Last summer, Anna Watson Carl, chef and New York City-based blogger behind The Yellow Table, set out on a monthlong road trip across the United States. She hosted dinners in cities including Raleigh, Nashville, New Orleans, Austin, Dallas, L.A., and Seattle, all with local food bloggers, in hopes to raise awareness for the Kickstarter campaign set up to fund her debut cookbook, The Yellow Table: A Celebration of Everyday Gatherings.
Her car, a silver Beetle Coupe, was on loan from Volkswagen, which partnered with Carl on the road trip after she cold-called the company’s marketing department. She similarly enlisted the help of Whole Foods, which supplied Carl with the food and wine for the 8 parties.
“This project was always an interesting combination of great ideas, and figuring out how in the world I was going to pay for it,” said Carl.
The question of how she would pay for her cookbook was answered by the time Carl returned to New York. In five weeks, she had met her $50,000 goal, and then some, pulling in over $65,000. She released the book on November 11.
A cookbook has been on the horizon for Carl since she completed her culinary degree at La Varenne in Burgundy, France. She moved to New York to chase the goal, but wound up taking a job at the now-shuttered Culture + Travel magazine. Once it folded, she worked in test kitchens at Martha Stewart and Real Simple, and freelanced pieces on food and travel.
In 2011, Carl once again made moves toward her dream of writing a cookbook, and launched the Yellow Table blog, which she manages from her apartment in the Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood. Named for the yellow table that is a fixture of her own dinner parties, Carl wanted the blog to be a place that would inspire other people to host gatherings. “Life in New York is so busy,” said Carl. “I saw people eating out in bars and restaurants far more than they would in their own homes. Dinner parties don’t have to be some big thing that happens twice a year on a weekend. I wanted to encourage people to make a pot of soup on a Tuesday night and invite their neighbors over.”
When it became clear to Carl that a book deal wasn’t around the corner, she took matters into her own hands. In October 2013, she began work on the cookbook, with photographer Signe Birck shooting the art, an experience captured, over 100 days, in Carl’s series, The Cookbook Diaries.
The blogging kept her “accountable,” and, Carl admits, that she “secretly” hoped that the series would spark interest from publishers. While several smaller presses reached out, according to Carl, she didn’t find one with the right fit.
“I kept proceeding,” she added. “The more I talked to people, the more I realized that with a publisher you do lose a lot of creative control.”
When she wrapped up the Cookbook Diaries in late March, Carl came to a crossroads in her journey to publication. Knowing a traditional publisher would take "a year or more" to release the book, she decided to continue on her own. “We thought, ‘Are we going to try and go the traditional route and develop a proposal?,’” she recalled. “I felt I had developed momentum, and that would be so cool to have it out by Christmas this year.”
So, she set up the Kickstarter page to fund her printing and manufacturing costs—by the time she returned from her dinner party road trip, which featured events with bloggers like Joy the Baker’s Joy Wilson (whose new book, Homemade Decadence, went on sale October 28 from Clarkson Potter) she had more than met her goal. Carl selected Katie Ring Rumford to handle design, and hired Lauren Salkeld, formerly of Epicurious, to edit. The book, printed by Wisconsin-based Worzalla, features wine pairings from Jean-Luc Le Du, owner of Le Dû's Wines in the West Village, and former chief sommelier at Daniel.
Carl is represented by Jill Browning, a food and lifestyle publicist with an eponymous firm. Browning, who previously worked in-house at Simon & Schuster and Random House, admitted that she doesn’t often take on clients not attached to a traditional publisher, but her decision to represent an author still comes down to content and platform—and an interesting backstory doesn’t hurt. “After I talked to Anna the first time, I knew I wanted to work with her,” said Browning, “because her story and the path she took to get her cookbook published was so unconventional and creative.”
The book is currently sold via Amazon, Carl’s website, and at Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tenn; and Red Barn Mercantile in Alexandria, Va, as well as at ABC Carpet & Home. Carl is “actively pitching it to many more stores.”
For Carl, the decision to self-publish was a gradual one. “The leap came with deciding to get started without any advance from a publisher,” she said. “I realized the power of embarking on an unknown and inviting people into that journey.”