Please welcome Monica Bhide to Writer Unboxed as our newest regular contributor! Monica is is an award winning writer, literary coach, poet, storyteller, and educator. She is the author of the novel Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken, which has just been nominated for the Library of Virginia Literary Awards, fiction category! (Congratulations, Monica!)
As a bestselling fiction and internationally renowned cookbook author, she is known for sharing food, culture, mystery, and love in her writing. That’s why we thought a column on recipes for writing success seemed ideal. Welcome, Monica!
I was a traditionally published nonfiction author, by Simon & Schuster and other houses. I wrote for major newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune) and magazines (Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, Parents). People in my industry were aware of my work. And then, in 2014, I wrote and independently published a collection of short stories. When I reached out to dozens of traditional media for reviews—or even just to ask them to take a peek at the book—I was mostly met by closed doors. The reason: “We don’t consider independently published books.”
After hearing so many nos when I’d hoped for yeses, I thought perhaps I had made a mistake writing fiction. So I focused anew on my well-established platform of food writing. I published a memoir featuring my food essays that had appeared in various traditional publications. In late 2014 and early 2015, I pitched the book to multiple outlets. The response was a little better—the Washington Post and Mint (a leading Indian business newspaper) gave it good consideration—but I got the same negative reply from many others: “We do not cover independently published books.” Everyone had said having a platform would help, but it did not.
Marketing my books was proving to be a discouraging challenge. I was disappointed and, honestly, had begun to doubt myself and my decision to become an indie author.
Then I had a revelation: If I was going to publish nontraditionally, then I had to market nontraditionally.
When I released Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken, my debut food fiction, in late 2016, I changed my marketing approach. I am sharing my experiences here in the hope that they will inspire and motivate you to create your own nontraditional marketing plan. Mine now includes the following elements.
- Contact Organizations: For all of my six previous books, I had focused solely on traditional print media, hoping that reviews and/or interviews would sell books. For Karma, too, I created a press release—but in the end I did not send it out. Instead, I began to think about how I could go directly to my readers. Since the book is food fiction, I approached food retailing chains and food event organizers, as well as book fairs and institutions like the National Press Club and the Smithsonian (I live in the Washington, DC area). These all have mailing lists and can reach a large audience. I already had relationships with some of them, but not all. I prepared a strong pitch on why my book would be interesting to their audiences and then came up with a unique angle (what my old boss used to call “the difference that makes the difference”). The novel is about a young man who wants to start a charity kitchen, so in my pitch I suggested menus he might create. This worked well as it made the novel “come to life” in the form of a meal. I am happy to report it worked: the Smithsonian, National Press Club, University Club Book Fair, Virginia Festival of Books, and many other organizations agreed to host events for me, as did Whole Foods (more on that later). The key was to approach them with a professional product and a good business idea. Think about your novel from a reader’s perspective: Who are the likely readers, and where are they to be found? Then focus on pitching your book to those organizations and events.