This Close-up is special not only because it’s with the super fabulous cookier-now-author Lisa Snyder of The Bearfoot Baker, but also because it marks the start of our CookieCon 2015 interview series. Over the next several weeks in the lead up to CookieCon, I aim to interview all seven instructors as well as their illustrious mistress of ceremonies, who happens to be none other than Lisa!
We live-chatted with Lisa about a month ago (transcript here), touching on everything from her new book 101 Animal Cookies to where she gets her cookie inspiration. But today, I intend to go deeper into all of these topics, CookieCon (of course), and more.
JMU: Hi, Lisa! It’s so great to have you back with us! Oddly, one thing we did not cover in your chat was when and how you first got started in cookie decorating and blogging about cookie decorating. Who or what inspired you to start? Can you give our readers a brief review of your cookie decorating history?
LS: I had a job that was 15 minutes from my house, but then my husband was offered his dream job, which required us to move an hour and 30 minutes away. Long story short, we moved, and I drove three hours every day to and from work. I loved my job so much that the drive didn’t bother me until the price of gas when over four dollars a gallon. I was forced to make a career change. Before I started the search for a new job, I saw Dani Fiori on the Martha Stewart show. She was decorating the cutest little Santa cookies and she was using these cute little decorating bottles! I knew had to try them. I convinced myself that I needed to make the Santa cookies that Dani and Martha made, but Macy’s was sold out. I set up an account on eBay and ordered them. The set was only twenty dollars at Macy’s, but I got in a bidding war and paid more than sixty dollars for them. After someone pays that much for cutters, she’d better make a career out of it! You can read the entire story here on my blog. That is how the blog was born.
JMU: We all know you spend a lot of time on that fabulous blog of yours – and you now write cookie books! But do these two things capture the full extent of your cookie activity? Do you also sell cookies, or make video tutorials, or teach? How much of your typical work week is spent blogging, marketing the current book, and doing any of these other things?
LS: Right now, I am focusing on my blog and making how-to videos. In the future, I would love to teach cookie decorating classes. I enjoy chatting with others about their cookie adventures and helping others get excited about being creative in the kitchen. Maybe one day everything will work out, and I will have the space to teach. I do not sell for several reasons. Cottage laws (laws which allow citizens to operate a home-based bakery or food processing business) and the fact that I live in the middle of nowhere are a big part of that decision. Also, delivery or pickup would not be beneficial to me or the buyer. Working from home can sometimes bring a few challenges, so I try to treat my blog like a full-time job. I try to stop when I reach 40 hours a week, but that doesn’t always happen. I enjoy my work so much that it is hard to stop!
JMU: So let’s talk more about your book, which published in October 2014. What an accomplishment! I’m still stuck on two points about it that you mentioned during your chat: (1) you only had three months to write it and (2) you had to ship 1,000 cookies to your publisher in England, so they could photograph them for your book! (As a point of reference, I had one year to write each of my books, and I shot all of my cookies in a local photo studio about five minutes from my house.) Apart from drinking a lot of coffee and pulling endless all-nighters, how on earth did you find the time to produce 100 fresh ideas for the book in such a short period of time? Did you organize your work weeks in a particular way, get help with certain tasks, or employ any novel time-management strategies? And how on earth did you maintain your blog at the same time?
LS: That is a good question, Julia! LOL - I am the type of person who makes a plan and usually doesn’t stick to it. I spent about a week baking all of the cookies (I knew they would not be eaten so I didn’t worry about freshness) and sorted them by chapters on full baking sheets. Then, I decorated the cookies according to each chapter until they were done. I didn’t look up. I just kept decorating until each tray was empty. When I felt like I needed a break, I would work on a new blog post because I got to play with my camera and edit a few photos.
It really wasn’t that hard because I have a wonderful husband who supports me and loves to eat cereal and soup for dinner. He did most of the cooking during that time. It makes me want to write another book so he will cook for me again.
JMU: Ha! Here's to cereal-loving husbands! I have one too!
How did you come up with the concept for 101 Animal Cookies? Was it something your publisher suggested to you based on the work on your blog? Or an idea that you presented to them? If the latter, how was the idea presented? Did you have to prepare a full-fledged book proposal, a rough outline, or something in between?
LS: The publishers contacted me with the idea already in mind. They knew they wanted a cookie book that featured 100 animals. They picked me based on some work they had seen on my blog. They seemed to like the owl cookies and the jellyfish cookies.
Once we had a chance to discuss a few ideas, they asked me to make and mail them some cookies right away. They used those for the book cover, and then presented it in a book fair. The book was picked up by another publisher, and I started baking.
I feel like I was really blessed because I didn’t have to make a big proposal. They knew what they wanted, and I was lucky because I got to do what I love, which is to make cookies instead of a proposal.
JMU: Was it an easy jump to go from writing a blog to writing a book? What, if anything, was especially different or challenging about writing a book? Do you enjoy writing for one any more than the other, and, if so, why?
LS: Writing a book and writing a blog post are very different. I feel like a blog post is almost like a chat between friends. I can add a little story or let my personality shine a little. A book focuses more on the technique and instructions.
The hardest thing about writing the book was not getting to take the photos myself. When I get an idea for a post, I can see how I want the cookies to look in the first picture of my blog. I like to stage it and tell a story.
With the book, I decorated the cookies and shipped them to the UK not knowing what was going to happen. I had to let go of the story and allow the publisher to create the images that they wanted. It was scary, but I think they did a great job. It was a good lesson in letting go and giving someone else the creative freedom to tell my story.
JMU: What were the best and worst parts of writing your book?
LS: The best part of writing was looking at all of my cookie cutters and seeing different animals in the different shapes. It was really good practice and has helped me with new designs.
The worst part was packing up all those cookies and holding my breath until I saw the final photos. I was afraid the cookies might get broken during shipping or that the colors would bleed before the photo shoot. That was very stressful!
JMU: Yikes, I can only imagine the stress . . . Now that the book has been out for several months, how, if at all, has your life changed? For instance, are you actively traveling to promote it? Or spending more time online trying to get out the word? Is your relationship with your fans any different?
LS: I think my life has changed somewhat because the book helped me gain more confidence in decorating and realizing dreams really do come true. I had hoped one day I might be able to work on a cookie book, but never realized someone would approach me. It really was a huge honor to be selected.
My life in general has changed since I started decorating cookies and started my blog. I have made friends around the world, traveled to places like Utah for the most amazing cookie convention on earth [EDITOR'S NOTE: She means CookieCon!], and helped empower women and men who want to learn new decorating skills. The greatest thing about what I do, whether it is working on the blog or writing and promoting my book, is meeting people and helping them develop their skills so they can express their creativity.
JMU: In your chat, you mentioned that you were already jotting down ideas for a second book. (Wow, just wow! I needed at least a year of recovery between books!) So, what, in your opinion, makes a good book concept? Having your heart in the subject matter, its marketability, something else? And how much say does your publisher have in the final book concept?
LS: If you do something from the heart, you can’t go wrong. I have taken several ideas I have had over the past few years and really thought about what people would want to see and learn. In the end, I followed my heart and it all started coming together.
Finding a good publisher who allows you to have some control over the subject or is willing to work with your ideas is a must. I don’t think I could work with a publisher who wouldn’t allow me to have a voice.
JMU: Can you give us a teeny-weeny inkling of what the second book will be about without spilling too many beans? Please!
LS: Yes! I would love to give you a hint. Are you ready? The book will be about cookies!
JMU: Ha, ha! Very funny - well, I guess your publisher has sworn you to secrecy, so onto the next question then!
What advice would you give to cookiers who think they have cookie books in them? How should they get started? How should they go about finding a publisher and developing their concepts to ensure marketability?
LS: I think anyone who dreams of writing a book should do it. Start by writing down things you are passionate about and things you want to share. Make an outline and plan how much time you will need to make it happen. Three months is a tough schedule, but it can be done.
Look at cookie books you own. Look at the layout and the style to get an idea of how many cookies you need to make. Then look to see who the publishers are and contact them to see what their requirements are to submit a proposal.
The most important thing is to just do it! You will never make it happen if you don’t take that first step. If you don’t hear what you like from one publisher, move to the next until you find one that is a good fit for you.
Remember, if a publisher says “no” to your idea, that means you are one step closer to a "yes"!
JMU: I'd also add that, if you don't have a widely followed blog or strong social media presence, it's tough to approach publishers directly and get any response without a literary agent representing your work. A good literary agent can also help you craft a saleable proposal. So, there is more than one way to a publisher, depending on your platform and experience level . . .
Before we leave the topic of the book, I still can’t shake the terrifying notion of shipping 1,000 cookies overseas! Yet, as you said in your chat, you had zero breakage! How did you manage that? Packing and shipping tips, please!
LS: I used egg cartons, bubble wrap, a lot of packing tape, and two boxes per set of cookies.
I plan to write a blog post to show step-by-step pictures of how I shipped them and hope to have it posted soon.
JMU: Let’s turn to CookieCon, shall we? You were one of CookieCon’s pioneers insofar as you presented airbrushing at the very first one. How do you think the cookie business and CookieCon have changed since that first CookieCon?
LS: Oh my goodness. I think the world of cookies is constantly changing. There are new blogs popping up every day and amazing decorators that are sharing their beautiful photos while creating new techniques every day.
I think the biggest change is we now have places such as Cookie Connection to hang out and support each other. The cookie community is getting stronger every day because we are able to communicate and connect with each other. That kind of support is priceless.
JMU: Wow, thanks for that shout-out to Cookie Connection. I certainly wasn't fishing for that answer, but I'll humbly accept it!
Certainly there’s tons for CookieCon newbies or beginner cookie decorators to learn at CookieCon, but what do you, as a CookieCon veteran and decorating expert, hope - or expect - to get out of CookieCon this year?
LS: Going to CookieCon is like winning the lottery. There are millions of things happening and many, many things to learn. You will take away a wealth of knowledge, but the best part is making new friends. I honestly can’t wait to see everyone and spend some time with people who love cookies as much as I do.
JMU: What sort of preparation goes into being keynote speaker (BTW, congrats!)? Can you give us a glimpse into what you’re planning to say or present?
LS: I have been planning my speech for a while now. I really don’t want to give anything away, so everyone will have to show up and hear it LIVE!
JMU: Oh, I really hope it will be recorded, as I can't make it this year. Perhaps I'll send a Cookie Connection correspondent to capture some footage, as I wouldn't want to miss what you have to say!
I know we covered this question at least partially in your live chat, but I think it’s an important one. So at the risk of retreading old terrain . . . what top three tips would you give to cookiers going to CookieCon for the very first time?
LS: CookieCon is like a cookier’s Disneyland! It is a great place to make new friends and to see old ones. That said, there are a few things you can do to make your trip more enjoyable:
- Decide a few things ahead of time, like if you are going to take notes. If so, decide if you would rather use paper and pencil or an iPad.
- Are you going to take photos? If so, are you going to carry your DSLR camera or your camera phone? If you are going to use the DSLR, you may need a carrying case or padded purse so you don’t have to hold it all the time. If you are going to use your phone, make sure it is fully charged so you don’t miss the good stuff because of a dead battery.
- Is there someone you have been wanting to meet? Email him or her and see if s/he is going to the best cookie convention of all time. If you contact people ahead of time, you can arrange to have coffee or a cookie together before or after a class. You don’t want to miss an opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation with one of your cookie idols.
- Also, carry business cards, and a take a hole punch to keep in your room. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, a "hole punch", not a "whole bunch"! Though a whole bunch of cards might be good too!] I know that may sound weird, but when someone hands you a business card, you can punch a hole in it and slip it on a metal ring so you can keep up with new contacts. Simply Southern Baking has a great little tutorial on it here.
JMU: Ooh, great tips, and we even got an extra one! I especially like the business card organization idea, as I'm still discovering stray cards from my last meeting. It's amazing where some of mine have ended up!
After CookieCon, and aside from a possible second book, what other cookie adventures are you planning for the rest of 2015 and 2016?
LS: Cookie blogging has opened up a whole new world to me. I’ve always been creative and craft-y – I used to make and sell crafts and homemade jewelry in and around my hometown. But with cookie blogging, I have discovered different passions I didn’t know I had like writing, editing, photography, videography, and more.
As I continue with my blog as my main focus, I am also going to keep pursuing new and different ways to bring more and more creativity into my blog. That may look like more books, or it may turn into something else entirely . . . stay tuned!
All cookies and photos by Lisa Snyder of The Bearfoot Baker.
Cookier Close-ups is the place on Cookie Connection where we celebrate the change-makers of the cookie decorating world. Whether forging new enterprises, inventing novel decorating techniques, or consistently charming us with their cookie decorating prowess, each of our featured thought leaders has redefined in his/her distinctive way how we interact, create, or otherwise do business here in cookie space!
If there are other cookiers you'd really like to get to know, please post requests in this forum. We'll do our best to round them up for an upcoming Cookier Close-up! Thanks!