Check out how the thought, “I should do a cookbook” from someone who doesn’t cook turned into the popular Stolen Recipes cookbook. Mary Sue Koontz Nelson has printed more than 20,000 copies with G&R Publishing. Here she tells how the book came to be.
“I should do a cookbook.” – Mary Sue Koontz Nelson
As a member of The National Speakers Association and speaking across the country, I discovered it was an accepted practice to have available something to sell as a token from your appearance. I first began selling tapes of my speeches. Soon I realized I was selling my performance, basically giving my talks away! One evening the idea just came to me to “do” a cookbook. I wanted this cookbook to be different, accurate and, most importantly, upbeat and fun! I wanted my cookbook to be one that would be thoroughly enjoyed as well as used.
The greatest joy in compiling my cookbook was contacting different women friends from across the entire state of Texas. I had been a member of The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association for years and had developed many friendships from all over the state. I decided to write every single female member that I knew, telling them my plan and asking them to send me their most favorite ranch recipe. The only requisite for these recipes was that these ladies had to live on the land 24-7. Not just be “Weekend’ ranchers. The response was overwhelming and the recipes sent in were basic and delicious. As a result, the Stolen Recipes cookbook became an accumulation of friends sharing with friends. It is simple and uncomplicated like true friendships should be.
I have often been asked how to write a cookbook and I hesitate to answer. Different people see and have different goals for their cookbooks, and that is how it should be. What started out to be an item sold in the back of the room following my talks, simply got ‘out there’ by all kind of methods. I never overlooked an opportunity. At first I even had local stores I traded with have a book signing party. I signed -and sold- even in a hardware store and a dress shop. My goal: Make it visible AND available!
Now here is the ‘kicker’, I DO NOT COOK. I don’t boil water. The terms “braise” or “sear” don’t mean a thing to me. I remember the old adage that stoves can kill. However, a blessing in my life is my dearest friend, Jeanne Byerly, who tested and tasted, cooked and cooked every single recipe that was sent. Without her there would be no Stolen Recipe cookbook. However, between us, we believe we had more pleasure getting this book together than those reading it can ever say!
You simply have to see the joy in putting a cookbook together. It’s there, between lemon pie notes from a Lampasas cook to deer chili from El Paso. With almost every recipe that arrived there was a message, a scribbled note at the bottom saying ‘this was my Aunt’s favorite’. Some could even be quite saucy! That was the special part. Often we would print these personal notes under their contributed recipe. This added greatly to the ‘personality’ of the book.
Not knowing how to cook was not anything I set out not to do. As a child we were blessed to have a wonderful cook in our kitchen. However, this kitchen was ‘hers’ and we three children were not allowed behind that swinging kitchen door. From not being allowed in the kitchen, going off to school I had meals in a dining hall, so I never really was “in” a kitchen. I have never regretted it and still do not.
Stolen Recipes has fortunately crossed the country. Shortly after the book came out, Neiman Marcus took an interest and had me go to their California and Chicago stores to sell and sign books.
This, of course, got the cookbooks ‘out there’ (although it was not a hit in the East at all). Unfortunately, Neiman’s soon canceled their book departments nationwide and along with it, Stolen Recipes. However, it was still ‘out there’ and that is what I wanted!
There have been many e-mails, letters, telephone calls, text messages, cell calls and on and on from all kind of people -both men and women- who have liked these very delicious recipes. And, some 15 (!!) years later, the accolades have not stopped! I have not hesitated to give full credit for the success of Stolen Recipes to these fabulous ranch ladies that generously shared their beloved recipes! I wanted it to be different and a little sassy, so I used all kind of wording on the cover. The recipes were not stolen as I had to get written permission to use them. The eye catching cover was taken by David Langford. It is a great shot of my husband Tom’s well-worn boot and the title emblazoned in bright yellow were a great help in attracting buyers. Covers ARE important!
Mary Sue Koontz Nelson
To me, one of the most enjoyable things about the book is when I receive telephone calls or emails asking about a recipe or even telling me how to improve one. They come in from all across the South. The caller usually starts off with “on page 200 there is a recipe that I think has too much sugar. What do you think?” I ask them if they’ve read Chapter 1 or not, because it tells you loud and clear, I don’t boil water. So no, I can’t help you! The call ends up with both of us in hysterics! As for me, I still do not, will not, cook!
When asked whether or not to write a cookbook, my very first reply is “yes, do it”. My second is to get G&R Publishing Co. to do it! They are personable and are experienced. They have the know-how and, most importantly, they share their expertise. Stolen Recipes could not have been the major success it is without them. G&R takes time to listen, advise and then implement a quality product. Make your cookbook project one of your most fun times. Do not turn gathering recipes or typing into the night a chore. If it’s not going to be a happy task, don’t even start. It takes time-time-time. Leave it and forget it, then come back more enthused than ever. Make it a labor of love. You will be giving others a piece of your recipe collection that hopefully, with each bite, they will smile – and enjoy!