Discover more from From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy
A brief essay on what it's like to anticipate being an author, plus a press roundup.
There’s nothing I’ve longed for in my adult life with the fervor of an adolescent much like playing the role of author of a book (No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating is out now). I will admit this to you despite how embarrassing it is: There were no white wedding nor corner office fantasies for me, just book. I even calculated whether my first NPR appearance was at an age younger than David Sedaris’s (it was), as though this were an indicator of my own future success. I’m a writer; I’ve been a writer for more than 8 years; I’ve made a living from words for 14—but I had no idea what it would actually be like when I was an author. I day-dreamed. I pictured the press. I assumed there would be photo shoots. There have been none.
But there have been interviews—so many interviews! I have worried about repeating myself, about being inarticulate, about getting statistics wrong. It’s been a humbling experience that has given me so much empathy for anyone I’ve talked to about their books, and it’s been an embarrassing experience for me, thinking about all the times I was in a rush or distracted, not asking the best questions to someone who has given up their time for me in the hopes that it will garner them a book sale, any book sale, to make the labor worthwhile.
You can spend years day-dreaming about what it will be like when your first book comes out, but it’s an experience (as I keep saying, because I keep learning) one must live through to understand. I’ve been so lucky to have this opportunity to get a more nuanced conversation about plant-based food, its history and meaning and flavors, to a broad audience. I think there’s freedom in acknowledging how complicated how we eat is—and deciding to care anyway!
If you’re missing my regular writing, there is the archive and of course, the press below, which is where my brain energy has been concentrated for the last few weeks. Oh, and there’s… the book!
Book promotion also requires a lot of time and mental work that’s unpaid, as well as unpaid writing work. This is fine—it’s marketing. But if the newsletter weren’t here, if I weren’t receiving the last piece of my tiny advance, plus a few checks from work done months ago that are trickling in, this would’ve been disastrous for me. Publishing is an industry that takes for granted the financial privilege of its workers and authors alike. That’s built into its design.
I will say that I think my book wouldn’t have garnered as much press as it has—and I’m not sure any author feels like it’s ever enough (see the note about the total lack of photo shoots above!)—without my being a constant presence in people’s digital lives. A book about the culture, politics, and food of the last 50 years of plant-based eating in the U.S. isn’t necessarily compelling without someone behind it who makes it compelling. The way you sell a nonfiction book or a cookbook (most of the time—there are exceptions, and I’m always curious and envious) is by proving to marketing that you’re a good bet, that there are people already interested in you. Oftentimes, the work is secondary to the personality if there’s not a huge cultural tide in that direction to the pull the book to success on its own. It’s an element of being a writer that gives me a lot of anxiety, and it’s also one with which I’m gradually making peace. (I also think this system is necessarily pushing folks toward founding new independent publishing houses—see recent excitement over writer Chelsea Hodson’s launch of Rose Books.)
Being the “prolific” writer of this “popular” newsletter—to use adjectives others have—as well as someone who incessantly posts to Instagram, has kept me visible and thus somewhat compelling as a person to cover. I’ve felt, since this newsletter began to be popular, that I was treading water to keep my work interesting enough that by the time the book was out, people would still care what I have to say.
Now, I think, I can breathe a little bit. I am lucky to have work to do that has nothing to do with the book, the 2024 relaunch of this newsletter to plan and strategize, and to spend most of my time with a dog who couldn’t care less. The book is and has been a big thing—but it’s not the only thing, and never was.
All of this, from the selling of a book to the writing of a book to the publicity of a book, is a very opaque process. I’m happy to discuss this further with anyone who’s pursuing it, and I’m happy to answer more questions in the comments. A lot is expected of authors, which my colleague Sara Peterson, whose book Momfluenced came out from Beacon earlier this year, has written about beautifully.
I actually took the easy road on publicity: I didn’t hire an outside firm from my publishing house, which a lot of folks do, and I didn’t personally email people to ask for coverage or pursue excerpts, which is also an expectation. (I used up all of my social anxiety override coins on asking for blurbs and book tour conversation partners.)
We did organize influencer boxes with copies of the book that came with Wellspent Market Madre Terra olive oil, Havsno Sea Salt (Norwegian, just like Karl Ove!), Diaspora Co. Aranya Black Pepper (the one that’s always in my pepper mill), and Primary Beans Flor de Junio. I’ve had relationships with these brands, and they have the kind of ethos I wanted to promote alongside the book: care from planet to worker to eater.
Thus, this coverage was all pretty organic and came either through the Beacon team or folks emailing me directly. Most of the people who covered the book are folks I’m at least connected with online if not in real life. Again, that’s a benefit of the work I do regularly. Books, if you want people to pay attention to them nowadays, generally require a shit-ton of foundational work—luckily, for me, it’s built into how I do things. Whether it all drives sales—we shall see!
This is the last installment, for now, in the Book Process series, though I’ll be writing about what I do and eat on my book tour through New York, Baltimore, D.C., and Boston—then into Montreal (again) for a brief vacation.
Thank you to everyone who’s supported the book and this newsletter. I’ll be back on Monday, September 11, with regular programming, and my book tour kicks off in Brooklyn on Thursday, September 14.
From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
For more on the book process, see:
“‘We Have a Deep Hatred of Taking Food Seriously’: An Interview with Alicia Kennedy,” Hazlitt
“‘No Meat Required’ Finds Optimism and Abundance in Meat-Free Cooking,” Eater
“How the radical history of plant-based eating illuminates our future,” Vox
“The Wild History of Not Eating Meat,” GastroObscura
“How Alicia Kennedy Became a New Type of Food Writer,” Harper’s Bazaar
“What does a plant-based diet look like? Absolutely nothing like tech companies would have you believe,” Fast Company
“Alicia Kennedy Rules The ‘No Meat Required’ World: The Food Writer Talks To Green Queen About Her Debut Book,” Green Queen
“When It Comes to Vegan Dining, New Yorkers’ Appetites Have Changed,” Eater NY
“‘No Meat Required’ looks at future of vegetarianism through its history,” Portland Press Herald
“Alicia Kennedy Is Trying to Clear Out Her Fridge,” Grub Street