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The day my cookbook came out. You can tell the first edition because the title isn’t centered! 😉
I’ve never really shared the journey I took to self-publishing the Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook. Those of you who have been following this blog back when it was called “Autoimmune Paleo” may know that my first cookbook had quite the origin story (and you may have even been a part of it coming to life!). In celebration of the 5 year anniversary of the first release, I’m taking a look back and sharing the story of how the book came to be here on the blog.
How did I get the idea to write the first AIP cookbook?
In September 2012 I started the NTP program in Seattle and went back to work part-time as a personal chef for a local family after recovering from my health crisis. That fall, my dad was going through some of his own health struggles and asked me to accompany him on a trip to New Mexico for treatment.
I agreed to go and help him, and unexpectedly, he felt great during his treatment so we had a lot of time to spend together. We went on long walks, drives, and spent time just chatting about life. It was then that I realized the weight of what I had experienced with my illness, and I wanted to share in a way that was bigger than blogging. At the time, a cookbook of fully AIP recipes sounded like a stretch, and when I first considered the idea I had to really convince myself that there would be anyone else out there that would actually want it. I know now it seems like a given that people would want AIP recipes, but back then, Paleo was getting really big and the AIP community was tiny.
On the plane home from New Mexico, I got out my notebook and started outlining some of my favorite AIP recipes. This was the framework for what would become The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook.
A few weeks later, I had a few friends over for dinner. One of them was Kyle Johnson, an incredibly talented photographer who I had been friends with since moving to Seattle.
I served my friends a fully-compliant AIP meal, and Kyle exclaimed something to the effect of “I can’t believe this food is allergen-free. I’m really into food, and I can’t even tell!”. I then proceeded to tell the group, cautiously, that I had been thinking of doing a cookbook of AIP recipes. Kyle responded by saying that if I ever did, he wanted to be the one to photograph it!
To this day, I still get tears in my eyes when I think of that moment. I had lost a lot of friends due to my illness, and I was always afraid that the people in my life that were still with me thought I was crazy. This validation from Kyle was a powerful force in my realizing that I did have something to offer with my recipes and gave me the confidence I needed to make it happen. Seriously, thanks Kyle! I bet you didn’t know what you were getting yourself into there! 😉
Kyle, Noah + I during a photoshoot // Brenna styling the table // Kyle + Noah shooting the ebook cover
It was late 2012 that I went into the kitchen and started developing recipes for the book. I decided to focus on recipes that had helped me get through the depths of my own illness – ones that were simple, often one-pot, fool-proof, and with a variety of flavors, but not any weird or expensive ingredients.
Friends and family donated their time to help me. My husband Noah was my #1 taste-tester and did an enormous amount of work to help me get groceries and keep the kitchen clean. Seriously, the book would not have happened without him keeping everything together (he is an absolute master at figuring out what needs to be done and making it happen!). My sister Katie and my cousin Felix both pitched in on photo shoot days to help cook, clean, and assist Kyle with his photography. My friend Brenna leant me her collection of vintage pottery and expert styling advice for the photoshoot days.
Kyle came by every few weeks, and on those shoot days we assembled a kitchen crew to cook and shoot 15 recipes. The days themselves were long and back-breaking, but full of fulfilling creative work, laughter, and always ended in a huge feast to eat together at the end of the day. We’d kick back with some kombucha and reflect on the crazy amount of work we had just achieved.
During this phase of the book, I had no money to spend on production besides the ingredients going into the food (which was actually coming from our personal grocery budget). Noah and I were still paying off the debt we had incurred during my health crisis. All of these friends and family donated time, and Kyle was gracious enough to do a trade for Noah’s custom furniture. If it weren’t for their endless generosity, this project never would have happened.
Because I didn’t have a budget for editing or graphic design, I enlisted the help of Noah, Katie, and my mom to help edit the content. I learned how to use Adobe InDesign from tutorials on YouTube, and did the design and page layout myself (with many instances of wanting to throw my computer out the window, might I add!).
Still, when I look back, I can’t believe we put together this book, from conception to release in five months, while I was in school and working full-time. It would never have been possible without having that vision that the AIP community needed a beautiful resource devoted just to them.
Kyle + Felix shooting a recipe // Learning how to use InDesign // Brenna’s table-scape
As a part of the NTP curriculum, students need to create a project to educate their community about real food and nutrition. From early on, I decided that I would use my ebook as my community project, and give the book away to the Hashimoto’s 411 Elimination/Provocation Facebook group. This was a community of people that I had relied on for support when I was sick, and I wanted to give them something that they might find useful in their own journeys.
On April 21, 2013 I posted in the group, offering free downloads for a couple days for anyone who wanted the book. A few hundred members took me up on it and got their downloads. I was scared at the thought of giving the book away to so many people thinking that I wouldn’t have anyone left to sell it to later. What actually ended up happening was those gifted books created a great word-of-mouth buzz as people told their friends and family about this great new resource.
Later the following week, I released the book for sale on my blog, Autoimmune Paleo (eventually, I joined forces with Angie Alt and we turned that blog into this one, Autoimmune Wellness!).
A couple of months later, the release was picking up steam and I had about 20 or so affiliates in the AIP and Paleo communities. I started getting questions all over email and social media about printing the ebook and if I had a print version in the works. I created a text-only version for those who wanted to print the recipes more easily, and began to think seriously about releasing the book in hardcopy with a publisher.
Around this time a few of my friends had publishing contracts with various publishers for Paleo cookbooks. Through them, I tried to reach out to three different publishers. One publisher wasn’t interested in talking to me because they thought an AIP cookbook wasn’t marketable. The second wanted me to create a new protocol and rebrand it altogether, and the third wanted to create a book with less photos and was only interested in a paperback edition. It was clear to me that these publishers didn’t really know the AIP community or share my vision.
AIP is a difficult protocol to adhere to and I knew my readers would be using the book every day in their kitchens. It was for this reason that I wanted to create a book that was hardcover for durability, and had a flexible spine so that it would open and lay flat on the countertop. It seemed like a weird reason to turn down a publishing deal, but ultimately I decided that I wanted to create the book exactly the way I wanted it, and to do that, I would have to self-publish so I could control each and every step of the process. I set to work researching how I would actually make this happen!
A screenshot of my finished crowdfunding campaign. Thanks to everyone who pre-ordered!
Part of the benefit of working with a publisher is that they cover all the upfront costs of producing the book. Since I was going to self-publish, I had to cover all of those costs myself. Even though I had already written the book, there was a lot to do in order to get the book ready for a hard copy release, and this was going to cost at least $6,000, not to mention the money I needed to order the first print run.
Since I had a small, but loyal and supportive blog audience, not to mention my friends and family cheering me on, I decided to run a crowdfunding campaign to raise the production funds. While I was initially rejected by Kickstarter, I set up a campaign through IndieGoGo to pre-sell 140 signed copies of the book, which raised $7,900 to help cover the production. If you were one of the people that supported me in this phase of the journey – I am still so grateful! And I hope you still have your signed, first edition copy to prove it!
“The Office” during edits and design // A selection of proofs // Me super excited to see my work printed!
Since I didn’t have any professional help creating the ebook version, it was in dire need of some expert touches before going to print. I hired Lisa Gordanier, a local Seattle cookbook editor to edit the copy and recipes; booked Kyle Johnson for some more photography sessions to flesh out the book; hired my friend Chris Black to redo all of my DIY graphic design and layout in the interior; and found the amazing Edward and Nancy of Star Print Brokers who assisted me in getting the book ready for print and ordered my first print run (they have been instrumental to the success of this book – 11 print runs later, we are still working together!).
I had saved every dollar I made selling the ebook version to pay for the first printing of the hardcover edition. I still remember the feeling of driving to the printer to deliver the finished files along with the biggest check I had ever written in my life that represented all of our savings. I couldn’t help but wonder, “What am I thinking?” and “Is this going to work?”.
A few weeks later I had the first print proofs in my hand, ready to be approved to make sure the printer was executing my vision. And a month after that, I had the first few copies of the book! I couldn’t believe it!
A month after that, the first print run was delivered to me in Seattle. Not only was I self-publishing, but I was self-distributing too (I have two entrepreneurs for parents, so I guess I thought this kind of crazy was normal!). This is when it got “real” – as in, I now had physical books to deal with! I rented a storage space with a loading dock and freight elevator large enough to receive the pallets of books, and set up an account to be a vendor on Amazon.com.
Once I had the books on hand for release, I got to work sending all of those copies I had pre-sold during my crowdfunding campaign, as well as sending review and giveaway copies to all of the bloggers in the AIP community. Noah and I got to know my local post-office clerks very well, as we sent out about 300 individual books in a matter of weeks.
My sister Katie + I waiting for the books // Katie with a pallet in the elevator // Review copies ready to go
March 31, 2014 the book was released to Amazon. The entire first print run sold out in 3 days, and the book went out of stock for six weeks while I sought financing for a second print run and waited for it to arrive. What an overwhelmingly awesome problem to have!
This book was the first on the market for AIP by a long shot, and it was clear that in the time I had spent producing it many people were discovering AIP and seeking guidance on the elimination diet. Since I had initially given so many copies of the ebook away, there was an awesome buzz in the community about this new book. It was an amazing feeling knowing that it was going right into the hands of people that were looking for it!
As expected, when the book started selling well I started to get calls from some of those original publishers with requests to buy the rights to the book and get it in stores. They told me it couldn’t be done on my own, and that I needed an experienced publisher to grease the wheels and get it done for me. I was a little bit skeptical, turned down their offers (after all, I had come all this way on my own, right?) and took that as a challenge ;).
Mission Heirloom in Berkeley, CA // My friend Arsy + I at my book launch // Book Larder in Seattle, WA
Hardcover release to stores
The summer of 2014 I found a distributor who would take the book and represent it to stores. They told me it would be possible to get the book in stores for a release, but that it was highly unlikely they would be able to get the book stocked long-term (this is called being “modeled” and means once the store sells a copy of the book, they replace it with another copy). Again, another challenge that I was ready to accept!
The book was released to stores Jan 7, 2015. I came up with an idea to convince retailers like Barnes & Noble that they should model my book. I scheduled a 6-week, 13-city book tour around the country to do book signings. I thought that if I did a lot of promotion and drove lots of in-store sales, it would show the stores that they should keep the book on the shelves. And it worked! Noah and I packed the car and took #AIPtour on the road, meeting fans in BC, Canada, Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. A few months later, I found out that they had been convinced and were going to model the book, and it has been placed on store shelves ever since.
To this day, I still own all the rights to the book and continue to self-publish and self-distribute the book to both Amazon and stores through my distributor, Chelsea Green Publishing.
Kyle, Brenna, and Noah, the core team that make this beauty happen! I hope that “cheesecake” was worth it!
The success of The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook has exceeded my wildest dreams. It has been a #1 best-seller on Amazon for the past four years, literally since the day I announced the pre-order, and is still the #1 best selling AIP cookbook. In 2014 it won the “Best New Specialty Cookbook” award from Paleo Magazine. It has been converted into a metric version and translated into Spanish and German for my readers around the world. In addition to that, I’ve been able to do book signings and events in four countries and have had the opportunity to meet thousands of you in person! This has given me SO much joy and fulfillment.
Since the book came out, I often hear “This is the book that helped me when I first started” or “I never would have been able to make AIP stick without these recipes.” The best is when someone comes to a book signing and pulls out a tattered, stained and marked up copy of the book, saying they cooked out of it every day during their elimination phase. I am eternally grateful for all of you who have reached out to let me know that my work has touched your life in some way. When I set out to develop this collection of recipes, I had no idea what an impact it would have, or the beautiful AIP community that would blossom around it.
Five years later, I still owe a debt of gratitude to the friends and family who supported me through this project. Kyle, thank you for that vote of confidence and for sharing my creative vision. Noah, thank you for stepping so seamlessly from my caretaker in the phase of illness to co-creator in the phase of writing this book. To Brenna, Katie, Felix, Chris, and Kim, your involvement was instrumental to filling these pages with beauty and love. And thank you to all of the AIP bloggers and members of the AIP community that helped me promote this book or simply shared it with a friend – I am still so grateful for the role you’ve played in spreading the word!
To celebrate the 5 year anniversary of The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook, I’m giving away over 50 copies of the hardcover and digital versions of the book to the AIP community. These giveaways will be happening on our Autoimmune Wellness social media channels, as well as on my personal account and the accounts of many bloggers in the AIP community.
Make sure to click on over to Facebook or Instagram during the week of April 21-April 27 to find links to our giveaways as well as the other bloggers who will be participating during the week. Or check the hashtag #APCcelebration to find the giveaways that way!