My self publishing journey

It’s taken me a while to write this. Not really knowing how to start or what to write; there are no bakes, no recipes. Just a plain old story, my, plain old story. So here goes…

Of course, I couldn’t continue without a picture of my gluten free cookbook 😀 available via email only now –

I guess there is a lot of procrastinating that goes on when you choose to make a decision to write a cookbook. When shall I start? How many recipes shall I create and write, who takes the photos, who will read it and what will they think? How do I go about designing the layout when all I have is Office 365 and I can barely write a letter!! And as I progressed there were a whole bunch of questions I hadn’t even thought of!!

But as you can tell – spoiler alert – I wrote the book – I started the process.

Way back, in what now seems a lifetime ago, in 2018, I made the conscious decision to go ahead and start compiling the recipes at the start of the New Year – 2019. It seemed like a good place to start; a new year and a fresh start. Although I had started to make some head way a few years before, the magnitude of the task back then was too much. I got bored of writing and really had done no research what so ever as to the size of the task – my mind then, was not up to the task, so what ever recipes I did have meant nothing and I started from fresh.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, every recipe I have developed over the past 9 years of starting Cakes by Noah, are all in several notebooks, but are not in a form I can use and besides, I feel they represent the journey as does the blog. The blog. Yes. What should I do with it? Do I keep it? On the later, yes I am keeping it for now. It shows the journey, it shows where I have come from, it shows Noah’s story and the progress he is making and continues to make as he grows older. There are still lots of people out there to hear and read the story, people that are still struggling silently, unaware of the help and support out there.

Its not the fanciest of blogs and websites, I don’t think I ever wanted it to be. I don’t have the time or relentless energy to keep it updated as some, perhaps more professional bloggers can and do. Its hard enough keeping a full time job and managing and loving our little growing family 🙂

The book, yes, the book.

The mind was set and the story can re-start. In fact the layout of the finished cookbook begins to tell the story itself, as the first few recipes were the ones that pretty much chose themselves. The ones that were Noah’s favourites! But what next and where to begin? I think then at that point I think I then needed to decide what the book was going to be and who it was for. Have I got that right? Who knows. But the original working title of the cookbook, was something like ‘Back to Basics – Gluten Free Baking by Cakes by Noah’. A gluten free cookbook that gives the cook and reader a base to start from. Some basic recipes – pastry, choux pastry and Victoria Sponge, then some traditional bakes like Bakewell Tart, Brownies and Flapjacks and so on. It was also important for me to share, again, Our Story. How we came to this point and the pain we suffered. I felt I had a platform – albeit a small platform – so I felt I need to use it wisely. Plus some insight to ingredients and some more sage words of wisdom.

Cakes by Noah Cookbook – behind the scenes

So the recipes slowly but surely began to get written up and the photos (literally hundreds of them and dozens of the same cake and bake) were patiently taken. A little shout out to Jane from @LoveYourLens – whose food photo workshop I had attended at least a year before. At the workshop it became fastly evident that back then I had some work to do, I knew that, and quickly understood that the little camera I had a) wasn’t up to the task and b) I could do so much more with my phone camera!! I have continued to shoot all my photos on my phone camera. I get better with each shot, but to be honest I do get impatient. After all its a cake! There are some great photographers out there, who take some really inspiring shots, but to get a photo done between getting up and going to work, you take what time you have and do your best. So ‘thank you’ Jane for letting me think just a little bit more about the shot and make my time more effective 🙂

So yes, the photos in the book were all taken by the camera on my phone – a Samsung, something or other. Which only became a small problem when it came to printing and design… The photo studio was floor by the back door, a stool to prop up the backdrops and as much natural light as was available. And that was another small hurdle that had to be overcome. The clue was in when I decided to start making and baking the recipes – January – when light was at a premium and I was working during the day! So very quickly, after some negotiating…. I had to make and shoot the recipes over the weekends. No ‘lets order in all the ingredients and do all the recipes in a week’ here. Oh no, knowing that this was a self funding project, one with no agent or publisher and with little or no budget, it was all done with the weekly shop! The first 4 months of weekends of 2019 were taken up testing, cooking, shooting and writing up recipes. I think the neighbours did pretty well over those months with the excess cakes and bakes – nothing was wasted!

And so the book, slowly began to take shape and it was time to do a little more research on publishing. There is quite a bit on line on self publishing and indeed getting a book published, but not very much on publishing a cookbook. Advice varies, but the strong piece of advice was to get an agent and publisher. For which I needed a vast amount of followers; a reasonably large and established social media presence…. Hurdle 1 through 99… More research established that (and this won’t come as a surprise) I needed an editor – someone with a grasp of the English language and associated grammar…. So with as much of a manuscript (I can call it that at this point – sounds very professional) as I had at that point, I sent it over to my little sister who has some relevant qualification, to have a read and make some grammatical amends. This took a while – as she too had a full time role as a mum to Noah’s cousin – life just gets in the way and that is the wonder of this story. There really was no specific time line, no deadlines to meet. OK I had set myself some timelines and deadlines (each failed to hit by the way) but I never shared these with any one. For my sister, I was just grateful for the time.

Duly edited, corrected and saved – I think I had saved 4 separate copies in various files – almost losing the lot at one point and to this day I have no idea how, my heart fell that day make no mistake!! I was still several recipes short of what I felt I needed. I had done some homework that alluded to the fact that, in order to have a spine on the book it needed to be thick enough, which decreed it needed more content. So further baking and photo’ing was required.

Next on the list, how can I make this into a book? A publishable, printable cookbook, that is worth reading. More research revealed I needed a degree in graphic design!! Which I don’t have and knew no one who did. I started asking around…. now baring in mind I had pretty much no budget… quotes were wild – from the crazy to the ridiculous. But I found someone through a chance discussion, someone with a quote that made sense and one I finely knew I had to dig deep and put some money where my mouth was. If this project was to go anywhere, if it was really going to happen, it needed the investment to make it happen. So Sam H, who as part of the initial quote, created a cover design that made me feel confident to progress further with – thank you 🙂

We are now pretty much 16 months down the line from making the conscious decision to weigh the first ingredient and bake the first bake – The Gluten Free Caramel Shortbread. We now need to through into the mix Lockdown and Covid-19… There was a brief moment where I needed to now press ‘pause’. So close; the manuscript was ready to get its design makeover, ready to make a word document into the makings of a cookbook. But with the prospect of no money coming in, it wasn’t really practical to go forward. And then this new word appeared; ‘Furlough’.. I called Sam and we were back on again. But there were now new questions, layout, content, design, colour, shape etc… And I think at this point – I had no idea. I hadn’t really thought this far and I had to put a certain amount of trust in Sam to come up with the goods. I’m glad I did. Feedback has been really positive.

So next on the list – physically publishing the cookbook. More research. And rewind back a couple of years to a conversation I had with Val Stones – Great British Bake Off contestant, who has herself written a cookbook. I just asked for some advice on publishing and Val was fantastic. We had a great discussion via the DMs on Twitter, she was incredibly helpful and the insight in her journey as a writer was incredibly useful. Now in a position to recall some of this conversation, I needed to make a call as to how many book I was going to get printed! Its like a ‘million dollar’ question. How many is enough? I really had no idea. One thing for sure it wasn’t going to be the levels that Val had produced! I just didn’t have that kind of following, but I did need to be able cover the costs at the very least. So I set about finding a UK based company that could print a book! Again wild differences in cost and the mere ability to print to requirements. Then came new questions – book size. Who knew there were so many choices! And taking a look at your own bookshelf will show you, that actually there really is no format for this sort of thing. Its almost anything goes.

Another step back for a moment. What did I want from the cookbook in the end? What I wanted for for those suffering from Coeliac Disease, or those suffering from a gluten intolerance was for them to be able to cook for themselves. To be able to cook simple, honest and traditional cakes and bakes that most people were enjoying without even having to think about it. Baking made as simple as I could make it, not over complicated and yet easy to read and understand. A cookbook that just sits on a website or as an eBook waiting to be bought as and when required. No pressure; it’s there when you want it. So when it came to choosing a book size that would go to print….! And now a spot of advice – have this discussion with your designer in the beginning. Sam had been designing to A4, so we went with A4. Simple really, plus, A4 fits nicely through most letterboxes in the UK! Yet something else to be considered – postage and packaging. This would also have to be managed from the home office – no warehouse distribution centre here! Just the Kitchen/Diner. Just as an aside, I did consider other print on demand services, like Ingramspark, but they just didn’t fit well with me and my situation. There were other costs and payments that again, didn’t fit.

Manuscript – graphic designer = tick

Designed layout – printer = tick – Mixam

There were a couple of other things to consider around this point. Its all very well writing recipes and then getting that text grammatically corrected. But does it actually makes sense? To me; of course it made sense, but I am more than aware that what makes sense to you does not always make sense to someone else. its all down to the interpretation of the text. So once the book had been graphically designed and the layout agreed, it needed a small army of close family (that could be trusted… :)) to proof read the recipes and content. This could possibly have been done before sending to the designer but, hey ho. It would take a few more weeks to get this turned around and amended before finally being in a position to send to the printer for printing. And then it comes to Amazon..

Gluten free Victoria Sponge – Cakes by Noah

Getting the book to the printer was a massive step, a huge piece of work done and a proud moment. Another slightly tricky bit was to follow. What did I want from Amazon? Well an eBook for sure, again keeping it simple. But now I had a print-on-demand solution as well to put in the mix. So whilst the cookbook was being printed and delivered we worked on the e-solution. Using Kindle Direct Publishing does take a little getting to used to, but its not insurmountable. The programme they use to upload a book for eBook/Kindle reading is fairly easy to use and with hindsight I think we could have designed the eBook slightly differently to use up less memory; easier to read and upload. But the e-reader now gets the same book whether in eBook or hard copy. And then there is the option to use have eBook as a print-on-demand solution. To cut a very long story short, we ditched this solution. Its an exacting solution and required too many tweaks and amends to cut the eBook into the required Amazon standard. The other reason for ditching this solution is that Amazon does take a very hefty cut! I would have almost been paying Amazon to print the book! Plus it would have ended up more expensive to purchase than physical book I now had had delivered! Coincidently we had ordered a cookbook on Amazon via what would have been the print-on-demand solution for this particular author, only to discover how the delivered product did not live up to expectation….

Website solutions in order to actually sell the book…. With Amazon now set up and ready to go; how do I sell, safely, the hard copy? Again there are various solution on line and all have their varying costs, but I did actually already have the solution at hand. I just needed to work out how to do. As many readers and visitors to the site will profess, its not perhaps the brightest and most inviting of websites/blogs – it does what it needs to do and that is to give you the reader what you need. Its functional and no-frills. None of the long winded wording and back story to each ingredient (that I completely understand the need for, for the professional blogger – its how they earn their living), mainly because I still haven’t got to grips with all of the functionality of the blog admin. I blame time… This was the platform to safely and easily sell the hard copy. In the end, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, but then, it never is. Just have a go, what’s the worst that can happen??

Book delivered, eBook ready to go, print-on-demand ditched; it was time to think about a publishing date and for no other reason than a date as close to my birthday as I could think – October 2nd 2020. Happy near-birthday to me! Books were ordered in the run up to the date and since; personally put in envelopes, personally hand written addresses and personally queued at the Post Office to have them then hand delivered to you by your Postie through your own letterbox. A unique and friendly personal service, to all parts of the UK, Europe, USA and beyond. And now with an added donation from each sale of the cookbook to Coeliac UK, supporting the work they do.

So what next? Who knows. I’ll take suggestions. I continue to try different things, to explore new cakes and bakes, to boldly go where no gluten free baker has gone before. Spread the word..


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