How I Published a Book: Photographer Tania Teschke on Getting Her French Cookbook into Print
September 10, 2018
A Bordeaux winemaker inspects grapes, an image from Tania Teschke's book The Bordeaux Kitchen. Because wine is an integral part of French cuisine, the book includes a section about wine tasting and pairing wine with food.
Photographer Tania Teschke’s new book, called The Bordeaux Kitchen, celebrates not only the meat and wine at the center of French cuisine, but the saturated fat, too. Released in June by California-based Primal Blueprint Publishing, the 650-page book weaves together food culture and cooking how-to with a “paleo” diet philosophy and the author’s personal journey to culinary enlightenment.
Teschke produced the book with a sense of mission and tireless networking, and says Primal was “the perfect fit” for the publisher. Founded by paleo diet and exercise guru Mark Sisson, Primal specializes in books about “ancestral” diets.
Teschke, who now lives in Switzerland, got no response when she sent her 68-page book proposal to Primal’s general mailbox in early 2015. So she attended the 2016 Ancestral Health Symposium—“a conference for nerdy scientists who talk about the mismatch between modern living and how we’ve evolved” as humans, Teschke explains. She was hoping to meet someone from Primal at the symposium, to pitch her book in person.
At a dinner, she made a connection. “If you find a community who is your tribe, everyone wants to help everyone else,” Teschke says. “I was telling everyone I was trying to write this book. I sat next to someone who said, ‘Yeah, I know those guys [at Primal], I’ll forward your proposal.’”
Several weeks later, Primal’s president, Brad Kearns, contacted Teschke to offer a book contract. It “bowled us over. It was clearly a magnum opus,” Kearns says. “[T]he paleo cookbook scene has become saturated in recent years. Tania’s book is absolutely one-of-a-kind.”
When The Bordeaux Kitchen was finally released in June, it hit the top spot for sales—at least briefly—on new release lists for three separate Amazon.com book categories: French cooking, food & wine, wine tasting/wine pairing.
Teschke put four years of single-minded effort into The Bordeaux Kitchen. “It’s easier to sell [books about] pastries than pot roast,” she says. But “planning way ahead and being strategic about how to meet people in the fields I was interested in played a huge role in my success….If people see your heart is in it all the way, they will be more compelled to help you.”
She began the project as a blog in 2014 after her husband, a U.S. diplomat, was posted to Bordeaux. Teschke wanted to learn about the local cuisine and wine, so she started taking cooking classes, visiting vineyards and keeping a food journal that she decided to share online.
She posted recipes with her photos of ingredients, the cooking steps, and the final dish. She shot with a consistent angle and focal length, and kept everything simple, shooting mostly with a 70mm lens, minimal props such as kitchen towels and cooking utensils, and a single light with an umbrella for use “in the dark of winter” when natural light was scarce. “You have to be quick,” Teschke says. “The dish cools off, it dries out” and she was photographing real meals she was about to put on the dinner table for her family.
Shortly after launching her blog, she started inviting home cooks and chefs to share recipes and demonstrate the preparations as she photographed and took notes. She also interviewed winemakers and wine experts. To entice new collaborators, she started pitching the blog as the basis of a book project.
Teschke had no publisher in mind, but her interest in French cuisine was motivated in part by her search for answers to her own chronic health issues, including fatigue. She suspected the answers might be in her diet. She found podcasts by Primal Blueprint Publishing, among others promoting the idea that modern-day diets are to blame for a lot of common health problems because those diets conflict with human evolutionary needs. “I fell into this ancestral health world,” she says. That led Teschke to her decision to pitch her book to Primal. An author friend advised Teschke to get a copy of Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents and follow the book-pitching instructions “to a T.”
Her proposal included several pages of recipes, chapter summaries and 20 of her best images. She explained her nutritional philosophy and how the book would differ from other English-language French cookbooks (“Many…exist, but [there are] none that address a healing ancestral perspective on French cuisine,” she wrote). Teschke also outlined her marketing plan. The proposal was long and detailed, but Teschke says in retrospect that it helped her organize a jumble of extensive notes, recipes, photos and journal entries.
Teschke worked closely with Caroline DeVita, Primal’s director of design and production. “Caroline really understood what I wanted, down to the color of the fonts,” says Teschke, who also selected the photographs for the book and specified their placement in most cases.
The initial print run was 5,000 copies, according to Kearns. Teschke says she gets 20 percent of net sales, which amounts to about $2 on the $40 cover price. While Primal provides distribution, the marketing has been mostly Teschke’s responsibility. She started a social media campaign early, announcing often that she was working on the book. As the publication date approached, she got advice from published authors, including a former executive at Scholastic who told her to put modesty aside, emphasize her globe-trotting personal story and accentuate the unusual: “The cooking of lamb brains, the grossest things I can come up with to get on TV,” Teschke says.
She has marketed the book on Instagram, a dedicated Facebook page, her blog, and on YouTube with a video book trailer (which Primal helped produce). Most of her marketing effort, though, has been in the form of direct personal outreach through emails, phone calls, and hand-written notes to a wide network of friends and acquaintances. Teschke says she’s spent “all waking hours” promoting her book “in a genuine, one-on-one way…I’m hoping it’s a ripple effect: that the people I’ve kept in touch with will like [the book], talk about it and it will grow organically from there.”
She has also arranged a book tour. Last winter, as her publication date approached, Teschke attended the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) meeting in New York to lay the groundwork for events in the U.S. The events have included a wine tasting at the French embassy’s Cultural Service Annex in New York; and a cheese tasting at French Cheese Board in Soho.
Teschke organized those events mostly at her own expense, along with sponsorship help from Bordeaux wine and cheese makers mentioned in the book. The return-on-investment, in terms of book sales, is modest. But Teschke sees the events as a “social investment” because they connect people who attend, broaden her network and—she hopes—generate word-of-mouth promotion.
Her parting advice to other photographers who want to publish books is “to be very targeted with your proposal.” She adds, “You have to give it your best shot, like your life depends on it. You have to be motivated to the core.”