Author Spotlight: Elinor Allcott Griffith

She’s been a magazine editor and she led cooking tours to Julia Child’s home in the south of France and Italy. Throughout all of this she had something else up her sleeve: a book about the virtues of cooking.

Elinor spent about six years working part time on her passion project. A book that combined cooking and character building,he shares with us how the project came to light and how the book turned into reality.

Can you tell me a little bit about how the book came to be?
As a former magazine editor at Reader’s Digest, I’ve always loved good stories. My own zany family in North Carolina, I realized, where my father started UNC’s Art Department, was ripe with food-related stories—humorous and touching, and often inspirational! There were lovely experiences making bread with dad as a kid, bread which he gave away to friends, to stories about re-inventing myself as an adult and leading cooking groups to Julia Child’s home in the south of France. I noticed that each story held at its core a message about friendliness, humor, courage, or some other character-building quality. A virtue. So that’s how I came up with The Virtues of Cooking’s 28 stories, each focusing on a virtue that is paired with a recipe.

Did you do all of the work yourself or did you have other people help with photos, layout etc.?
I did most of the work myself over a period of several years: writing the stories, gathering favorite quotes, and researching studies on the benefits of family time at the table. I found sketches and paintings that my father did years earlier (he passed away over 20 years ago) and, thus, he became the book’s illustrator; each sketch, of course, tying into a story. My daughter (an ad executive and branding expert in NYC) and I used a good-quality camera to take relevant photos.

I also know the importance of a “wingman,” someone who offers advice and holds you accountable. My girlfriend Laura, once a top editor at Reader’s Digest books, was that person for me. And then I enlisted a superb designer, someone who my daughter had used previously, to do the layout—following Blurbs specs. We used two photo services — Stocksy and Shutterfly—to purchase missing food photos. I hired a copy editor. Once everything was completed, a PDF in-hand, we uploaded everything to Blurb. Voila, my book! And soon it was listed on Amazon.
Oh yes, and as for the marketing, I got a unique URL and created a website on SquareSpace.

When you talk to media, what is your pitch?
The article, “Meals with Meaning,” from the September Guideposts magazine (6 millions readers) helped. As the blurb says “When most people lose a job, they look to the future. This woman turned to the past.” But that is just one among a number of possible pitches. When MORE magazine featured me in its book, 287 Secrets of Reinventing Your Life, the focus wasreinvention.

What’s compelling about this book?
It’s fun! It’s entertaining! AND it helps people lead a better life!

Does it tie back to your gourmet-travel company Griffith Gourmet?
Yes, the last chapter (“Courage — Cooking In Julia Child’s Kitchen”) does dive into the oh-so-delicious and fun trips with Griffith Gourmet. But that said, I had to summon up great courage (a virtue that can be instilled) initially to find my way and put things in place.

What did you imagine that success for the book would look like?
Gathering with my family to celebrate—that was success for me. My brother from Oregon and my sister from upstate New York came to my home just north of New York City. And then organizing a book launch party to celebrate with more friends. It’s a succession of little and bigger events at a library, at a bookstore, at a resort, etc.

How did you find Blurb?
My daughter Kathleen, then heading New Business for NY ad company McGarryBowen, had used Blurb for special small books for clients and recommended it. For me, the ability to print a consistently high-quality book in full color, and at a fairly reasonable price, was essential. Equally important was being able to sell it on Amazon. I could also get hardcover copies for me and my family.

How long did it take you to complete your project?
The entire process took about six years, part-time—I kept fitting in various pieces into my other regular life, where I edit books and organize culinary trips to France and Italy. Lots of time, of course, was spent writing and rewriting the stories, selecting the recipes, and aligning all the virtues properly with the stories and the recipes. Time spent knocking on doors for the back cover testimonials. Working with the designer on the look and layout and inputting my copy editor’s changes. And then more work: Creating a website and more door-knocking to get media coverage such as the super article in Guideposts.

What was the hardest part?
Working alone is hard. It’s hard to stay focused and motivated. It’s hard to be sure about the book’s direction. And it can be lonely. That’s where having a “wingman” can be helpful. Mine was a former editor, like me. She was thoughtful, analytical and very generous with her time. We’d go for walks with my jumpy Jack Russell—walk and talks as I called them. And I’d try to always have treats from my cookbook to share with her: Morning Glory Muffins, Friendship Bread, Granola-tivity, and Coconut Cupcakes. You get the idea, ood bribes!

Was there anything that surprised you about the project?
I’ve recently moved to a new town in Connecticut, after living in the same community near New York City for over 30 years. Surprisingly, the book has helped me get to know my neighbors. My yoga instructor and her circle, employees at the local bookstore (where I’m now doing a talk in mid-January), people I meet while out walking. Talking about the book is a door-opener.

What would you do differently next time?
The project could have been done much faster if I’d asked for more help.



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