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.]

https://medium.com/@tangerinejones/the-privilege-of-rage-e5b2cb53d238

*****

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.”

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?)

WHAT’S THE ACTUAL QUESTION, MARY ANNE?

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

 

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. 🙂

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.)

Serendib Press work meeting and Bite Nite

Odd start to the weekend — I slept until almost 10, which was not my plan — I must have needed it badly. When I got up, went pretty much straight into a Serendib Press work meeting with Stephanie and Heather. Coffee was helpful. Coffee and meds!

Heather took the train out from Ann Arbor this weekend, to help with Bite Nite, but also to get some work done with me, meet Stephanie in person (also hopefully Cee Gee and Karen for the SLF), and have a sort of annual meeting for Serendib Press, though I didn’t really realize that’s what we were doing until halfway through the meeting.

We worked for 1.5 hrs, mostly recapping where we are at this point (Heather’s been working with me for a year now; Stephanie started last fall, so close to six months?), sketching out rough plans for the next few years of the Press.

Immediate goals are getting Feast up and off the ground well, hopefully. Next goal (might not happen until summer) is getting my backlist back under my control and start producing it again, making it easier for people to buy my books (and hopefully setting up some nice passive income to sustain future anthology and other projects). It’s going to be challenging, but hopefully productive? We’ll see. The shoestring budget is more of a cobweb at the moment…

At 1, Kevin, Heather, and I are going to spend an hour on organizing Serendib Press stuff in the basement, which is utter chaos right now — it was so harried prepping for yesterday’s Bite Night after a full week of teaching work that I completely failed to keep things organized, so we’re literally tripping over boxes and such at the moment, can’t get to the freezer, etc. This can’t go on.

But first, a break. I’m going to put a load of laundry in, then play a video game and watch some dumb TV, rest a little. Heather and I were on our feet for about six straight hours last night (me after a day of teaching), so am a bit tired. I definitely am not in physical shape for doing food production work full-time. 

Lots of people asked us last night where our restaurant was located (I should have put Serendib Press instead of Serendib Kitchen on the sign, which might have helped), and I admit, every time I said, “Oh, there’s no restaurant — I’m a writer, not a cook,” I felt a little relieved!

(All of which just gives me even more admiration for the delicious Filipino food produced by Chef Roel and his family for pig & fire — I think they have another event happening in the city today. They have a young kid, his wife is a resident; the food world is tough, people! It was great seeing them last night — their delectable pancit and lumpia sustained me through the long hours…)

Several people asked me if Serendib Kitchen did catering. After I got over my first impulse to laugh maniacally, I admitted that it was not outside the realm of possibility (I actually did a bit in college!), but there’s a set of food licensing, renting space in a commercial kitchen, etc. stuff that would need to happen first. Carnivore (only a block away) did offer to rent me space in their commercial kitchen…

It would be a VERY occasional thing if so. But, um, possible…? Esp. this year, while promoting the cookbook. Locals, talk to me if interested. We’re also planning on some pop-ups at Carnivore, The Beer Shop, etc. — calendar coming soon!

#bitenite2020

Online shopping cart advice?

Shopping cart advice? We’re realizing that the PayPal ‘shop’ buttons and the set-up of our Feast page isn’t ideal; it’s a lot of scrolling, etc. I’m wondering if we should set it up in a different kind of way, maybe an Etsy shop or something else? Recommendations welcome! I’m mostly selling print goods, but also digital rewards and occasional soaps, etc.

Is Kirkus worth the money?

Publishing / library / industry people, a question. For my indie-published cookbook, we got a glowing starred Publishers’ Weekly review. The book has been sent to Booklist and Library Journal, and I’m hoping they’ll choose to review it.

But Kirkus charges $400 for an independent publisher review. Is that a good use of (v. limited) publicity funds, in your opinion?