11 days to launch: What’s a food you learned to like?

GIVEAWAY! 11 DAYS TO LAUNCH, and we’re launching daily giveaways for these two weeks! Congratulations to yesterday’s winners: Amalia Veronika, Anna Guevarra, and Lenore Jean Jones!

Today’s question for the comments: What’s a food that you didn’t used to like, but now you do like — or even better, love? Tell us about it! (Enter here: https://www.facebook.com/mary.a.mohanraj/posts/10160558536114616)


Every day, I’ll be giving away three (3!) gorgeous eBooks of Feast, perfect for referring to while cooking, using a tablet stand in the kitchen, or just browsing curled up on the couch. ($24.99 value!)

So that’s 42 chances to win! 42, the perfect number, the answer to life, the universe, and everything. How could you not enter? And if you already have a copy, think what a lovely and unique gift it would make…

(You can only win once in this two-week period, but we encourage you to keep answering questions and joining in the fun regardless.  )

I’ll post by 8 a.m., and you just have to comment on the post by midnight CST to be entered to win. I will try to make it slightly fun, if I can, by coming up with a prompt, although if you really can’t think of anything relevant, you can just comment something random, and you’ll still be entered. 

(Enter here: https://www.facebook.com/mary.a.mohanraj/posts/10160558536114616. If you feel motivated to share, I’ll be grateful. Right now, it’s all about building visibility for the cookbook; people can’t buy it if they don’t know it exists…)

Stephanie will be tracking, and will randomly pick and announce the 3 winners the following day.

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New tier on Patreon: edible treats, max 25 subscribers!

Quick note — I realized this morning that 6 people are already signed up for the new $10 / month subscription tier on Patreon (US-only, edible treats and such), and I want to be sure that it stays manageable for me, so we don’t run into fulfillment problems. So I’m capping it at max 25 subscribers for now!

Assuming that goes well, I’ll likely open it up more in a few months. I expect the first batch to go out in March (and will definitely have Neapolitan chocolates; let me know if you have other requests for particular confectionery, and I’ll think about it), for those who sign up in February. After that, they’ll ship out every three months for the rest of 2020.

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Bay Area book tour schedule

Bay Area peeps — trying to schedule book tour. TWO QUESTIONS:

1) I’ll be there March 4-8 for FogCon in Walnut Creek, and may have time for a book event. What bookstores / libraries would you recommend in: Marin / Sausalito / San Francisco / Oakland / Berkeley?

• I’m going to contact Omnivore, the cookbook store, later today

2) I’ll be there March 23 – 29, visiting family and friends for spring break, mostly in South Bay, but also up in Marin. What bookstores / libraries would you recommend in: South Bay and Peninsula?

• Jed mentioned Kepler’s?

Contacts particularly welcome, if you happen to know people on staff.

ALSO: If you’re willing to be part of my Bay Area book tour crew (I need a jazzier name for this!), helping to publicize and round up people to attend, would love to know that too! I’ll be sure to send you details so you don’t miss anything, and I may even be able to bring along some special treats for you. I’d love to speak to a packed room. 🙂

[goes off, brainstorming ‘book tour crew’ names. Something with a Sri Lankan mythical beast? Garudas, makaras. Won’t mean anything to most of y’all, though, so that’s a shame. Something with food? Oh, naming things is hard.]

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Publishing question about NetGalley

Publishing question, especially for professional readers — we’re trying to decide how to allocate publicity money for Feast, and are looking at NetGalley.

“NetGalley blurb:
A 6-month listing with NetGalley is $450. It allows professional readers to request the book for download. The author can view profiles for each requesting member and choose which requests to approve. For $850, you get all of the above plus one spot in any scheduled NetGalley Newsletter, subject to availability.”

I have no sense of how useful / important this is. If industry folks could weigh in, I’d appreciate it!

Also, on whether a spot in the Newsletter is worth paying more for?

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A commentary on “The Privilege of Rage” by tangerinejones

As a note, this is all new to me; I’m pretty sure I hadn’t heard the term ‘rage baking’ in any context until a few weeks ago.

But despite the fact that I cook a lot and think about cooking a lot, there are lots of food spaces that I haven’t spent time in, and I don’t mean my ignorance to undercut tangerinejones’s frustration and valid points here.

[The rest of this will make more sense if you read her piece first, then come back to my commentary.]



I do think it’s somewhat surprising that a major publisher coming out with a book wouldn’t have done a better social media search and found her work earlier in the book composition and publicity process.

…but that said, I also wonder whether it’s primarily indicative of the sloppiness, haste, and insularity of much of big press NY publishing.

Keep in mind that ‘big’ publishing is still and increasingly done on surprisingly shoestring budgets — esp. as the forces of neoliberalism, the collapse of the distributors, and the takeover of publishing houses by media conglomerates have all come together to create an ecosystem of frantic churn. (See also, what’s happened to the American economy generally in the last two decades.)

At big houses, many books are tossed out on the public waters every month, with the expectation that the vast majority of them will fail, blood in the water, with a few reliable bestsellers and the occasional unpredictable wild success carrying the company for another month.

It’s a terrible business model in many ways, breaking the hearts of many debut novelists, but it’s what we have at the big houses right now, I think. And I expect there’s very little in the way of ‘due diligence’ being done — far less than there might have been a few decades ago, when margins weren’t nearly so tight (and there was far less competition).

I’ve always done open calls for the anthologies I’ve edited, as a matter of principle, and tried to push those calls to the relevant spaces, but I’m sure I missed some. I knew about the big SF market listings, but are there black-only SF writer spaces I wasn’t aware of, where I should have pushed my anthology call? Probably. Should I have tried harder to do that? Probably. But all of that takes both will to reach out, and the time and ability to do so.

As a scrambling small press editor whose last edited anthology was a massive loss, financially, I have some sympathy for those small press editors who want to reach out more broadly and just can’t find the resources. (Esp. for anthologies, which are one-shots and not something like a magazine where you can put in a little measured extra effort every month for years, until you’ve really built a robust and diverse knowledge of the field.)

Many in big publishing don’t even make that attempt — they don’t want to put in the time to wade through slush (which, to be fair, ends up being masses of time if you successfully push a call out widely. I won’t be able to do it again myself, which means I’ll need unpaid slush readers if I ever edit another anthology, which raises its own class issues about editing work and its value, but let’s put that aside for now. I’m still trying to figure out how to make the economics of that work ethically).

In my experience, editors at big houses also often tend to assume they’ll get better work from people they already know, so they don’t think they’re losing anything by not doing an open call.

*That* assumption is almost always racist / sexist / etc. in its effect, even if not in intent — it leads to those who are already published, already with a mainstream platform, continuing to be published.

You don’t have to be malicious to do harm. Carelessness and ‘this is how it’s always been done in privileged circles’ is sufficient.


And in case all of that seemed like it was meant to let her publishers off the hook, it wasn’t. Harm was done to her, her brand, her work, and I think reparations should be made.

“If Simon & Schuster and the authors want to make this right, I would like to be credited for my work and see sizeable donations made to the Ali Forney Center, The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, and The Campaign against Hunger.”

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Quick question primarily for vegetarians/vegans

Quick question (primarily for vegetarians / vegans).

Some of you may remember that I did two little mini cookbooks before Feast, The Marshmallows of Serendib and Vegan Serendib. I thought to keep the price point low on those e-books, so they’re more samplers — marshmallows is just 13 recipes, and vegan is 41 recipes. The vegan one is priced at $5.99 currently. (Marshmallows is $2.99).

I was thinking about it more, and I keep feeling like heck, at least half of Feast is already vegan (as is much Sri Lankan cuisine by nature, esp. since we use coconut milk instead of cow milk). Maybe I should just do another edition of that book, and put ALL the vegan recipes from Feast in there?

I’d already been thinking about doing this for a while, and then last night I just read an article about the vegan race wars in Nosrat’s Best American Food Writing 2019: “The Vegan Race Wars: How the Mainstream Ignores Vegans of Color” (Khusbhu Shah). (Recommended, fairly short: https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/vegan-race-wars-white-veganism) Which emphasized to me that it’d be good to have more visible representation in America of vegan cuisine from other parts of the world.

But if I do put ALL the vegan recipes from Feast in this vegan e-book, it does undercut the main book sales. (As a reminder, I have 2000 hardcover print copies sitting in a warehouse right now. Eep.) To avoid that, I should probably raise the price to something closer to the ebook price for Feast? (Mascot Books — I don’t see a pre-order page for Feast ebook on Amazon — am I missing it? Jed, do you know?)


I guess this is a question mostly for vegans (I’m not sure whom I know who is vegan, aside from Swati?) and maybe vegetarians:

Would you be interested in buying a 100+ recipe vegan version of Feast of Serendib, at something like $9.99 for the ebook? With a possible print edition to follow eventually, if there’s interest and I have time? (Really, more if Stephanie Bailey and Heather Rainwater Campbell have time, as I suspect much of the production work would fall to them.)

Or should I just stop thinking about this and just leave the little vegan sampler up there as is? (We’re going to have our Feast cover designer Jeremy John Parker change the cover regardless, to make it look more like the Feast cover and less like something I hacked together on Canva, so I have to upload a new edition anyway, which is another part of why I’m thinking about all this.)

Small version already up:  https://smile.amazon.com/Vegan-Serendib-Small-Lankan-Cookbook-ebook/dp/B07GRDVTX3


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Finding a balance between cooking and writing

Kevin and I have been talking a lot lately about the best use of my time as a writer / cookbook author, whether it’s worth making and shipping sweets.

I was talking to Chef Roel Estanilla at local Filipino pop-up pig & fire about some of these issues too — he makes these amazing ube cookies, and people have been asking if he’ll ship them. And I know Amanda Daly already has people asking if she’ll ship her delectable bagels (soon to be sold at The Daly Bagel in Oak Park!) But it’s not easy to make the math work out.

For example, hosting a sale like the current Valentine’s sweets sale takes me about, oh, 16 hours of cooking, tracking sales, communicating with people, packing things, actually mailing them.

If I make about $300 profit doing that (after taking out cost of supplies and shipping), that’s about $20 / hr as an hourly rate, which isn’t terrible, but honestly, my writing hourly rate is much higher, generally — somewhere between $50 – $100 / hr.

So holding these sales doesn’t make a lot of sense, money-wise, and of course, one thing we learned from the Kickstarter was that I had *way* too many rewards levels and really underestimated how much time handmade rewards took to make. Slow-roasting and grinding and packaging curry powder takes significant time! We’re pretty committed to not doing that kind of Kickstarter again, now that we have a better understanding of just how much time goes into it — it kind of ate my fall.

But when we were talking about all this yesterday, Kev pointed out that even if it doesn’t make a lot of money, hourly rate-wise, if I actually *enjoy* the cooking experiments and coming up with new recipes and having a quiet Saturday in the kitchen, puttering, that’s worth something too. It’s certainly nice to have something productive to do that doesn’t require staring at a computer screen, as so much of my work does, so the variation is worth something, even if it’s less profitable overall. (The kids like helping sometimes, and consuming the sweet experiments…)

And then I pointed out that it’s also good advertising, of course — posting about the sale gives me a reason to talk about the cookbook again. Any author can tell you that part of the reason there’s so much emphasis on book launch is that after that, it’s much harder to come up with good reasons to talk about your book. “It’s new!” is worth shouting about. “It’s been out a month!” is much less so.

So we have a very tentative plan to keep doing these sales, off and on. Only when I’m not feeling super-pressed for time, probably no more than once a month. Maybe less often this year, once the book tour details get finalized, since for at least some of those events, I’ll be making sweets and such to serve at book tour parties.

I would actually *love* to have some of my sweets out in the world more broadly, and there’s a little dream where I find someone to partner with who actually wants to take my recipes and make them in a more serious production-oriented way as part of a small business. It’d be awesome to sell them in local shops like the Happy Apple Pie ShopSugar Beet Food Co-opCarnivore Oak ParkWise Cup, etc.

The same thing with the curry powder, actually — wouldn’t it be awesome to have the curry powder (and sweets) available in Whole Foods? I’m picturing a Serendib Kitchen line, with pretty packaging and all.

(Oh, dreams of world food domination. You tempt me.)

But that’s definitely a more serious production than I have time for this year, and possibly ever — I’d really need someone else who wanted to do it, someone who was both a good cook and with good business skills, who could be my partner on that. I guess this post is both a warning that I won’t be doing these sales very often, and a little bit of an invitation too — if that business partner is maybe you, we should talk. 🙂

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Sharing my happiness with the world

Two things that just make me happy:

– shipping out a new copy of Bodies in Motion, a book I published in 2005 — 15 years later, this book still has some legs.  I spent four years working hard on it, so it’s very pleasing to know that new readers are still discovering and hopefully enjoying it…

– the adorable little handmade label I got to stick on this package of assorted confections. A set of six of them came along with some glass spice jars I ordered, so I’ve just been randomly adding them to some of the packages I sent out this weekend. Small cutenesses that have no real purpose in the world but to make people smile…

(Sweets: “I Plight Thee My Troth” marshmallows (passionfruit, rose, and vanilla), “Starry Nights in Serendib” marshmallows (tamarind & chili), rose creams, and dark chili chocolates.)

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