what I discovered.

The cost of a book tour is the gorilla in the room that not many authors talk about. Google book tour expenses and you'll see, not much has been written about this shadow in the room other than the vague idea that authors mostly fund their own tours, no one ever gives a break down of things you spend money on.

One author raised money for his book tour by getting various levels of backers. I laughed out loud when I read that he had a $2,000 level where he will go to your town with one or two commedians in tow. Justin got 77 backers who met his goal of $5,000 for his book tour. I love his creativity.

Another author partners with Ethiopian charities and is committed to raising $500,000 dollars for wells in Ethiopian cities. The tour boasts "meet-ups not lectures," it's collectively organized and it's all self-funded. Chris is stopping in a number of cities in Canada and he is visiting a city in every state and at each stop he requested volunteers to host, contact media and provide cupcakes. I say not only does this fund the book tour but it's great way to give to other communities and create community around your book. This is a feel-good we are community approach.

If those ideas aren't quite your cup of coffee, check out this book I found about promoting your book on a shoestring budget. Or to cut down on expenses you can do a blog book tour. But you still have to get out and acutally connect with some stores and people who will also pass the message of your book along.

You can also talk to other writers and get the details of their tours. The editor of my book told me that for her tour, she stayed with friends and in really cheap lodging in various cities and looked at it as a vacation. That's not really my idea of a vacation. Another friend only books events in towns where she has family or friends that can attend those sometimes lonely book events. Another friend urged me to do a virtual book tour instead of hitting the road.

Even in the virtual world everybody's trying to make a buck these days. I think I'll just stay the course, try and get my publisher to kick in for some mileage and overnight stays, and who knows maybe my cooking assistant will consider signing on as my tour manager. Oh wait, he clearly wants a cut of the action too--some of those Honeycrisp apples I paid full price for no doubt.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What's Your Goal? Falling Down the Rabbit Hole of Book Marketing

As I'm faced with a variety of opportunities for book tour events and networking options on social media sites, I continually have to reset the picture and ask myself: what's my ultimate goal?

A book tour is a bit like falling down a rabbit hole and it's risky to"just do it" like the Nike Ad instructs, even lifehacker says so. Go out and start booking events for your book tour and you'll soon discover that each event needs to be tended like a new plant. Some stores expect authors to come up with marketing ideas, add blog entries for store blogs, provide snacks or do cooking demos for author appearances. It can cost more than you're bringing in. Blindly booking events can be a nightmare when you realize, you get to do all the planning and marketing. And when you book too many events all that precious writing time you dreamed about is sucked away.

In this connected age, it's way too easy to get distracted with things like responding to blogs like this cute one with two bull dogs. (What would my kitchen assistant say about that?) And social media sites are so addictive, they're driving me crazy--do I really"like" this? Or can I "comment" on that? And what does "poke" mean? I can barely keep up with my own life anymore. I don't even have to leave the house to get stressed over whether I've logged in and made comments on sites like FaceBook, Foodista,Culinate and Scribd--and all the blogs I'm following and commenting on.

I continually remind myself why I'm doing any of this, which brings me back to my topic-- keeping your goal in focus.

What do you really want to do with your time? Consider that question every time you start responding to a post on a blog or FaceBook and when an offer comes your way. Say an editor wants you to write an article about South American cuisine, or a natural food store wants a cooking class with raw food desserts, or someone wants to do a podcast with you--ask yourself: does it fit my goals? Will it propel me forward? Am I on the right path?

For me, it's important to reflect about what I do with my time. One satisfying by-product of my book has been helping like-minded people connect through my articles, my food travels and farm visits. For example, recently I visited the Medford farmers' market and Cathy Pennington of Pennington Farms said thanks for putting her in contact with BelleWood Acres who helped her figure out how to get a sign on her barn. And more recently I helped connect this farm with a great farm-to-school program in the Rogue Valley.

A rabbit hole offers many opportunities and lately I've got caught a spark of a trend I want to write about, and catching the spark is the fun of life. Starting a new article or book--the story coming to me in bits and pieces and I love putting it all together. I just have to keep reminding myself: what's my goal in this life adventure?