by Marie Woolsey, co-author, Blueberries & Polar Bears Cookbook Series
Our first cookbook, Blueberries & Polar Bears, was printed in 1994. Who would have thought that was the easy part?
We then had to figure out how to market and sell 5,000 copies of it, which was the minimum we could print. Our publisher, Centax, took on some of the marketing for us, but they also took a big percentage of the profits. Our best plan was to sell the books ourselves. (At this point, our husbands thought of this as an interesting, albeit very expensive, hobby.)
We started with book launches in the homes of friends in Calgary where I lived. I remember taking way too many books to the first launch, expecting people to buy copies for themselves, as well as for friends and family. After that, I lowered my expectations and told myself that books only sell one at a time. With 5,000 copies to sell, we had a long road ahead.
Our next step was to target retailers. We bought a generic receipt book and started approaching stores. Helen (co-author Helen Webber) insisted I be the “front man” and I soon realized how much I had to learn when the retailer placed an order and had to then show me how to fill out the receipt. Thankfully, things improved from there.
We did some road trips, stopping whenever we saw a business that might be interested in carrying our books. We took turns doing the selling and, to our delight, most retailers were very receptive.
Next, we hit the trade show circuit, beginning in Thompson and The Pas, Manitoba where we had friends and family to stay with. At first, we shared a booth with Calm Air, a regional airline we had a connection to through Helen’s eldest daughter, Toni. We later devised a plan to distribute freshly baked cinnamon buns on site.
Our secret weapon? We would bring oven-ready trays of buns to the venue and bake them in an electric turkey roaster. After all, who can resist the smell of cinnamon buns right from the oven? People flocked to our booth, following their noses and leading to even more sales.
Soon, we branched out to other towns and events and eventually did some radio interviews and TV spots in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary. We also received media coverage in regional papers throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, as well as in magazines such as Chatelaine, Winnipeg Women, Canadian Living and Farmlife. We even took out an advertisement in Canadian Geographic.
Our goal during our first year as published authors was to pay off our debt to Centax. Whenever I thought we had enough money in the bank, I’d send off a cheque. I can’t believe we had such an informal agreement with our publisher. But apparently, we were a good bet because we paid off the books in that first year.
I’d like to very firmly and humbly point out that I’m not a master chef — merely a cook. I follow recipes. Admittedly, Helen and I have tweaked the recipes until we are satisfied with them but, because we are simply cooks, our recipes are accessible to anyone. People can relate to our books and be just as successful with their results as we are.
Editor’s Note: Of course, we at Churchill Wild would argue that Helen and Marie are far more than “just” cooks! Today, the Blueberries & Polar Bears cookbooks are Canadian bestsellers with more than 100,000 copies sold, and the time-tested (50 years) and approved recipes continue to tantalize and delight guests at our polar bear lodges every season.
The above article originally appeared in our recent anniversary book, Churchill Wild 25 Years of Adventure on the Hudson Bay Coast, which along with the cookbooks, is now available for purchase in-store and online at McNally Robinson Booksellers. Also, if you ever get a chance to partake in a meal prepared by Helen and Marie, grab your spot quickly, or it will be gone!