Even before the COVID crisis, which caused a dramatic increase in people cooking and baking at home (54% and 46%, respectively, according to one survey), cookbook sales were already on the rise. According to NPD, cookbook sales during the first six months of 2018 were 21% higher than during the first half of 2017. And if you’re a cookbook author or publisher who wants to capitalize on this demand, there are many creative ways to promote your books.
To help you put together a marketing plan — whether you’re launching a new cookbook or trying to drive sales for a backlist title — we wanted to compile a list of cookbook marketing ideas based on how authors and publishers have promoted theirs.
And while all of the examples shown here are cookbooks, we hope this helps to inspire you with fun new book marketing ideas, no matter which genre you write or publish!
1. Discount the cookbook’s ebook
Cookbooks tend to include more photography than many other nonfiction genres, and we’ve heard concern from some partners that readers may not want their cookbooks in the digital format for that reason. However, discounting the ebook format and promoting it via a BookBub Featured Deal has been an effective strategy for generating a high volume of sales and exposure for both newer and backlist titles. BookBub’s Cooking category reaches more than 1.4 million subscribers — discounted books sell an average of 2.1K+ copies (which varies by price point), and free deals result in an average of 24K+ downloads.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt discounted Rose’s Baking Basics by Rose Levy Beranbaum to $2.99 more than a year after its launch, and amplified the discount with a BookBub Featured Deal to great success. The promotion helped get this cookbook tons of fantastic exposure in advance of the author’s new book, Rose’s Ice Cream Bliss, and generated a positive ROI, netting 1,600+ sales.
Several years after the publication of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Simon & Schuster discounted the ebook of this backlist title to $3.99 and promoted it via a BookBub Featured Deal, helping to generate a high volume of sales and fantastic visibility.
2. Cook up hype for the preorder
Like in other genres, many authors and publishers start promoting their cookbooks months before launch to grow buzz and preorder sales.
DK Books posted an eye-catching photo of their upcoming cookbook What Mummy Makes by Rebecca Wilson to Instagram. In the caption, they included a retailer link where readers could preorder.
Ina Garten announced her upcoming cookbook, Modern Comfort Food, on Instagram by posting a picture of herself holding her book. In the caption she encouraged her followers to click the link in her bio to preorder.
3. Create a cohesive brand
Some authors create a cohesive brand based on a specific food type, theme, dietary lifestyle, taste, etc., and build their entire online platform around that brand. Sometimes the brand revolves around their name, particularly if they’re a celebrity chef with an established audience.
Cookbook author Gina Homolka created a brand called Skinnytaste with a focus on delicious, healthy recipes. She emphasizes seasonal whole foods and healthy moderation, and uses this branding consistently across all of her cookbooks, online marketing assets, and social media channels.
Gina also runs a blog called Skinnytaste, where she regularly provides free recipes. She links to each of her cookbooks in the sidebar, so visitors to any of her blog posts will see the full list.
Her branding is also consistent on her social media profiles, including Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter, all of which use the handle Skinnytaste. In the caption of each picture or video in which she shares one of her own recipes, she directs traffic back to the recipe on her blog — which, again, effectively promotes her cookbooks.
4. Make people drool over your feeds
Many cookbook authors lean heavily on visual aesthetics on their social media feeds, and with good reason — their food looks stunning and delightful. They effectively draw in their audiences with compelling imagery of their recipes, amassing followers who want to learn how to create such sumptuous meals and desserts themselves.
5. Promote a cookbook discount in specific countries
English-speaking foreign markets are low-hanging fruit for increasing sales and gaining worldwide exposure. Discounting a cookbook in those regions can help drive sales and exposure in those markets. And when you submit your book for a BookBub Featured Deal, you can easily elect to run your promotion in all our international regions, including the UK, Canada, and Australia.
Penguin Random House discounted the ebook format of Indian cookbook East by Meera Sodha in the UK to £0.99 about a year after its launch. They promoted the region-specific discount with a BookBub Featured Deal, which effectively generated a high volume of sales and exposure.
When Skyhorse Publishing discounted the ebook Clean Desserts by Karielyn Tillman, they promoted the discount with a BookBub Featured Deal to Canada, the UK, and Australia, helping to boost revenue and exposure in these regions.
6. Provide a cooking lesson via Instagram TV (IGTV)
IGTV is one way cookbook authors and publishers are sharing longer-form, prerecorded videos with their audiences.
Chronicle Books posted an IGTV video of one of their authors, Jill Greenwood, cooking an “Isolation Slaw,” a recipe from her cookbook Superfood Slaw. Viewers can watch the video anytime on the IGTV tab of Chronicle’s Instagram profile.
Two days before posting the video, Chronicle teased it by posting a vibrant photo of the cookbook to their main Instagram feed. In the caption they revealed they’d post the “Isolation Slaw” video to their IGTV channel at a specific time.
7. Collaborate with media partners
One creative strategy we’ve seen is for authors and publishers to partner with a media site or publication to host their content, exposing the video or media to a wider audience.
Two weeks before the launch of My Korea, author Hooni Kim participated in a collaboration between MUNCHIES (part of the VICE network) and his publisher, W.W. Norton & Company. First, he filmed a professionally produced video teaching viewers how to cook one of the recipes in the book — kimchi stew. MUNCHIES then posted the video on YouTube and Instagram, getting Hooni exposure to their audience of 3.93M YouTube subscribers…
…and 770K+ Instagram followers.
Hooni promoted the video on his own Instagram feed, and linked to the MUNCHIES video in his bio.
To amplify this video even further, Hooni’s publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, created a dynamic Instagram Story. Here are just a few highlighted slides from the story:
You can see the full story if you go to W.W. Norton & Company’s Instagram page and tap on the highlight “My Korea”.
8. Contribute recipes or editorials to large publications
A very common publicity tactic for cookbook authors is to publish their recipes in large publications — The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Guardian, just to name a few — since they often have dedicated food sections offering access to a wide, relevant audience.
9. Run giveaways
Just like writers in any other genre, cookbook authors sometimes run giveaways of their books. We’ve also seen cookbook authors partner with other tangentially related brands to run joint giveaways.
Author Benjamina Ebuehi partnered with Enrich and Endure, a linen apron retailer, to run a joint giveaway. The prize included a signed copy of her cookbook The New Way to Cake and one of their linen aprons. Enrich and Endure ran the giveaway on their feed, while Benjamina promoted their giveaway on hers, as shown below.
10. Create a recipe blog
Many cookbook authors run blogs in which they share free recipes with readers. By making these posts search engine optimized (and visually stunning!), these authors effectively generate organic traffic, grow their mailing lists, and garner exposure for their cookbooks, which they often promote in the sidebar.
Cookbook authors Kate Kasbee and Katie Koteen run the blog Well Vegan, where they’ve posted dozens of vegan-friendly recipes. In the sidebar they promote their cookbook Frugal Vegan, and they’ve organized their posts by meal, dietary lifestyle (e.g. gluten-free), and cooking method (e.g. Instant Pot), letting readers easily browse for recipes they’d love.
11. Create a books page on the author’s website
Many cookbook authors have several other roles — they might also be a celebrity chef, caterer, restaurateur, public speaker, food critic, influencer, or entrepreneur. To make it easy for readers to find their cookbooks specifically, they often have a dedicated page listing their cookbooks on their website.
Similarly, Tanya Holland has a “Books” page on her website to list her cookbooks, with detailed descriptions and buy links.
12. Cross-promote other cookbook authors
Cookbook authors often cross-promote each other’s books to gain visibility with a relevant audience. It’s a mutually beneficial way to boost word-of-mouth buzz — and to make new friends and build relationships in the cooking community.
13. Do cooking demonstrations on Instagram Live
Some cookbook authors have hosted cooking demonstrations via Instagram Live, a format that allows simple split-screen live broadcasting (if they’re demonstrating with someone interview-style) and lends itself to casual conversations and audience engagement. Authors usually announce the event ahead of time on their main Instagram feed, and all of the author’s followers get a notification when the livestream begins.
W.W. Norton & Company announced an upcoming Instagram Live with Jim Lahey, author of My Bread, and his colleague Maya Joseph to demonstrate a bread kneading technique referenced in the cookbook.
14. Share pictures from the kitchen
Giving readers a glimpse into the kitchen doesn’t always require video. Many authors post still photos of themselves prepping food to provide readers and foodies a behind-the-scenes look and showing their fun personalities.
Chef Elsy Dinvil, author of Spice Up Simple Dishes with a Haitian Twist, posted this fun picture with an artistic twist of her peeling plantains. In the caption, she chatted about her upcoming ecookbook and how the formatting is different from her other cookbooks.
15. Appreciate readers’ cooking efforts
Many cookbook readers post the fruits of their learnings on social media, which gives authors an opportunity to both share those posts as marketing fodder and show appreciation to those readers for following their recipes.
Joanne Chang asked her readers to share photos showing off their yummy creations following one of her recipes using the hashtag #flourlove. Joanne compiled some of her favorites and shared them on her Facebook page.
Dan Lepard quote-tweeted a picture one reader posted after baking his recipe for jammy lamingtons.
What other ways have you seen authors and publishers promoting their cookbooks? Let us know in the comments below!
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