The One Word That Should Guide All Your Marketing

We’re having rain after rain after rain here, and that’s led to a lot of staying in and cooking and gin rummy playing. We recently got addicted to gin rummy after finally figuring out that we could play just the two of us, and now the competition has become fierce. Pepper has had to referee a few “disagreements” about the rules. I think that makes her the level-headed adult in the house.

(In unrelated news, here’s Pepper ready to hit the pavement for some job interviews. We had to stage an intervention last week and tell her that her free ride is up, and it’s time to start paying rent. Let’s hope someone else finds her more employable than we do!)

literary agent blog

We also spent a few days in Michigan this past weekend, and all the rain there brought up a crop of morels on the farm. We picked nearly 7 pounds of them, and now we’re going to cook them every which way we can think of.

literary agent blog

literary agent blog

Speaking of windfalls, I wanted to chat today about a word we don’t hear too often in the world of blogging and publishing:

Generosity.

Generosity doesn’t get talked about much, but it’s really the business we’re in as book people.

It’s the train car that’s pushed along by the engine of purpose—it’s essentially the outward expression of inward compassion for readers.

Generosity in writing means keeping a single-minded focus on bringing joy to others and feeling deeply, monumentally grateful that they’ve given a few precious minutes of their lives to your words. As Elizabeth Gilbert puts it in Big Magic:

“Learn to share things with an open heart and no expectations. Live out the existence that best suits your nature.”

There’s a magic that happens when you push all your cells in the direction of serving others, even if you haven’t had nearly enough coffee yet, even if you can only eke out a few moments of big-heartedness each day, even if nobody will notice or appreciate it.

That, I think, is one of the most important traits all successful bloggers and writers have: they start with giving and they end with giving, and in between they give a little more.

Effective Book Marketing for Authors

I am so, so lucky that my authors start there. They’re already at the top of their fields, running successful businesses, and well-known for the quality of their work. They have it all, and they want to share it all. That’s the kind of heart I look for when signing an author.

Which brings me to a related and important point that few people talk about: marketing is not one-size fits all.

It just isn’t. Modern marketing is too often focused on spurring action, and the importance of giving generously back to readers has been buried beneath a pile of call-to-actions and marketing scripts. And yes, there are best practices and strategies and plans that are proven to work well, but they are utterly worthless until they’re adapted to you. Marketing has to start with your voice, and it has to start with a mindset of generosity.

Why Sharing Your Work Has to Start with Knowing Your Voice

I hear this anxiety from authors all the time: “I don’t want to sound like X person because they’re just so sales-y.” And I 100% get it. Nobody wants to suddenly switch on an infomercial announcer voice when it comes time to promote their book.

What I tell authors is: you don’t have to. What you do have to do is share your story, in your voice, and be confident in one simple fact: that the book you created is going to be a ray of sunshine in people’s lives, and it’s simply your job to guide them to the window and open the blinds for them.

We’re now in an era where everyone is trying to sell you something or other online. And there are about one trillion blogs about how to blog and blogs about how to sell. Those are helpful, definitely—it’s important to educate yourself and act on the learnings of others, rather than reinvent the wheel yourself. Yet the loudness of the Internet makes it more important than ever to speak to your audience just as you are, not as a marketing script.

Because as soon as you lose your voice and your stories and your personality online, you become just another marketer, convinced that with the right scripts, right sales copy, and right funnel you’ll sell a trillion copies of your course/book/product.

So if you ever feel that little twinge of uncertainty about sharing your book or product with the world, remember that you don’t have to do it how everyone else does it. Learn everything you can, then adapt those concepts so they feel authentic to you, and always, always start from a place of generosity and gratitude.

And if you need a real world example of someone who does this stunningly, go spend some time at my sweet author Robyn’s blog, Add a Pinch. Robyn’s first cookbook, Add a Pinch, was just released by Clarkson Potter last month, and she’s been lavishing her readers with all the love in the world in celebration of it.

Robyn has been running spectacular giveaways, sweepstakes, and more to celebrate the release of her cookbook, and it’s been such a delight for us all to see how very delighted her readers are. Not only did she create a book that’s going to be a spot of sunshine and a true workhorse in her readers’ kitchens, but she’s also generously stocking those same kitchens with great giveaways like KitchenAid stand mixers, Lodge skillets, and Wusthof knives.

Her readers are being spoiled rotten, and not just with kitchenware: Robyn also always takes the extra time to thoughtfully and graciously respond to all her reader emails, comments, and questions, and to be a voice of encouragement alongside readers as they cook.

And no, I won’t go on and on about how wonderful her book is and not give you one! That would be very rude.

Giveaway of the Add a Pinch cookbook by Robyn Stone

add a pinch cookbook book deal robyn stone

Today I’m giving away one copy of Add a Pinch: Easier, Faster, Fresher Southern Classics by Robyn Stone.

Reply to this email or send an email directly to maria @ cooksplusbooks . com by tomorrow (Friday, May 5th at 5 EST), and tell me what your favorite Southern dish is. I’ll pick one winner at random to receive Robyn’s gorgeous book.

And for those of you who don’t have your copy yet (get it here!), or who just need something to make for dinner tonight and you’re at your wit’s end (me!), here’s one of my very favorite recipes from Robyn’s book.

Robyn cooked us this shrimp and grits recipe when the photography team + me + her editor were out at her beautiful Georgia farm last August, and it was incredible. My stomach is growling just thinking about it.

So if you need a little bit of Southern home cooking to look forward to this week, add this to your dinner list. I’m hoping it fills your kitchen and your day with all the warmth and love Robyn put into it!

Creole Shrimp and Grits

Creole Shrimp & Grits Recipe
Photo by Helene Dujardin from the Add a Pinch cookbook by Robyn Stone (Clarkson Potter).

Serves 6

For the shrimp:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
6 medium plum tomatoes, chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
For the creamy grits:
6 cups water or chicken stock
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1½ cups quick-cooking grits
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For the shrimp:
In a medium skillet set over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, and celery and cook, stirring, until tender but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 5 more minutes. Add the shrimp. Cover and cook until the shrimp are opaque and cooked through, 5 minutes.
For the creamy grits:
In a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, bring the liquid (chicken stock or water) and the salt to a boil. While whisking constantly, slowly pour the grits into the boiling water. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until the grits become thick and creamy, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan from the heat, stir in the cheese.
Divide the grits among serving dishes. Spoon the shrimp over the grits and drizzle with the pan sauce.

Enjoy!


What I’m Reading This Week:

Annie Dillard on What It Takes to Be a Writer and Why Generosity Is the Most Powerful Animating Force of Art (Maria Popova on Brain Pickings): To stay on today’s theme, here are some heartening words from Annie Dillard on the power of generosity.

The Magic Wand of Generosity (Dan Blank on Writer Unboxed): And one more on-theme piece: here’s a great article about how we should “Be insanely generous, instead of insanely promotional.”

4 Methods for Developing Any Idea Into a Great Story (Elizabeth Sims for JaneFriedman.com): “‘Look,’ he said impatiently, ‘ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s the development that puts you over the top. Do what you have to do to make it real and get it to market.'” Amen.

Cookbook Update! (Jenn Segal of Once Upon a Chef): Since we’re already talking spring cookbooks today, mark your calendars for Spring 2018 when Jenn’s wonderful cookbook comes out! Here she shares a great behind-the-scenes look at the cookbook process, which right now for us means poring over interior design concepts and getting every last detail just right.

Cookbook Progress: The First Pass (Polly and Rachel of Thriving Home): Just as Jenn and I are looking at interior concepts for her Spring 2018 cookbook, Polly and Rachel are hard at work on the first pass for their Fall 2017 cookbook. First pass is the first time an author will see the fully designed pages of her book, and it’s when things really start to feel real. Take a look at this video if you want to see how the pages look!

Damn Right: I Do Make a Living Writing About Food (Naomi Tomky on DianneJacob.com): “It’s easy to romanticize the writing life. But to do this for a living, I must take that starry-eyed dreamer and lock her in the closet, while I get down to business.”


What We’re Eating This Week

We’re off to our honeymoon in Greece in two weeks, and so I’m on what I’m fondly referring to as The Greece Diet. Here’s how it works: tell everyone that you have to eat healthy because you’re about to go on your honeymoon, drink a lot of red wine and eat carbs anyway, remain stupidly optimistic that you’ll do better tomorrow. Tomorrow’s always the best day to start a diet anyway, right?

Monday: Out to dinner, where I promise myself I won’t touch the bread basket (and therefore I deserve an extra glass of wine).

Tuesday: On the road, and we know how that goes…

Wednesday: A salad! I am so good. Extra tortilla chips on the burrito bowl salad for me.

Thursday: Pasta…with salami…but also cabbage. So we’ll call this a net neutral day.

Friday: Well, it is Cinco de Mayo. It would be a little weird not to eat a dozen tacos and a dozen margaritas. #TheGreeceDiet

Cheers!

Snippets of life right now

Is it gorgeous by you yet? This week spring hit our neighborhood in full force—every tree is full of tiny baby leaves and the wind smells fresh and sweet. I was finally able to open up our living room windows for the first time in months, and it completely transformed the room. Isn’t it funny how a little bit of fresh air can make a room feel totally different?

Since we’re all breathing fresh and deep this week, I thought it’d be fun to do something a little different and play a game of Currently. Have you ever played Currently? You just jot down whatever pops in your head at the prompts. It’s fun to capture what you’re up to even if you don’t share it with anyone—think of it as a time capsule for the start of this year’s spring.

So without further ado, let’s play!

LOVING: Gin Rummy. We’re on a card-playing kick lately, and for some reason there’s nothing more relaxing to me after a long day of work than playing a card game together on the couch. Maybe it just feels so analog and old-fashioned when the rest of life is so digital? I don’t know. But I think Jarrett and I are ready for our retirement home.

Speaking of gin, we’ve also been loving these Cucumber and Basil Gimlets that Jarrett made for us a few days ago!

cookbook recipe blog

READING: I’m finishing up Unshakeable by Tony Robbins—it’s definitely the book to get if you felt intimidated by all 688 pages of Money: Master the Game. They both cover the key things you should know about investing, but Money definitely gives you both depth and detail. Up next: I have An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler waiting for me on my nightstand. I’ve heard such great things about it, so I can’t wait to dig in. And, because I’m almost always working through a new cookbook or two, I’m also reading recipe by recipe through SkinnyTaste: Fast and Slow. It’s perfect for some light and fresh spring cooking!

cookbook recipe blog

SHOPPING FOR: I really want a fresh pair of white cotton sheets for the spring and summer. We finally tucked away our flannel sheets (we adore these from L.L. Bean), but we ended up hating the cotton sheets we got from our wedding registry last year. (Never again will I buy sheets online without feeling them first!) I want a set of soft, breathable, but not too expensive 100% cotton sheets, but I don’t really want to go to a store to stand around stroking different sheets like a nutcase. So I guess you could say this is what I’m currently not shopping for—ha!

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 12.18.53 PM

EXCITED ABOUT: Our honeymoon to Greece next month! We’re off for two whole weeks to Athens, Meteora, Santorini, and Ios. We’re doing AirBnB abroad for the first time, and we’re hoping it’s pretty seamless. We’ll be doing hotels in Athens and Meteora, but I’m so excited to have more space (and a kitchen) when we’re on the Greek islands. I get so tired of eating out meal-after-meal when we’re on vacation. I just start to feel overly stuffed and sluggish, and I hate missing out on visiting the outdoor markets and being able to actually cook with new ingredients. So I cannot wait to have that last week in Santorini and Ios to lounge on the beach and cook fresh fish and eat feta. Mostly eat feta.

TRYING TO: Keep building our family gallery wall. One of my ongoing projects this year has been to print and frame our wedding guestbook print and a few of our other wedding photos. We’re building out a big family photo wall in our bedroom, and now that we have a few wedding photos up, I want to keep layering in photos of both of our families. I’m planning to have dinner with my Yaya this week and look through old photos together, so slowly but surely, we’ll keep this project going!

cookbook recipe blog

WORKING ON: Proposals, books in production, books fresh out in the world, books, books, books! By the way, have you seen my Spring 2017 books? They’re full of so much goodness and happiness for your home, your kitchen, and your day-to-day peace of mind. You can get organized in a sane way with Organized Enough, cook up some fresher, easier Southern fare with Add a Pinch, then clean up that kitchen with Simply Clean. If that’s not a nice little sequence to kick-off your spring, then I don’t know what is!

ENJOYING: Midday walks with Pepper, aka Peppy. It’s such a great way to break up the workday when I’m working from home, and it forces me to step away from the screen and get outside to enjoy the open sky and warm weather. Isn’t it funny how hard it is to break away from the computer sometimes, but how very good it feels when we finally do? It’s my daily version of a deep breath. And it’s much easier to bring yourself to do it when you have this little face next to you pleading for walk-time.

cookbook recipe blog

USING: Lavender essential oil. I swear, I sleep better when I put a few drops on my pillowcase before bed. It’s magic.

WEARING: This new J.Crew tunic I bought a few weeks ago. Please don’t make me admit how many times I’m wearing it per week. It’s just so comfortable, and it feels like spring in fabric form to me. Maybe this just means I desperately need more spring-y crossover tops.

cookbook recipe blog

PLANNING: It’s on my to-do list to research and plan a trip at the end of the year for my 30th birthday. We both get the last two weeks of the year off, so I’m hoping we can spend 4-5 days around my birthday volunteering either abroad or in another part of the country, and then we’ll spend Christmastime at the farm in Michigan.

SINGING: I’m really into this song lately. Again, it just feels like spring to me! (Ignore the cheesy video!)

NEEDING: More time for yoga. I love my midday walks with Pepper, but it does leave me with less time to squeeze in a yoga class. Lately, I’m lucky if I get to yoga once a week. Can there be Doggy and Me classes somewhere, please?! Pepper is already pro level at Downward Dog.

LEARNING: How to relax. This is an ongoing thing for me, but I really love this little book for a quick dose of relaxing reading before bed. It’s great for tucking into a nightstand or purse, and it helps quiet down all the noisy thoughts that can keep us from focusing and staying in the moment.

LISTENING TO: I listened to this podcast of Linda Silverstein in conversation with Anne Lamott and Glennon Doyle Mellon last week and loved it to pieces. Is there a cooler lady alive than Anne Lamott? She’s another voice that helps me breathe deep when life gets crazy.

WISHING: We were in the mountains. I miss being surrounded by gorgeous green nature. Must mean it’s time to plan a camping trip!

cookbook recipe blog

DOING: Eating our way through the freezer. We got together with some friends this past weekend for a big freezer cooking day, and now our freezer is past capacity—as in, we have most of our food sitting in a friend’s deep chest freezer! Time to tighten (er, loosen) our belts and get to work.

DREAMING OF: Jarrett’s surprise birthday activities on Saturday. I have a whole day planned full of fun stuff for him, and I might be even more excited than he is!

So that’s what we’re up to! How about you?


What I’m Reading This Week:

This is a time of year that awakens our hibernating senses, so I thought it’d be fun to weave that springtime theme into the reads this week, too!

To Become a Better Cook, Sharpen Your Senses (Julia Moskin for The New York Times): “But recipes are inherently limited when it comes to sensory information. An instruction like ‘simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, until thickened’ can produce endlessly different results. The recipe doesn’t know what your stove considers ‘low’ heat. It doesn’t know what your pan is made of. It doesn’t know what ‘thickened’ looks like to you. That’s why the best cooks learn to work not just with their minds and their taste buds, but also with all their senses.” This is so true—there’s only so much we can convey in recipes. That’s why I love recipes that have a layer of touch or smell cues to them, both for the reading and eating pleasure they bring.

 10 Ways to Sharpen Your Kitchen Senses (Julia Moskin for The New York Times): And if you’re looking for some practical ways to bring the senses back to your cooking (and not just the sense of panic and rush!), here’s 10 experiments to try.

6 Mindfulness Practices for Busy Weeknight Cooking (The Kitchn): And since we’re on the theme, here’s a piece I wrote for The Kitchn on how to slow down and be more mindful and present when you’re cooking.

How to Produce an Emotional Response in Readers (Donald Maass on JaneFriedman.com): Just like with cooking, success in writing begins with being clued in to the senses and emotions. This matters just as much for nonfiction as it does for fiction. I always tell my authors that they have to make the reader feel something, no matter what they’re writing about, because that’s the only way on this earth to get people to care.


What We’re Eating This Week:

I’m off to NYC this week, so the pickin’s are slim. Here’s the real, unvarnished truth of what we’re eating for dinner:

Monday: Spaghetti with Bolognese we made during our freezer cooking day. I swear by this recipe.

Tuesday: Tortilla de patata and looking through old family photos at my grandma’s place.

Wednesday: Dinner out with my mom—sushi maybe?

Thursday: Soup from my favorite spot in the city. I can’t come to the NYC office without getting Kabilah’s split pea soup with fresh herbs! I need to hack this recipe.

Friday: White Chicken Taquitos from SkinnyTaste: Fast and Slow. And maybe definitely margs.

Cheers!

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