Unlike with children, once you birth a book you have to get out there and sell it.

My first cookbook, “Green Plate Special: Sustainable and Delicious Recipes,” hit the streets in May. I’ve pounded the pavement to connect with buyers since. I had three rules as I mapped out the multistate book tour I was convinced would result in a second printing by Christmas.

Rule No. 1: Go anywhere I am invited as long as there is a free place to stay that doesn’t involve a tent.

Rule No. 2: Be open to any type of promotional event. Second appearances would be contingent on book sales: at least a dozen (a low bar suggested by my publisher, Islandport Press) or no more dice.

Rule No. 3: Take no offense when people don’t buy the book. Unless, of course, they are on my Christmas card list. Tenure there requires proof of purchase.

With 30 book events behind me, here’s the tally. I’ve taken one breathtaking (figuratively from the views, literally from the hills) hike in northern Maine, taped one TV spot in Falmouth, made one live stage appearance in Portland, and sat on one literary festival panel in Bangor.

I’ve participated in two cook-the-book dinners along the midcoast region and three house parties in zip codes where I used to live. I’ve donated to four charity auctions in as many states; pulled off five farmers market demonstrations; talked at six local libraries; and taught seven cooking classes. I’ve received 12 five-star Amazon reviews, had a baker’s dozen online posts and print articles feature the book, beat out 20 some other titles to win Boston’s Readable Feast Award for the most socially conscious cookbook of the year, and sent out 120-signed book plates to friends living where only Amazon Prime delivers.

As I peddled my cookbook, I handed out more than 2,000 compostable tasting bowls of food made from the recipes in the book and $631.76 worth of unreimbursed ingredients. Even with this concerted effort – plus putting 5,000 miles on my car, unsustainably sustained by fossil fuels, diet Coke, processed cheese popcorn and audiobooks – I’ve sold only about half of the books printed.

Christine Burns Rudalevige signs a copy of her cookbook, “Green Plate Special: Sustainable and Delicious Recipes,” after her talk about sustainable eating during Tea With Harriet at the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

I understand what I am up against. I know you can locate any recipe you want free on the internet faster than you can by flipping through my $25 book to find it. I know, too, more than 200,000 cookbooks are being sold on Amazon right now. And I know, three, that Erin French, the celebrated chef who owns The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, the place you can’t even think about getting a table until May 2018, released her book on the very same day as mine to significant national and critical acclaim. I understand my book is a little green fish swimming in an ocean full of very big, much flashier fish and that for any number of reasons not every book buyer is biting.

I’m a goal-oriented gal, so I’d be deflated if I weren’t so determined. The encouraging folks at my publisher, Islandport Press, remind me that cookbooks are one of those long tail kind of book sales opportunities. So it’s become one of the keep on keepin’ on kind of prospects.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Being on a cookbook tour is less glamorous than it sounds. The hours are grueling. The anxiety of rejection presents itself daily. The pay is low. And the likelihood of someone setting you off emotionally is dangerously high.

Sheila Viale was my third-grade teacher at St. Mary’s School in Lee, Massachusetts. In 1976, she introduced me to adjectives as an art form. She taught me how to stress the right syllable in any word by letting me shoot out of my wooden chair, Catholic school plaid jumper flapping at its pleats, Peter Pan collar taking flight, when I felt the most exciting part of the word arrive. Stu-PEN-dous! Mrs. Viale was funny and had a booming laugh. She wore cool, multicolored maxi-dresses and demonstrated that being smart was cool, too. When she asked me to sign her copy of the book that I had written, well, as the credit card advertisement goes: PRICE-less.

I would have considered myself a wealthy woman even if that had been the only book I sold that day. But it wasn’t, I sold and signed over a hundred. My family worked hard to fill the Lee Library conference room with the biggest event crowd it has seen in recent history: 78 people, including six more of my teachers, a good 20 cousins more if you include the ones by marriage, Mom’s knitting group, Dad’s coffee klatsch, the staff from the elementary school where my sister Kate is principal, a couple of high school classmates, and one old boyfriend. The “fee” to rent the room was a signed copy of my book. I adored everything about that “bill” and gladly paid double. The event was a hometown-girl-makes-good embrace that I still feel today because was it was a first-time author’s dream event, and it skewed my expectations for book sales at the rest of the stops on this particular road trip.

Samples of Rudalevige’s Honeyed Little Boys Pudding are passed out to those attending Tea With Harriet at the Stowe House in Brunswick, one of 30 events the author has done since hitting the road after her cookbook was published in May. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

FREE-(FOOD)-FOR-ALL

I still feel the love in most places I go. A woman in Bar Harbor told me I was her food hero. A lady in Boothbay came to a dinner to tell me she never misses my column in the Maine Sunday Telegram. A bookshop owner in Rockland was psyched to have me drop by to sign the copies he had on offer. Three colleagues from the computer networking magazine where I worked before I made food writing my livelihood showed up at a library event in Uxbridge to cheer me on. My favorite poultry farmer kept me smiling as my assistant at a cooking class in York, Pennsylvania.

But what I see as lagging book sales have a way of dragging me down even as I keep moving forward. You simply never know if the effort of putting on an event will be worth it in sales.

A month after my hometown triumph, back in Brunswick, where I live now, I spent a sunny summer day in the kitchen making 300 pieces of food to hand out at a wine-tasting event being held as part of the downtown’s monthly Friday night art walk. On a card table in the front corner of a local shop that had generously offered to host me, I set out the food on platters, labeled each sample with title and page number, and arranged the books in a formation tailored for perusing their pages. I was ready for two hours of high-frequency sales.

It devolved into a frenzied lesson on how table manners evaporate in the face of free food. People plowed through my supply in 30-minutes flat, piling their plates full instead of taking the tasteful bites I’d anticipated. I was left standing alone with the 30 books I’d brought to sell. I called my husband to come join me as I needed moral support. He arrived, holding two glasses of wine, just in time to witness the tail end of my conversation with a woman who told me she, too, was interested in writing a book someday. But when she got around to it, she plans to write a “more creative” book, not a cookbook. Needless to say, she did not buy one of the 11 books I sold that night.

A sandwich board with the particulars for a talk Rudalevige gave in Bar Harbor. Photo courtesy of Christine Burns Rudalevige

Andy raised his eyebrows at her, his glass to me in a toast encouraging me to laugh it off. Keeping your sense of humor intact definitely helps when you’re on a cookbook tour.

In September, I traveled to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to the Farmers on the Square market, the spot where as its manager in 2011 I first caught the sustainably sourced food bug. As I’d arranged for other chefs and cookbook authors to do in the past, I did a cooking demo in the center of the market, flanked by the proprietor of the local Whistle Stop Bookshop who was on hand to sell the books while I cooked. I am always pleased to support the local independent bookseller, and in this instance was very happy to share the wealth, because the books were flying off the table as fast as my samples of Second Day Chicken, Mushroom and Collard Green Wraps (page 105) were.

Over the four hours, I used dozens of rubber gloves. For food safety reasons, you can’t prep samples in a public setting without wearing such gloves. But they make it difficult for me to grab my signature green Sharpie to sign books. So, regrettably, it is an environmentally unsustainable on-again, off-again routine with the gloves as I conduct what’s become a ritual when a buyer asks me to personalize their purchase.

THE TITLEIST

I always sign the book on its title page, my favorite one. It shows a single plate of multicolored Maine fingerling potatoes dressed in mustard-herb vinaigrette. The title appears in alternating green and orange lettering and my name in white typeface. The empty space is a deep brown. The metallic green ink shows up on it perfectly. Hip and clever, I write “Green is the new black…Wear it well!! Best, Christine.”

The bookseller left to shutter his own shop a few minutes before the market’s closing bell rang. He left a few copies with me should I get any stragglers. We got one. I’d already packed up my demo. I rummaged through my purse to find my signature pen. I learned the hard way that Sharpies feel a lot like tampons. Should you mistakenly pull the wrong one of those items out of the bottom of your purse, you have no choice but laugh it off and go with the flow.

The tampon incident aside, taking things as they come is still a big challenge for me.

The drive to every event is filled with the worry that I will be the only one present. I still don’t know which is worse psychologically for me as a public speaker – no questions once the talk is over or one for which I don’t have an answer. And every event has a fan who wonders what my next book will be about. I really haven’t a clue, so that question always ends in a pregnant pause.

Still, some small skills are sprouting in my repertoire as I slog through this sales and promotion process.

The author at an event at Now You’re Cooking in Bath. Photo courtesy of Christine Burns Rudalevige

My demonstrations have become more flexible so they can accommodate, and thrive, inside any individual event’s limitations. For example, I routinely make Farmers’ Market Seconds Soup (Page 49) and Carrot and Ginger Garbage Finishing Salt (Page 186) to demonstrate the four legs that support a more sustainable dinner table: how food is grown, sourced, cooked and not wasted. When I run a workshop at the Andover, Massachusetts, public library next weekend (Oct. 28 at 10 a.m.) on how to green up treasured family recipes, though, I won’t be allowed to do the soup demo with actual vegetables because the health inspector doesn’t permit food in the library. I’ll make my point with the wooden carrots, onions and tomatoes my kids used in their pretend kitchen when they were little. I hope the audience finds that as funny as I do.

HARRIET BEECHER STOWE AND ME

I took another humorous risk last week while speaking to two packed rooms (my stool and podium were positioned in the door jamb) at the Harriett Beecher Stowe House on the Bowdoin College campus. Stowe and her sister Catherine penned a domestic science and economy book, “The New Housekeeper’s Manual,” in 1846. I was asked to talk about the parallels of eating green in their time and ours.

I couldn’t read the crowd very well before speaking to it. There was a literary society present, a couple of buses from retirement homes and some regulars who attend the monthly Tea with Harriet events who likely knew her habits better than I. I took a chance and started with joke, explaining that while the Stowes and I are on the same page about eating sustainably, we disagreed on how to drink so. “They practiced temperance, deeming both alcohol and caffeine sinful. I, on the other end of the spectrum, use both substances to sustain me on a daily basis.”

I got the big laugh I was hoping for but not really expecting. So I kept going in that lighter vein, joking about tricking my kids into eating less meat, smuggling French cheese through customs in my boots, and repurposing food waste into dessert for unsuspecting dinner guests.

By the end of my talk, I’d sold only 11 books, but a friend of a friend in the room commented that I had the crowd eating out of my hand, both figuratively and literally as samples supporting my various points about how to eat more sustainably were passed out on cue.

Perhaps now is the time for me to recalibrate the stick by which I measure a book event’s worth: Instead of tracking book sales, perhaps I should count the smiling faces. The latter makes me richer in a way the former just can’t.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a new cookbook from Islandport based on a weekly column of the same name in the Maine Sunday Telegram. She can be contacted at [email protected]