We’ll Carry Less than 20% of the Food & Drinks Books Released in Fall 2020
Rice porridge beloved by an anime character. Minnie Mouse’s crudite platter. Jean Luc Picard’s Earl Grey Martini. The Golden Girls’ favorite cheesecake.
Media spin-off books (the above delicacies will all be available in books this fall of 2020, though not from Kitchen Arts & Letters) are easy targets for scorn. They comprise only about 5% of the more than 575 food and drink books we’ve been offered for the fall season. But they’re symbols of a type of publishing we try to stay away from.
What makes a book likely to be skipped?
Not Being Honest
First are the hyper specific combinations of dietary restrictions and appliances. We haven’t seen a gluten-free vegan air-fryer cookbook for diabetics on a budget yet, but its kin are numerous. If you need a book of this type, odds are it wasn’t created by a person who cooks this way on a daily basis. Instead, someone parsed the market and decided it was the best expression of the overlapping elements of a topical Venn diagram. It will be perfunctory at best.
And if it makes some health promises that might take years to take effect, we’re even more prone to skip it. Egg Salad Recipes for Arthritis Relief ? Nope. The words “cure,” “clean” and “super foods” in a title are pretty much going to cause us to automatically skip a book. We can test the recipes to see if they deliver. Health claims, not so much.
Not Being Original
Second, and related in a way, are books that represent yet another of an innumerable number of trips to the same well. Mediterranean food. Eastern Mediterranean food. Guides to whiskey. Introductions to wine. Warnings that there are problems with the food supply. OMG, chocolate is to die for!
These are all worthy topics in their way but they are relentlessly addressed and any books that hope to say something new need to make it very clear that They Are Saying Something New. And how they are saying it.
Which is also why a hackneyed title is a mark of doom. If an author or publisher can’t come up with something more original than Consuming Passions or Food for Thought, the originality of the work does not inspire confidence.
Not Being Relevant
Author background is also important. We skipped an abridgment of a historically important cookbook by someone whose background is in fashion. A book about California cooking from someone who lives 7,000 miles away just doesn’t make sense when we have so many available from people who are on the ground there.
It’s not that outsiders can’t have something significant to say, but the author and publisher have to work together to make it clear what that is. My Favorite Oregon Blackberry Desserts by a guy who lives in Brooklyn would have to make an exceedingly strong case for itself.
And when someone who has written books about pasta, chicken breasts, sushi, using a slow cooker, and making low-carb ice cream pops up with a book on some new hot topic, we’re going to wonder if this isn’t just an attempt to write for what the market seems to want.
Not Being Fortunate
Sometimes the universe is against an author. Fall 2020 offers at least 8 different pie books. That’s an extraordinary number for a dessert that many Americans are afraid of baking. If we tried to sell all of them at the same time, it would only sow confusion. Instead, we focused on the books by bakers whose track record we respect.
Does That Sound Unjust?
We’re not dogmatic about our decisions about what to carry. If someone we know raves about a book we skipped, you can bet we’ll order it in. Ditto in terms of responding to customer requests. We know we’re not infallible.
But there’s only so much space in the store. There’s a limit to how many new releases newsletters people will read and how long those newsletters can be before people’s attention flags.
So when we don’t order pie book #7 or when we skip a book about the favorite recipes of Disney princesses, its not (solely) because of cynicism and impatience.
It’s because we’d rather be able to speak up and get people’s attention for something remarkable, even if its not powerfully commercial, the way we have in the past for a book on the food of the Jews of Greece, a ‘zine profiling a Japanese American pioneer of California cuisine, or a guide to the wines of the French Alps. Books like these tend to come along suddenly: the authors publish them and sometimes appear in the store or in our inbox saying, “Hello, I have just published a book.”
In short, we’d rather find the books that are out ahead of the trends instead of exploiting them, because that’s what we think you come to us for.