Cooking, writing, and bicycling: Interview with author Anna Brones
As I’ve been developing our Self-Promotion for Introverts blog series, one person keeps popping into my mind—our author Anna Brones, who I met years ago when I saw her give a presentation about effective social media use, in which she delivered some of the simplest and most useful advice I’ve heard. When I published her first book two years ago, I should have realized that she’d apply her formidable network and friendly powers of promotion to it, and despite not having any kind of outside distribution the book quickly burned through what at the time had seemed like a riskily large print run. I asked Anna to share some of her magic with you all, and she kindly obliged.
A couple of years ago, you wrote a cookbook for Elly Blue Publishing (which we’re reissuing as a Microcosm title in the fall). Can you tell us a little about the book and what you’ve been up to since?
The Culinary Cyclist is a book about the intersection of a love of bikes and a love of food. What ever does that mean? Basically it’s an ode to the slow life, because if you take the time to ride your bike, and if you take the time to make your own food, then you’re living with intent. And that intent takes time. Since The Culinary Cyclist came out in 2013, Johanna Kindvall and I wrapped up the manuscript for Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Johanna did the illustrations, I wrote the text and we developed all the recipes together. It’s officially out on April 7 and we’re very excited! I’ve also been busy working as a producer on the film Afghan Cycles and keeping up my blog, Foodie Underground. And then there are some other projects in the works, but they’re secret for now!
Before you became a book author, you were already working in marketing and publicity. Was it difficult to transition between promoting other people’s work and promoting your own? Looking back, what do you wish you’d known when you made that transition?
I’ve always liked the networking aspect of marketing. Reaching out to people, putting them in touch with other people and helping people to get the word out. So for that, I really enjoyed doing marketing and publicity for other people’s work. But while I was doing that, there was always this voice at the back of my head that was telling me that I was perfectly capable of doing my own projects and marketing them as well. Honestly it wasn’t that hard to transition to promoting my own work, but there is that part of me that is pretty sensitive to whether or not I am being a shameless self promoter. Then again, a lot of people that get a lot of attention and media are the ones that promote the hell out of themselves. I think we can all find a nice balance, but I do think it’s true that most of us err on the side of too little self marketing and promotion, and we could probably all do with pushing ourselves a little out of our boundaries.
What strategies have worked best for you in terms of promoting your books, and are there any things that have not worked as well?
This is going to sound really ridiculous, but when I was thinking about Fika coming out I kept thinking of it as my “baby.” I don’t have children, and I would never dare compare writing a book to having a child, but there is a similar sense of ownership over this thing that you created. It’s something that you’re proud of. It’s something you want to share. I thought of all the baby photos I saw from my friends, and I figured if they could do it so could I. So started taking really silly pictures of “Baby Fika” all over the place. Baby Fika’s first coffee. Baby Fika’s first bike ride. You get the idea. Because it was such a ridiculous endeavor it didn’t feel like marketing, and because I wasn’t just posting a link every day saying “BUY MY BOOK NOW!” I think people responded well to it. However, my friends who are actual parents might hate me, I’m not sure.
Ultimately I really do believe that when you’re marketing something it has to be a part of a larger story. A link isn’t enough. For starters, your product has to be good. But after that you want it to be a part of a bigger picture. You’re not just selling a book, you’re selling a vision, a lifestyle. That might sound like I’m an aspiring life coach, but there’s a reason that so many brands and individuals nowadays are so focused on “storytelling.” Because stories are what we care most about, and we all have one. So make sure yours is one you believe in and that you can talk about for hours again. People seek authenticity and I think when marketing doesn’t work is when it feels inauthentic.
You’ve now had experience with publishing a book through a teeny, tiny press (EBP) and a major label house (10 Speed, owned by Random House), and soon to be a still very-small indie (Microcosm). What differences between these experiences have struck you?
I feel so lucky to have experienced both. They are two very different worlds. Mostly in terms of time; The Culinary Cyclist went from concept to final product in about 8 months. Johanna and I did the Fika proposal in the beginning of 2012. So that’s 3 years between idea and final book. Another big difference, at least in my experience, is the number of eyes on your work, both in the editing process and on the final product. I think having my first book be a smaller print run, made me more comfortable with having my name out there, doing interviews and seeing the book mentioned, because you know that the whole world doesn’t have access to it. There’s a comfort in that, because you have the luxury of your work really being seen by a niche market that is predestined to like the subject which means that it feels more like a small group of friends getting to read it. But now I am ready to go a little bigger, which makes it exciting that Fika is coming out but also that The Culinary Cyclist is getting reprinted with a much larger distribution.
I also feel very lucky to have worked with two publishers that so wholeheartedly believe in my projects. Obviously my experience is my own—everyone has a very different experience, whether they are working with a small or large publishing house—but I will say that the people at Ten Speed and EBP have been a dream to work with. A large part of that is that they were both so excited about the content that we were doing for them. Which is proof to me of two things:
1. Work with people who are like-minded and passionate about the same things you are passionate about.
2. For aspiring authors, pitch to the publishing houses that you WANT to write for, not the ones you COULD write for.
I think so often we are so focused on getting paid/getting a book deal that we just pitch right and left to places that may not necessarily align with our own values, or be as excited about a topic as us. The golden spot is to find someone that’s on the same page as you.
Anything else you want to share?
One thing that I have really come away with from the last two years of book publishing is a reminder that everything is constantly evolving. Our personalities, our preferences, our attitudes; everything is constantly in flux. We are humans, the only thing constant in our lives is change. But when you write a book, everything is on paper, for the rest of eternity. Or at least as long as your book is out in the world. That can be a bit intimidating.
In re-reading The Culinary Cyclist while I was doing edits for the reprint, there were a few spots that I laughed at myself, or even cringed. Because even in just two years I have changed a bit, and if I were to rewrite that book now, some things would be different. So it has all been a lesson in approaching the things that I read—books, articles, blogs—in a different way, and not making assumptions about what the writer says or what they stand for. When we create, we put something into the world. But if it’s not perfect—and it never is—we can do better the next time. And the next time. We are always learning. And we have to be flexible, and the same things go when we’re talking about marketing and publicity. Try something, and if it doesn’t work, do something different. No one has the right formula, and if they tell you that they do, they’re probably lying or want your money.
This is a Microcosm author interview! Our last author interview was with Al Burian, and our next one is with Ben Snakepit.