Julie & Julia opened last week, bringing Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking—specifically her boeuf bourguignon—back into vogue. The film, based on Julie Powell's memoirJulie & Julia and on Child's autobiography, My Life in France, is also giving cookbooks a major boost. As the film's director, Nora Ephron, told PW, part of the movie is about “the creation of books, and the power of a book, years later, to affect someone's life.”
Not that cookbooks need a ton of help. While it's been a difficult year for many sectors of the book business, cookbooks and food-related titles—thanks to the still-rising interest among the Food Network generation and the food world's natural affinity for multimedia, from blogs to viral video to sites like Epicurious and AllRecipes—are simmering nicely. According to Nielsen BookScan, sales in the cooking/entertaining category were up 4% in the first four months of 2009 over the same period last year, while sales of adult nonfiction overall dropped 9%.
And it looks like bigger sales are in the oven for fall.
One of the most interesting trends of 2009 was first reported in our “Cooking the Books” e-newsletter—a surprising upswing in books on canning and preserving. These old-fashioned techniques are surging, thanks to a trifecta of a recession; a heightened interest in eating local, seasonal foods; and a strong DIY trend. Booksellers and publishers report that books on jam-making, canning, pickling and preserving are among the most popular cooking subcategories of '09. In June, Seattle's Sasquatch Books reported a 14% growth in all book sales last year, paced by The Encyclopedia of Country Living: The Original Manual for Living off the Land and Doing It Yourself, a reissue of a title first published in the early 1970s. It includes instructions on how to do everything from milk a cow to raise chickens, and is now in its 10th edition, having sold 650,000 copies. Stewart, Tabori & Chang is betting the trend will continue: it just signed up Canning by Liana Krissoff for publication in fall 2010.
The trend toward cooking with locally grown produce has also led to a rise in vegetarian—or at least veggie-oriented—cookbooks, including Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet by Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond (Ten Speed Press). “The conscious eating trend is totally mainstream,” says Lucia Watson, senior editor at Avery and Gotham Books. Gourmet editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl, who edited Gourmet Today (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Sept.), a new compendium with an emphasis on vegetables, sustainability and “conscious eating,” agrees, having observed “enormous changes in the way we're eating” in the past few years. Among the once-arcane vegetables she's seen gain major visibility: purslane, kohlrabi, bok choi, lacinato kale and ramps.
This fall, publishers are keeping the veggie trend going with Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close tothe Source with More Than 200 Recipes for a Healthy and Sustainable You by Terry Walters (pictured at left) (Sterling, Sept.); FARMfood by Daniel Orr (Indiana Univ.); Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own by Bob Flowerdew (Kyle Books, Sept.); Simply in Season: Recipes That Celebrate Fresh, Local Foods in the Spirit of More-with-Less by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert (Herald Press, Sept.); Vegan Lunch Box Around the World by Jennifer McCann (Da Capo, Sept.); Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat by Tal Ronnen (HarperCollins, Oct.); The Harvest Eating Cookbook: More Than 200 Recipes for Cooking with Seasonal Local Ingredients by Keith Snow (Running Press, Oct.); and Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life by Louisa Shafia (Ten Speed, Nov.).
The idea of returning to humble roots has caught the attention of celebrity chefs, too. Gordon Ramsay, known as much for his temper tantrums on Hell's Kitchen as his Michelin stars, is publishing Cooking for Friends (Morrow, Oct.), where he'll offer 100 of his favorite homey recipes. Paula Deen's sons, Jamie and Bobby Deen, are bringing out The Deen Bros. Take It Easy: Quick and Affordable Meals the Whole Family Will Love (Ballantine) in September; it's inspired by the home cooking the boys enjoyed as they grew up. And the famously cerebral, technical chef Thomas Keller, the genius behind French Laundry and Per Se, is publishing Ad Hoc at Home: Family-Style Recipes (Artisan, Nov.), with recipes for basic dishes like creamed corn and potato hash. Still, there's always one: the innovative, pork-loving chef David Chang (pictured above; photo credit Gabriele Stabile) is releasing a fairly high-end cookbook, Momofuku (Clarkson Potter), in October, with recipes for pork buns that serve 50 and other impractical but delicious dishes.
Another notable trend in 2009 is how publishers and authors are successfully promoting their cookbooks, and authors are enlarging their audiences, using social networking sites. Given the subject, it comes as no surprise that food writers are at the fore of a major multimedia push, and that using the Web is the new recipe for success. Bill LeBlond, editorial director of food and drink at Chronicle, says social networking sites help to foster an emotional connection between cookbook authors and readers. “We have an immediate, direct path to our customers,” he explains, “and they to us. The conversation can go both ways—feedback and dialogue between readers and authors is a great way to bond and build a brand.”
Among the most popular sites are MixingBowl and Delish, both of which are aligned with publishing companies—MixingBowl with Meredith; Delish with Hearst. Now eight months old, Mixing Bowl has 28,000 members and launched a companion print magazine in June. Authors and cookbook brands can create groups and fan pages on MixingBowl, and Meredith has invited all publishers to participate. Anyone can start a group and post recipes and photos.
So far, there are more than 500 groups on the site, a growing number of which are dedicated to specific cookbooks or series. The authors of Almost Meatless, for example, created a group for sharing tips and recipe ideas about how to cook with less meat. The group has 103 members and 91 recipes. Julia M. Usher, author of Cookie Swap (Gibbs Smith), started a group for cookie lovers, where members are already chatting about how early they start baking for Christmas. Others on the site include a group for fans of Beth Hensperger's slow cooker books in Harvard Common Press's Not Your Mother's series, and a group called Betty Crocker Is My Cooking Bible. This month, Meredith will launch Recipe.com, where cookbook authors will be able to further promote their books.
Sterling, meanwhile, is partnering with Delish, a joint venture from Hearst and MSN, for Zraly's Windows on the World Complete Wine Course 25th Anniversary Edition (Oct.). A page on the site offers videos featuring author Kevin Zraly, articles derived from the book and a link to BN.com.
Seizing the power of new media, cookbook authors are moving past bland personal Web sites—and having fun in the process—with a wave of cookbook trailers going beyond simple demos. An irresistibly fun video for BabyCakes: Vegan, Gluten-Free, and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York's Most Talked-About Bakery by Erin McKenna (Clarkson Potter) shows the author and friends dancing around Babycakes, McKenna's bakery—BabyCakes even landed on a few bestseller lists. A video for The Pleasure Is All Mine: Selfish Food for a Modern Life by Suzanne Pirret (Morrow) also took off this spring, generating significant media buzz.
This fall, cookbook authors will continue to step up their videos. Alton Brown's pitch for Good Eats: TheEarly Years (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Oct.) shows him darting around the set of his Food Network show, pages of his forthcoming book strewn all over the floor. As Brown explains, his book is “coming soon to a bookseller near you. As soon as I finish it.“ Also look for entertaining trailers for Damn Good Food: 157 Recipes fromHell's Kitchen by Mitch Omer and Ann Bauer (Borealis Books, Oct.). Publicity and promotions manager Alison Aten says the authors' videos aren't just about the cookbook, which shares recipes from Omer's popular Minneapolis and Duluth, Minn., restaurants, but also “the crazy behind-the-scenes action” and the drama that goes along with it. “These aren't going to be 'Hello, I'm the important owner. Let me show you around' type of videos. [They'll be] much, much more spontaneous, almost 'unedited.' And fun!”
Mollie Katzen, the bestselling author who helped move vegetarian cooking from the fringe to front-and-center, will also launch a videocentric site later this year to promote Get Cooking: 150 Simple Recipes to Get You Started in the Kitchen (Harper Studio, Oct.). At launch, the site will feature 10 to 12 high-def videos explaining basic cooking techniques. Katzen's team has made more than 30 videos, which will be added to the site. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, meanwhile, is taking another tack with videos: it is providing its cookbook editors with Flip cams to record demos and funny moments that occur while the book is being produced and photographed, beginning with its spring 2010 list. It will share the videos with bloggers and other online media.
Sometimes cooking videos work in reverse, bringing potential titles to publishers. Remember Clara Cannucciari, the 93-year-old grandmother who became a YouTube and Facebook sensation through films created by her grandson, Chris Cannucciari? Michael Flamini at St. Martin's beat two other bidders in an auction for Clara's Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories and Recipes from the Great Depression, due out in October.
Outside of Print
So far, the explosion of online promotion is helping to generate print book sales—but publishers acknowledge that as more and more cookbook readers go online for information, they want to make recipes—and other content—available in digital format. Although cookbook publishers have been slow to adapt e-books, that is beginning to change.
Hyperion's bestselling Cook Yourself Thin, based on the Lifetime TV series, came out as an Iceberg Reader app in the iTunes Store in June. Ellen Archer, president and publisher of Hyperion, says making that book into an iPhone app—the house's first, incidentally—“felt like the perfect project.” The app “offers everything from access to recipes while shopping in the grocery store to a quick calorie guide for your favorite foods to healthy alternatives.” In addition, Hyperion began releasing sections from Nigella Lawson's 2004 Feast in low-priced mini-editions on the Kindle last December. So far, it's released Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame, Christmas and New Year's, Valentine's Day and Easter and Passover. (The house will publish Nigella Christmas in November.)
Harvard Common Press, meanwhile, has jumped into the e-cookbooks game, partnering with online publishing, distribution and retail-services company Zinio in June. Zinio sells more than 30 e-book titles from HCP, including 25 Essentials: Techniques for Grilling, A Baker's Field Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies and Deviled Eggs. HCP also makes cookbook excerpts available at the social publishing site Scribd.com, and is beginning to distribute digital blads and galleys.
For most publishers, books for dedicated devices like the Kindle remain in the test kitchen, although Taunton has made Ellie Krieger's Food You Crave available on the device. Sales and marketing director Allison Hollett says it's Taunton's bestselling Kindle title, suggesting it is just a matter of time till we see more.
“There is definitely a market for online cookbooks,” says David Schiller, publisher of digital media at Workman. Home to bestselling cookbook authors Anne Byrn (aka the Cake Mix Doctor) and Steven Raichlen, Workman is planning to release some of its cookbooks on Kindle as early as the end of this year. Schiller also noted that Workman is “exploring partnerships” that would allow the publisher to create enhanced digital books utilizing its cookbook content, versions that would enable readers to view video and link from the table of contents directly to specific recipes. And, of course, we can't wait to download the e-book version of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
For a list of books mentioned in this feature, go to www.publishersweekly.com/cookbookbibliography.