Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Recently I attended an onstage interview conducted by a San Francisco cookbook writer of Ina Garten, whom some of you know by watching her cook on The Food Network or via her nine, wildly popular cookbooks. I’m a foodie and enjoy Ina’s recipes, but what I didn’t expect from the evening was a lesson in how to be a smart businessperson.
Writers’ eyes generally glaze over when the word business is uttered, but publishing is a business whether your books are produced via traditional publishing or you’re out there on your own. Thinking like a businessperson will stand you in good stead throughout your career as you decide what you’re going to write, how you’re going to market your book or your persona, and where you’ll invest financially in growing your writing business.
Here are the points Ina mentioned as she recapped the decisions she made to build her food empire.
Don’t overextend yourself. Ina has three staff members and has worked with the same television production team for all 13 years of her show, Barefoot Contessa. She, of course, fills out her support team with an agent and an attorney. Not only is her support team lean, but she also oversees everything that is done in her name. She’s determined that excellence will be maintained, develops all her own recipes, and does her own cooking for the show.
Application for you: Don’t commit to so many contracts you can’t maintain–and grow–the writing craft. Every book you produce needs to be the very best work you can do.
Protect your brand. Because of Ina’s popularity, she is asked to attach her name to all kinds of products, including kitchen furniture, manure, and a line of clothing. Ina turned down all three of the items listed here. She understands her brand is about food. Nothing else, just food. Her response to the offer to have a clothing line named after her was, “I always wear the same thing.” Which was funny because she’s not an interesting dresser. Generally she wears a big black shirt and black slacks. For photos on her cookbooks, she wears her black outfit with a scarf tossed on top. So, no, a clothing line isn’t a fit for Ina’s brand.
Application for you: Avoid the temptation to veer away from the brand you are working so hard to communicate. Just because “they” ask, you don’t have to say yes. That means, if a publisher asks you to write something that’s outside your brand, you say no.
Pursue what interests you. Ina worked for Jimmy Carter preparing budgets for several years. At first the job was fun, but eventually, she grew weary of it. One day, she was reading the New York Times while on the job, which she admits wasn’t the way her boss expected her to use her time. She noticed a tiny ad for a specialty food store for sale in the Hamptons. “That would be interesting,” Ina thought to herself. By the end of the upcoming weekend, she had bought herself a store. She had no idea how to run such an establishment, but, hey, it would be interesting. Ina told those of us in the audience, “You don’t have to see where an idea will end up; you just need to know that you find it interesting.”
Application for you: Don’t be afraid to take a risk that interests you. Yes, you could fail, or you could discover just the right next step because you followed your intuition.
Give yourself space to discover a new direction. After years of successfully operating her boutique store and expanding it to an immense one, Ina needed a fresh direction. So she sold the store (but kept the right to use its name, Barefoot Contessa) and built an office. Every day she went to the office and sat there. She had no idea how to move forward with her life. Then, after weeks of boredom, she finally decided to do something she said she never would: write a cookbook. Sure, she loved to cook, but she didn’t see herself as a writer. What did she find out? It was interesting and fun. She’s still happily writing cookbooks.
Application for you: Give yourself the time and space to just sit. Sometimes creativity is born of boredom. If we’re never quiet, how will our minds have the opportunity to think up new stuff? When will we ask ourselves, “What if”?
See, this business lesson wasn’t too painful now, was it?
Which of the above ideas do you need to focus on?
How to think like a businessperson–even if you don’t want to. Click to tweet.
What writers can learn about being successful from Ina Garten. Click to tweet.
P. S. I’ll be at the Mount Hermon Writers Conference as you read this blog; so if I’m not a major participant in the conversation, you’ll know why.