Lisa Lillien – aka “Hungry Girl” to fans of her Food Network TV show and recipients of the email newsletter she’s been sending out for a decade – has eight bestselling cookbooks under her belt, and her first diet book, The Hungry Girl Diet: Big Portions. Big Results. Drop 10 Pounds in 4 Weeks, has hit the ground running. The book has already sold more than 50,000 print copies since it went on sale on March 25, according to Nielsen BookScan, and it hit the number one position on Amazon’s bestseller’s list a month before it was even released.
Lillien’s publisher, St. Martin’s Griffin, has had strong success with her previous eight cookbooks (as well as 2011’s Hungry Girl Supermarket Survival Guide), which have sold more than 1.4 million copies combined in print, according to BookScan. To get the word out about the new book, St. Martin’s reached out with pre-pub and publication date advertising that included full-page ads in First For Women magazine and an online package reaching five million consumers via websites for magazines like Redbook, Woman’s Day, and Good Housekeeping, as well as heavy in-app mobile placements.
A self-described “foodologist” who shares tips and tricks for eating delicious food with minimal calories, Lillien says that reaching the top spot on Amazon’s bestseller’s list was “a really happy surprise,” and she attributes that enthusiasm to the fact that her audience has long been clamoring for a guide to help them lose weight. “My fans have been asking for me to write this book for ten years,” she said.
The author says it took this long for the book to reach the public because she wanted to make sure she was dispensing accurate nutritional advice. “To be honest, it was really easy to come up with the ideas for the plan – it’s how I live my life – but because I’m not a nutritionist, I got help from David Grotto, a registered dietitian,” said Lillien. “We made sure he felt 100% comfortable with the plan and that it was nutritionally sound.”
In 2004, Lillien sent her first email newsletter, called “Hungry Girl: Tips & Trick for Hungry Chicks,” to a select group. “I contacted everyone I knew – family, colleagues, and friends – and asked if they’d be interested in getting my newsletter.” Around 75 people ended up receiving that first email.
Lillien never spent any money to market the newsletter, but word of mouth quickly helped create a following. “At the beginning I’d sit at my computer and see that I’d get 10 new subscribers a day. And then one day it was 40 new subscribers because someone had posted about Hungry Girl in a forum.” Lillien now sends her daily newsletter to more than one million subscribers.
Her first cookbook, Hungry Girl: Recipes and Survival Strategies for Guilt-Free Eating in the Real World (2008), came to Jennifer Enderlin, v-p and associate publisher for St. Martin’s Griffin, at auction, and they’ve worked together on all of her subsequent books. “Lisa knows what women really want to eat,” said Enderlin, “and she knows how to take what they're craving and make it guilt-free.” Having top-notch taste buds don’t hurt either. “Lisa told me that if she says something is good, or a particular product is the best of the bunch, you can trust it. If, for example, there are a dozen Greek yogurts on the market, she will be able to tell you which one tastes the best.”
On the Road
Lillien is currently on a national tour to promote her book, and she recently visited Dierbergs grocery store in St. Louis, Mo., where she was greeted by 250 fans and signed books for more than two hours. At the event, Lillien was surprised by an appearance from StarKist tuna mascot Charlie the Tuna. “I’m such a huge Charlie the Tuna fan,” she said. “I collect vintage advertising, and I even have a Charlie the Tuna phone from who knows when.”
Shane Mullen, events host at Left Bank Books, which helped host the Dierbergs event, said energy was high at the event. “You could tell they were huge fans of Hungry Girl,” he said. “When they came to the table of books, they happily said, ‘I have that one, and that one, and that one...’ ”
Lillien visited Tattered Cover in Denver on April 11, where she discussed her new book and took questions from the audience for about 40 minutes. Once the signing portion of the night started, Lillien was game to sign whatever the fans wanted. According to event host Erica Bates, the author “Signed everything. I mean everything – her books, bookmarks, pieces of paper, and she even offered to sign body parts.”
“The event brought an enthusiastic crowd to the Tattered Cover,” Bates continued, “and we always consider that a success. Sales of the new book definitely overshadowed sales of her backlist titles.”
The author says she loves touring, especially the stories she hears from fans in person. At an April 15 event on at a Barnes & Noble in Kansas City, Mo., “There were four people in a row that had lost over 100 pounds because of my books,” she said. “It brings me to tears that they say I helped save their lives.”
After Lillien’s tour ends in early May, she’ll continue to connect with her fans. She runs her own Facebook page, which has more than a million likes. “I have a lot of direct interaction with people there,” she said, “It’s great because you get instant feedback and people are really friendly.” Lillien is climbing toward 170,000 followers on Twitter and continues to reach fans through her television show, as well. She says the show seemed like a natural progression from her books: “A lot of times people just want step-by-step instructions on how to make a recipe.”
But for now, Lillien says she’s savoring life on the road. “I love that the people who come to my events are so excited, and that they share their favorite recipes with me. If I had to stay for four or five hours to sign everyone’s books, I’d do it. If they take the time to come and see me, I’ll take the time to be there for them.”