As temperature climb in many areas of the U.S., thoughts of grilling and eating outdoors leap to mind, and publishers are rushing in to meet the needs of grilling newbies, experienced pitmasters, and those looking to throw something different on the grill — pizza anyone?
For Natalie Chapman, v-p and publisher of the cookbooks division at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, known names and brands sell strongly. “We do best with authoritative books by well-known and trusted authors and brands, such as Low and Slow by Robert Briggs or Better Homes & Gardens Fresh Grilling,” she said. A trusted name is also key for Cassie Jones, v-p and editorial director for William Morrow. “A grilling cookbook can do well if it has the right author and message,” she said. “Outdoor cooking is the perfect topic for Guy Fieri because he’s devoted to barbecue, camping, and outdoor living. He really understands what that audience wants because he lives it himself.”
The brand name that does especially well for Workman Publishing is that of Steven Raichlen, who has several books with the publisher, with a combined five million copies in print, including his bestselling 1998 title, Barbecue! Bible (which itself has more than one million copies in print). Raichlen’s latest book, Man Made Meals, arrives May 6. Suzanne Rafer, director of cookbooks at Workman, attributes the success of the books to the man himself. “He is an inviting and talented writer and recipe creator who has years of barbecue and grilling experience,” she said. “His enthusiasm for live-fire cooking is infectious. He’s traveled worldwide, investigating a multitude of grilling cultures, and when it comes to experimentation, he’s willing to give any food a go.”
For the Weber brand of grilling cookbooks, both new and backlist titles are important. The recently published Weber’s Big Book of Burgers by Jamie Purviance is already on track to be a hit, according to Mike Kempster, global chief marketing officer at Weber. “It was introduced on April 1, and it’s already gone back for a second printing.” While Kempster isn’t surprised at the early success of the burger book, sales of other backlist titles have been eye-opening. “Weber’s Smoke  is a niche title that sells well above expectations,” he said, “and Weber’s Way to Grill continues to sell well even though it’s five years old. We’ve sold over a million copies of that book in the U.S.”
Picking What to Publish
The approaches publishers take when acquiring a grilling (or general) cookbook are as different as the acquiring editor’s tastes. Chapman at HMH wants books that can stand out in an extremely crowded category. “We look for books written by authors with sterling credentials and a loyal following,” she said. Rux Martin, editorial director of the Rux Martin Books imprint at HMH, takes a long-view approach. “I look for an author who has an ongoing engagement with the subject matter of the book,” she said. Hannah Rahill, v-p and associate publisher of Ten Speed Press, said there’s no set formula for what she’s looking for when acquiring a cookbook, but “a unique voice, interesting ingredients or flavor pairings, and innovative techniques” are at the top of her list.
For Ten Speed authors Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, whose Big-Flavor Grill went on sale in late March, one such technique was to replace time-consuming marinating methods with quick flavor boosters, in the interest of making things as easy as possible for cooks. “We believe in the concept of having a very basic recipe for each ingredient,” the authors told PW in an email. “First people learn the fundamentals of how to grill a particular ingredient, then they can play with flavor variations that build on that fundamental approach. You get grounded, then you can play.” Schlesinger said that it was his retirement after 27 years as a professional chef that gave him a new way of thinking about putting meals together. “Looking at the world through the eyes of a home cook has provided a whole new source of inspiration,” he said. “Getting meals together at home at the last minute using supermarket ingredients has turned out to be fun, and I want to pass along those recipes I’ve cooked in that context.”
What Makes the Registers Ring
While grilling outdoors can have a fairly defined season (especially in colder regions), sales of books in the category don’t always follow suit. Even up in Vermont at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, grilling and barbecue books sell all year, according to adult book buyer Stan Hynds, though he added that “sales are predictably much higher from May through Labor Day.” Northshire currently stocks about 30 titles in the category, but Hynds said the number will increase by at least a dozen titles in the next couple months. The store’s perennial bestseller is Steven Raichlen’s How to Grill (Workman, 2001). While The Gardener and the Grill by Karen Adler (Running Press, 2012) has been a strong seller for the store in recent years, Hynds admits, “the category is still dominated by meat.”
For Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., grilling books aren’t yet on the radar this year. “It’s still cold here,” said events and publicity coordinator Candace Purdom. “It’s in the 40s today, so people aren’t thinking about cooking outside yet.” Despite less-than-stellar spring weather, the shop has ordered in some new titles, including Pizza on the Grill (Taunton), Fire and Smoke by Chris Lilly (Clarkson Potter), and Schlesinger and Willoughby’s The Big-Flavor Grill.
In Austin, Tex., grilling and barbecue books have a longer selling season. Elizabeth Jordan, head buyer at BookPeople, said the category peaks twice a year for them, “Once in May and June, leading up to Father’s Day, and again at Christmas.” Last year, two of BookPeople’s bestsellers were The Salt Lick Cookbook by Scott Roberts (Salt Lick Restaurant, 2012) and Barbecue Crossroads by Robb Walsh (Univ. of Texas Press, 2013), both regional titles. “We tend to do better with barbecue and grilling books with a local twist,” said Jordan. “Some of our bestsellers are focused almost entirely on Texas barbecue joints. I buy most heavily on those regional titles.”
Having a famous name on a book doesn’t necessarily translate into sales for the stores PW spoke with. “Celebrity cookbooks don’t do well here,” said Colleen Carroll, manager and buyer at Atticus Bookstore in New Haven, Ct. Hynds at Northshire echoed the sentiment, as did Jordan at BookPeople, who mentioned that she was excited about the forthcoming The Nolan Ryan Beef and Barbecue Cookbook (Little, Brown, May), but not necessarily because of the name. “It’s a regional title,” she said. “And he’ll be signing at the store.”
“Grilling is such a quick, accessible, and satisfying way to cook,” said Ten Speed’s Rahill, calling grilling and barbecue books a category that “continues to grow. We find people continue to look for fresh ideas when the weather warms up and they’re itching to get outside.”
Click here for a rundown of this season’s new barbecue and grilling titles.