Here's a new one: a virtual book potluck

With publicity budgets slashed at publishing houses, “virtual book tours” have become the norm for many writers. In these, the hopscotching is all virtual, with the book and author appearing on different guest blogs in the form of interviews or reviews. But the trend took another twist for me this past week, with an invitation to participate in a virtual book potluck.

Tara Mataraza Desmond and Joy Manning, the Philadelphia-based authors of the new cookbook “Almost Meatless,” invited colleagues across the US and Canada to cook a different recipe from their book and then to blog about it later the same day, July 29.

I asked Desmond in an e-mail how the idea came about. She responded that it was inspired by a similar potluck that author Monica Bhide did last month for her book, “Modern Spice.”

“I participated and loved the idea,” Desmond wrote. “I emailed to ask if [Bhide] would be willing to chat over the phone about the logistics. She, being incredibly generous with her time and spirit, agreed.”  Desmond and Manning pitched the idea to publisher Ten Speed Press, which enthusiastically jumped on board (and agreed to send books to the participants). Ten Speed’s new parent company, Crown/Random House, was also gung ho, publicizing the event on its website and via Twitter.

Within a day or two of receiving invitations from the authors, 35 bloggers had signed on – some famous in the food world, some unknown. And every one, in pixel form, “showed up with their dish” on the given day. I picked the “Roasted Salmon Citrus Salad” to cook and write about, figuring the fish would best represent my Northwest focus. Marisa McClellan, whose “Food In Jars” blog specializes in preserving, made the book’s recipe for ham stock – and canned it!

Debbie Koenig, a former Random House vice president who “brings stress-free menus to other busy moms,” blogged about the Turkey and Pinto Bean Cornbread Pie, and included a video of her son’s reaction to it. (Hint: It was titled “I’ll cook it, but I won’t eat it.”)

“I loved that everyone personalized the recipes, tweaking them to their blog themes or their lifestyles,” Desmond told me. “That's what cooking is all about.”

Desmond’s been handling most of the in-person publicity for the book, as co-author Manning is a restaurant critic who needs to guard her anonymity. Those promotions have included more traditional venues: A cooking demo on their Philadelphia NBC affiliate, classes at Whole Foods Market, a cookbook panel, literary festivals, farmers-market demos, and signings.

Finances did help spur the virtual event. But in the end, the potluck created new connections.

It was special, wrote Desmond, that all this online energy has flourished from the physical page.

“In this digital age, when treasured, traditional cookbooks as we've known them are losing their place in our lives, it meant a great deal to read everyone's blog posts, which had been inspired by the pages of our book.”

Want to see 30+ different takes on one book? Desmond has links to the entire potluck feast here.

Writer Rebekah Denn blogs at

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