Interview with Valerie Peterson
“Branding, and the Wild West of Publishing”
By Kathryn Gordon
Kathryn: Hi Valerie, I first met you at an industry event in 1999 when you worked at Wiley. Can you tell us about your background and expertise?
Valerie: I was in book publishing a long time on the cookbook side, and did cookbook branding, author brand extensions and cookbook list branding for multiple publishers. I also worked with licensees and licencors of Betty Crocker, and the Mark Bittman "How to Cook Everything" franchise.
Kathryn: You have also published your own cookbooks?
Valerie: Yes, I have 4 cookbooks and currently write the About.com book publishing guide.
Kathryn: These days, if someone has a food business, and therefore wants to write a cookbook to promote it, how should they go about starting such a project?
Valerie: The market is saturated. Back in the day, if you were a chef when chefs started to be hot, you could guarantee you could get a book deal. More people are now self-publishing and chef books don't necessarily sell.
Kathryn: In such a tight market, what allows one person to succeed where others definitely don’t?
Valerie: You have to know exactly what your goals are. Your number one goal should be that you have a vision, and you want the book to promote yourself and your business. You have to go into the project thinking that someone else may not want to publish your vision.
The second step, is to decide how strong is your vision for your brand and your business, and if you are willing to go the route yourself by self publishing.
If you have financial resources, self publishing can get a book out there very quickly versus the 2 ½ - 3 years it normally takes to publish with some traditional publishers.
Kathryn: I don’t know anything about self-publishing. How does one find out what to do, to go that route?
Valerie: The self-publishing companies provide a lot of guidance to authors, and help you formulate your book editorially, and direct your marketing. Also, small non-traditional publishing firms have evolved and will work with authors to self-publish but they will not give any financial advances (like traditional publishers would). The new “hybrid” publishers also prefer to work with an author who has their own “branding” platform for helping to move books, and will agree to “buy back” 2,500 books or so in the first year. Your book can be an investment in your business.
Chef authors should do some research to find out which publishing route would be the best for them – if you can help sell your own books at your restaurant or bakery to your own customer base, or if you are a popular chef speaker, self publishing through one of these hybrid publishers might be a good option for you.
Kathryn: How has the internet changed publishing?
Valerie: Book publishing options has become the Wild West, in that it is no longer that codified and changes rapidly because the internet helps people to find their own direct market. People are also reading less and doing other things to distract themselves, so publishing has become less profitable with tighter margins.
The internet can be a conduit to finding your own market if you’re savvy. Self publishing and promotion via the internet may work directly for a chef author running their own business, whereas for a traditional publisher with a high overhead -- a particular book deal may not be profitable.
Kathryn: Can you discuss “branding” in the food business?
Valerie: If someone is doing a food book or a cookbook, it should be an extension of their brand. For a chef, the book and their brand “are one.”
A book promotes your brand through your book, and your book is an extension of what you want to project to your customers. Branding is to marketing, as haiku is to the world of literature. You will generally be more than your brand, but it’s a shortcut to “you,” distilled in the most pure form. It allows you to cut through the noise in the marketplace, and distills your thoughts and moods into visuals.
Your brand has to tell people what you stand for in a short attention span time. Everything else should flow from that: your website, marketing materials (brochure, business card, poster and store packaging).
Kathryn: Where have you seen entrepreneurs “go wrong” with branding?
Valerie: You must “own” your marketing space. Your website is your home base, because you can control it. Facebook creates presence and is a good place to be, but you cannot control it because Facebook could change its rules tomorrow. All your internet marketing/branding efforts should lead back to your website and it should visually promote your brand and very directly reflect the look and feel of your brand.
Without resources, people sometimes try to make their own videos but they should not be cringe worthy. If done correctly, video can be excellent. But being just a “talking head” doesn’t work – people have become very savvy about being conned by info-commercials. If your video is instructional, and promises people will learn something real through the video, it can be very effective.
Lots of people are also using Twitter badly. Your brand needs to be in mind that you should offer something of value, like some news or a photo of how to do something. If you blog on your website, lead back to the blog with a Twitter link.
Most of all, be generous – lead to other people’s blogs, too, to help generate traffic. But 90% of the time, be on “your brand.” For example, if you are a restaurateur and your brand is service: retweet other articles about service and service awards but mostly tweet about your restaurant and your service.
Kathryn: And there’s so much out there on the internet – it’s a full time job keeping up with the branding, and tweeting, etc!
Valerie: Know your customer base, and know where your constituents are. For example, if you are a cake decorator – Pinterest is big right now. Pinterest is all visual and has endless possibilities for you to help brand yourself.
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