When Skipstone Press published Urban Pantry: Tips & Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable & Seasonal Kitchen by Amy Pennington, with photos by Della Chen, in April, the market response was not exactly tremendous. Pennington, a food writer and owner of a gardening business in Seattle, got some local attention, with the Seattle/Puget Sound foodie world generating word-of-mouth and Web-based buzz. A few local bookstores gave it good placement. “Expectations were moderate for Urban Pantry initially,” said Skipstone editor-in-chief Kate Rogers. She figured the book would sell around 5,000 units in the first year of its publication.
And then Gwyneth Paltrow, lately known for her adventures eating in Spain with Mario Batali and Mark Bittman that spawned a PBS show, took notice of Urban Pantry. Paltrow praised it in her e-newsletter, Goop, where she shares recipes, travel notes, and advice, in July. That led to a slew of national media, including mentions in Bon Appétit and Martha Stewart Living; a spot on Amazon’s top 10 list of cookbooks for 2010; and sales nearing 10,000 copies—a pretty big deal for a small press.
Urban Pantry guides readers in stocking their pantry with essential ingredients so that they can make quick meals with the addition of seasonal items. It has about 60 recipes. A $19.95 paperback, mostly black & white with a color photo insert, it is decidedly less flashy than the other books on Amazon’s best cookbook list, which also features titles from Artisan; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Hyperion; Norton; Phaidon; Stewart, Tabori & Chang; Ten Speed and Wiley. Not only did Paltrow’s mention of the book spark national interest, but it also put Urban Pantry at the forefront of its publisher’s mind. “Urban Pantry came out in April 2010,” Emily White told PW, “so by the end of summer my attention as the book’s publicist had turned to fall 2010 titles. But now I’m actively sending out PR on Urban Pantry, re-contacting media outlets who received the book in the spring yet never acted on it, and continuing to line up author events in Seattle, Brooklyn, and possible the Bay Area this spring.”
The success of Urban Pantry has brought some attention to Skipstone, too, which was founded in fall 2007. The imprint, part of outdoors-oriented Mountaineers Books (itself celebrating its 50th anniversary this year), launched with five titles; since then it has published about four titles a year. Its books tend to promote a sustainable approach to food, gardening, and home. Its bestselling title to duate is a fall 2007 book, Wake Up and Smell the Planet by Grist magazine, which has sold about 25,000 copies.
Looking ahead, Skipstone plans to keep the focus on food sustainability, gardening conservation, and other acts of backyard activism—all hot topics. Y'hear that, Gwyneth?