Notes From the Brisket Trail

Selling a book about food, as it turns out, can be much harder than writing it, which is a lesson this author learned over months spent traveling from New Haven to Naples and back.


First I cook the book: The Brisket Book: A Love Story With Recipes.

Then I sell the book.

Selling -- stunningly -- is harder than writing. Or cooking.

For the selling part, I get out of the same Pilates leggings and Gap t-shirt I have been wearing for the year and a half it takes me to research and write the book (not that I had time to actually ever go to Pilates), and hit the Brisket Trail. From Scarsdale, New York, to New Haven, Connecticut, to Naples, Florida, to brisket cyberspace. An event at the Brandeis Women's Club, a talk at Stone Barns, a brisket tasting at Whole Foods, a brisket dinner at Gertrude's at the Baltimore Museum of Art, three NPR shows -- one a fundraiser featuring the best book ever written as the incentive to join. Who needs that crummy umbrella or tote?

Suddenly, I am my own PR agent, publicist, promoter, marketer, networker. I am my own writer of press releases, blurbs, blog posts, tweets, speeches, sound bites, articles, Facebook pronouncements, event updates. I am a supplicant, sending off fawning requests for a review, a mention, an appearance, an event, a place on their store's cookbook shelf, a kind word of any kind. I make sure that I email previous good book review links to potential good book review bloggers. I am energetic, telegenic, wise, witty, and quotable on All Things Brisket, even at 5:30 a.m. (couldn't you start your show a little later, John Hockenberry?). I am the master of the personal thank you to anyone with any media presence anywhere who even whispers the word "brisket."

I discover that I have the only cookbook where people genuinely like the book (good) but will not cook any of the recipes (not good).

On this magical misery ... I mean, mystery tour, I am also the schlepper of homemade brisket (delivered still warm in its pristine Tupperware cocoon) for the host of any TV or radio show I might be on. "Amanda Hesser always brings tons of delicious food to her events,' advises one of my NPR radio hosts early on -- the day I show up in her studio with cold Blue Smoke barbecued brisket (no time to cook) and a wan corn muffin for one. "I'm not really hungry," says the producer of the show, who looks ravenous. "How long is my slot?" I ask the host over lunch. "Oh, it's up to my producer," she says. Uh oh.

Think Sisyphus. Only instead of a big rock, I am pushing a 1,400 pound grass-fed, corn-finished steer up a hill.

How's that steer doing? Pretty darn well and thank you for asking. My book comes out in early October, right around the time Jacques Pepin's new book Essential Pepin comes out. I get some great press immediately. My Google Alert lets me know that The Brisket Book is mentioned in the blog Living in the Kitchen With Puppies and it's online in Cowboys and Indians. Who needs Food52 or Food & Wine? I know the momentum is building when, just a week after pub date, my boyfriend looks at The Brisket Book page on Amazon and relays the good news: "Customers Who Bought This Book Also Bought Very Hungry Caterpillar." I am pleased to see I have a much younger audience than I anticipated. Who knew that five-year-olds were dying to make an Aquavit Brisket with caraway and coriander seeds? Could it be that these discerning young readers are taking to heart the slogan of House Park Barb-B-Que in Austin: "Need no teef to eat my beef."

It's all going great until I take a look at what people are saying about Pepin's book: "A must-have for any cookbook fan." --USA Today. "Jacques Pépin has been a constant inspiration to me." --Alice Waters. "If there's a 'best of the best' in cookbooks, this is it." --Dan Barber. And they're turning Pepin's book into a multi-part PBS series. I get an amazing compliment, too. "You're the nicest cookbook author I've ever interviewed," says a food journalist in Idaho who tells me she has never eaten a brisket and thinks it is pork.

Pepin's book turns into a best-seller (as I write this, it's 148 on the Amazon hit parade), but I know that I am having experiences on the Brisket Trail that Chef Pepin will never have on La Rue de Onion Soup Lyonnaise. While he might appeal to your average Francophile cook, brisket (kindergartners aside) has a far more interesting and diverse fan base. The brisket lovers I meet and hear on my brisket journey range from the highly opinionated ("Oy, don't tell me you're thinking of adding Sauce Arturo?!") to the prideful ("How was the brisket?" I ask a friend who is cooking one of my recipes. "The Cook's Illustrated was pretty good," he says, adding: "I am not the biggest fan of paprika." Then this: "As you might expect, my recipe is better") to the cheerfully idiosyncratic ("We make our family brisket with meatballs on the top," shares a brisket maker at a woman's club luncheon, and I'm not the only one who thinks -- read: hopes -- I have misheard her) to the ones who blame me for red meat, bad supermarket experiences, and any brisket anywhere that hasn't turned out perfectly.

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Stephanie Pierson is the author of The Brisket Book: A Love Story With Recipes and the co-author of a book on contemporary behavior called What To Do When No One Has a Clue.

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