"When I submitted my first Doctor Who cookbook, a few small presses sent me very kind rejection letters,” the indie author Chris-Rachael Oseland says of her first foray into publishing. The feedback from both cookbook and science fiction editors was that there was no market for “geek cookbooks.” To date, her self-published Dining with the Doctor: The Unauthorized Whovian Cookbook has sold more than 35,000 print copies. Oseland went on to publish a Hobbit-inspired cookbook (An Unexpected Cookbook) as well as one inspired by the Settlers of Catan board game (Wood for Sheep). Her books have been featured by Paste Magazine, Wired, Nerdist, and the Daily Dot. Kitchen Overlord’s Illustrated Geek Cookbook and its companion, Kitchen Overlord’s Colorable Compendium of Geek History, are her latest contributions to geek culture.
What makes Oseland’s books unusual in self-publishing is that the majority of her sales are for print editions, with e-books making up just 20% of total sales. Looking at Kitchen Overlord’s Illustrated Geek Cookbook, it’s easy to understand why. The full-color hardcover—packed with original illustrations of popular TV, books, and movies by artist Tom Gordon—is a work of art.
The food allergy–sensitive celebration of geek culture has proved popular with Oseland’s followers. (Its publication was successfully funded on Kickstarter to the tune of $16,760, which covered printing and shipping the book from China.) The title covers 120 years of geekdom in chronological order, and includes recipes for Deadpool’s Chimichangas, Sisko’s Speedy Gumbo from Deep Space 9, Babylon 5 Roopoo Balls, Spice-Stuffed Sandworm Bread from Dune, Captain America’s Breakfast S.H.I.E.L.D., and Super Mario Bros.–inspired 1-Up Mushroom Pizza Rolls. “Rather than bore nerds with yet another collection of nachos and cookies with recipe title puns, we give you dozens of unique recipes drawn from iconic aspects of your favorite fandoms,” Oseland says. Each recipe is accompanied by Gordon’s original illustrations.
“It wasn’t enough to have a string of step-by-step pictures like other illustrated cookbooks,” Gordon says. “There needed to be lots of entertaining visual nods to those stories and the characters in them.” It was a crash course in caricature as he learned how to illustrate such characters as Jayne Cobb (as played by Adam Baldwin), Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), and Han Solo (Harrison Ford). He also had to familiarize himself with kitchen implements and cooking techniques before learning how to draw them. Oseland then published one illustrated recipe per week on her website, and after a year the duo self-published the collection. The $24.95 cookbook has since sold about 2,000 copies. An adult coloring book version was a natural next step for the Austin-based author—at least according to her fans.
According to Nielsen BookScan, sales of adult coloring books reached 12 million units in 2015. More than 2,000 new titles were published in the category last year, up from 300 the year before. Despite their popularity, Oseland initially dismissed adult coloring books as a fad. But after posting a few coloring pages on her Kitchen Overlord website at the request of her fans, she found that the pages were more popular than her recipes. “My post on ‘Vintage Dune Coloring Pages for Nihilistic Children’ got over a quarter-million views,” she says, making it her top post for December 2015. “Readers who follow me on Facebook asked for coloring pages from the start,” she says. Oseland and Gordon decided to launch the adult coloring book version of their geek cookbook. Kitchen Overlord’s Colorable Compendium of Geek History, published via CreateSpace in December, is priced at $13.99 and includes 110 coloring pages and new original art. This summer, Oseland plans to travel across the country to science fiction and fantasy conventions to sell both editions of the book and meet readers in person.
Oseland provides many recipes for free on her website. “A lot of folks really want to test a few recipes before committing to a $25 hardback,” she says. “Even if they never buy a cookbook, if they share that recipe on their social media, then that helps me spread name recognition and builds trust.”
“What’s important is that you don’t let the gatekeepers convince you that you dare not publish until you’ve created a perfect glistening diamond that will be admired for centuries to come,” she says. “Some of your books will be duds. Others will be short-lived artifacts of a specific era. There’s nothing wrong with that. Strap a harness to your inspirational narwhal and ride that crazy beast.”