From the decluttering craze sparked by Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to the continued demand for books on eating clean and green, the lifestyle category is, as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt senior v-p and publisher Bruce Nichols observed, one of the fastest-growing in the industry. To keep up with consumer demand for diet, health, and self-help titles, HMH created a new position devoted to the company’s existing culinary program and to expanding its lifestyle list, hiring 25-year publishing industry veteran Deb Brody as editorial director, lifestyle and culinary, in October 2016.
In moving to HMH, Brody joined a company that has had considerable success in the lifestyle and culinary field, led by its Whole30 franchise, the first two books of which have sold more than a million copies, according to HMH. To keep up its momentum, in December HMH will be releasing two more Whole30 books by Melissa Hartwig: Whole30 Fast & Easy Recipes and Whole30 Day by Day. The publisher has also struck a deal with Whole30 contributor and blogger Michelle Smith for The Whole Smiths Good Food Cookbook, set for publication in late 2017.
To beef up the publisher’s lifestyle list, Brody has signed up Glow15, a weight loss and anti-aging plan by QVC nutritional wellness expert Naomi Whittel, and two cookbooks from Dana Shultz of cooking blog The Minimalist Baker (who has more than 500,000 Instagram followers).
Other new additions include the RBG Workout: A Supremely Good Exercise Program by Ben Schreckinger (an illustrated gift book outlining the workout that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at age 84, does twice a week to stay in shape), due out in October, and neurosurgeon and neuroscientist Rahul Jandial’s Neurofitness, which helps readers stretch and strengthen the mind, for publication in 2018.
On the culinary end, in the fall HMH will be releasing A Grandfather’s Lessons by Jacques Pepin, and Beekman 1802 by Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, the founders of the popular lifestyle brand of the same name. For spring 2018, the publisher has signed up Just Cook It by Food & Wine deputy editor Justin Chapple and Secrets of the Southern Table by Virginia Willis.
Brody also brought in The Instant Pot Cookbook, authorized by the makers of the Instant Pot. After noticing the multicooker, now a bona fide phenomenon, cropping up on social media and Amazon bestseller lists (and becoming a “member of the Instant Pot cult” herself), Brody approached the company about a book deal. “While it’s not the first book out, ours will be among the most comprehensive, and we’ll have strong promotional support from the company going into the holiday buying season,” said Brody.
In looking to trends on the horizon, Brody is eyeing plant-based and vegan eating and cooking, a trend that the editor said is not slowing down, as well as one-pot recipes and quick and easy cooking for the time strapped. Having just acquired the first cookbook from Alvin Cailan, a Los Angeles food scene expert and Eggslut chef, Brody is also confident that Filipino food “seems to be having a moment.”
When asked for the key to successfully publishing a book in the increasingly crowded lifestyle space, Brody said it comes down to one essential element: “Platform, platform, platform. It truly is about what the authors bring to the table. I’ve been in this business for a long time, and it used to be the author would hand in the manuscript and the publisher would take it from there. I fully expect that it’s now a 50-50 partnership.”
Harnessing an author’s social media presence is vital, according to Brody, because the publisher can count on a certain percentage of those followers as consumers. But there’s more than just the number of followers. “When we look at social media, we look at engagement,” Brody said. “You want the author to be engaged with the readers, and the followers to be engaged with the author. There’s definite correlation between engagement and book sales.”
Because so many new projects are sourced from social media, where an author’s material—recipes, tips, photography—is free to followers, Brody pays particular attention to what value a physical book offers to a consumer. “We always try to make the books have a certain percentage of original content so that people aren’t reading it and saying, ‘I’ve seen this whole thing,’ ” Brody said. “We do care a lot about packaging and making sure that the book itself is an object that you want. I think partly the ephemeral effects of social media makes people long for objects.”