How do you raise nearly $100,000 and launch a cookbook series? Former F&W editor Nick Fauchald found out last summer, when he raised $92,672 on Kickstarter to launch Short Stack Editions, a series of hand-bound, one-subject recipe booklets from acclaimed authors. Here he shares how he did it, plus three keys to crowdfunding success, and the surprising perils of hand-binding books.
Where’d the cookbook pamphlet idea originate?
The inspiration were the pamphlets that consumer packaged goods brands put out in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. My mom collected them, and always had a bunch lying around. I started collecting them a long time ago. They were such an important piece of American food culture. Before we had food magazines, before Food & Wine existed, and before cookbooks became the lifestyle objects that they are now, that’s where a lot of people got their recipes. Before the internet put everything at their fingertips, people would get their GE fridge with a pamphlet of recipes and they’d cook from that. I always thought they’d be fun to bring back in a modern way. We try to tap into that mid-century aesthetic, too, with a slightly more modern look but no photos, and period fonts.
When did you start?
About a year ago, I started talking to Kaitlyn, and she was into the idea. My girlfriend Rotem is an art director in advertising and a designer, and she was into it, too. The three of us put our heads together last summer to flesh it out and get it funded.
How did you pick the first authors?
There are loads of celebrity chefs and TV personalities, but there’s this army of talented food writers and cookbook authors and chefs who might not be on the mainstream radar, but whose work is as good or better than anyone else’s. We wanted to give them a stage. I made a list of people whose recipes I love, who could do a great job. Susan was at the top of my list, so I talked to her, and she said yes. Ian was at the top and he said yes. Then Kaitlyn knew Soa, who was Eric Ripert’s right-hand person, who did all the food for TV shows like Treme.
Unlike many media startups, the gig also pays its authors, right?
That was an important part of the original plan. I was starting to work on books for traditional publishers, and I could see where that business model is getting harder and harder on the author. We’re making less money than we did ten years ago. I wanted to come up with a model that would put authors first: To make sure that they got paid well for their effort, and to keep rewarding them over time for the work they did. We also wanted to keep them incentivized to promote the series and their work. So we pay them up front, then anytime we go to press with their book, we pay them by the copy. We’ve already gone back to press on the first three. We’re printing a new edition every one to two months, and reprinting existing editions as needed. So I keep writing authors checks, which is really fun.
This was my crazy idea. Everyone I talked to—printers, book binding experts—all told us we were stupid to hand-stitch them with baker’s twine. But I love the twine, because it comes in all sorts of colors, it makes it clear you’re holding something culinary, and that someone’s had their hand on this. That was a big challenge, to figure out how to get the binding done. We’ve got it down to a nice system where we print the books at Circle Press in Tribeca, then I have a troupe of book binders whom we end up paying very well.
Crowdfunding was the plan from the beginning, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it. There’s lots of pitfalls, but we did our research into best practices, looking at what other successful campaigns did, so we weren’t nervous when we put it live. We made sure we set a goal which we could easily hit, which we ended up doubling, so we ended up printing twice as many books, which was nice. Overall it was a great experience, but we definitely learned what works and what doesn’t work.
We made sure we made a nice video, which everyone tells you to do, to show that we could produce, that this wasn’t some pie-in-the-sky dream. We had already made our books to make sure the binding worked, things like that. We had authors that knew a lot of people, and we knew a lot of people, so we made sure to get the word out. But I’d say the biggest help was Kickstarter itself. When they like a project, they promote it. We went live with our campaign Monday or Tuesday, and that Thurdsay, they made us the top pick in their weekly email, which goes out to a lot of people. We hit our goal three hours after that. Then it snowballed.
What didn’t work?
Everyone warns you that fulfillment is the most challenging, getting the rewards out for pledges. We knew what we were up against, but it was still took us longer than we thought to get everyone what we’d promised—custom art, recipes, events, all that stuff.
How many more books in the pipepine?
We've now published seven titles. A couple dozen people have said they want a book and picked an ingredient. Christina Tosi is working on blueberries. Martha Holmberg’s doing one on plums this summer. We have a honey manuscript ready to go. We want to keep the series going indefinitely. It’ll be a long time before we run out of ingredients. We can also expand it to books based on a piece of cooking equipment. There are many ways we can expand this thing.
We're now selling subscriptions in addition to the books online—and they don't know this yet, but we’ll send subscribers a bunch of bonus schwag throughout the year, like tea towels and other little things we create. We have 40 or 50 retailers around the country, and a couple internationally. That's something we want to concentrate on this year, to pick a couple of stores in every city. We’d also like go back to food brands, to consumer packaged goods and appliance companies to make a modern version of what they were doing 60 years ago.