Recipes for a quirky new publisher

Rosanna Kelly • 30 January 2013

Rosanna Kelly describes how her and Casilda Gregg's student cookbook came of age, and launched a small publishing firm.
Inky Paws Press Ltd was set up to publish a single book: GOODBYE COCKROACH PIE: 50 BRILLIANT RECIPES FROM EDINBURGH AND BEYOND. What we didn't realise was that ISBN numbers come in batches of 10, and, having paid for them, we got the idea that we might make use of the other nine. Our aim is to produce witty and unusual illustrated books, words working with pictures in an imaginative way.

Bringing out Goodbye Cockroach Pie has been a fascinating, though occasionally disconcerting, experience. The book itself was first conceived when I was a student at Edinburgh in the 1980s: a friend and I wrote to students at other universities, inviting them to send in their favourite recipes. The results, with some wonderful illustrations, amounted to a highly original and quirky book; but with no existing market for student cookbooks, we were unable to find a publisher, and the manuscript languished in the attic for 25 years. When I happened upon it again, I found it as delightful as ever, and decided to take matters into my own hands - bringing it up to date with the help of a new generation of students and creating the Inky Paws imprint.

My co-author and I had some familiarity with the publishing world - I had written and translated books, from The Little Book of Wit and Wisdom to Memories of Shostakovich, while Casilda was the former food and drinks editor for the Daily Telegraph - but we had not appreciated the complexities of actually getting our title into bookshops. As the publication date of 3 November last year approached, we were still frantically trying to establish from Nielsen whether our ISBN had come through; on top of that, thanks to a last-minute glitch with the printers, it looked as if we might arrive at the launch party without any copies to sell.

We had three launches in all, reckoning that this was the best way to create word-of-mouth publicity. (The Independent, to out great excitement, had agreed to publish a sizeable extract; unfortunately they ran it a month before the book became available). The first was on a vintage red bus belonging to a friend in Edinburgh: decked out with vegetables, it set off for Arthur's Seat with a party of journalists, contributors and students on board, including representatives of the Edinburgh Baking and Come Dine With Me Societies. In London we gave two other parties, one at Books for Cooks in Notting Hill, whose endorsement was enormously encouraging.

Marketing the book has not been easy, and we are immensely grateful to the unexpectedly tolerant buyers at local bookshops - from Queens Park Books in London to Blackwell's in Edinburgh - who responded enthusiastically when we turned up on their doorsteps. Having read Amazon's ferocious terms and conditions, we decided to try to do without it, and have so far stuck to our resolution. Some of our sales have been through our Inky Paws website, which necessitated a crash course in book-wrapping (Jiffy bag for one copy, cardboard and bubblewrap for two), given with patience and generosity by our friend Barnaby Rogerson of Eland Books.

What does the future hold? We're considering other cookbooks, children's picture books and an entertaining guide to bicycle maintenance. Oh, and if you're wondering about our name, the answer lies with our two-year-old cocker spaniel, who chewed through a biro and trampled the ink all over the kitchen floor. That's a cottage industry for you.