“Go beyond just becoming an author” when writing a book that sparks a movement, an interview with authors Sara Connell & Danielle Walker
Be prepared to go beyond just becoming an author, build a social following and create a community.
As part of my series about “How to write a book that sparks a movement” I had the great pleasure of interviewing…
Danielle Walker is the beloved author of three New York Times best-selling cookbooks Against All Grain, Meals Made Simple and Celebrations, as well as the recently released Eat What You Love, and the voice behind the most popular grain-free blog on the Internet, AgainstAllGrain.com. She is a self-trained chef whose innovative and accessible grain-free recipes appeal to a range of appetites. Her recipes are not only healthy and delicious, but also can be credited with saving her life after she received a diagnosis of a serious autoimmune disease.
After suffering for many years, Danielle healed herself through dietary changes. With her honest and open nature, Danielle has become the darling of the grain-free and real foods community and is a true testament to how food can nourish and heal our bodies.
Against all Grain was named one of Publisher’s Weekly Top 10 Cookbooks of 2014, and both Against All Grain and Meals Made Simple have held lengthy spots on the New York Times bestsellers list. She was named one of Forbes 30 under 30, is a frequent contributor to Today.com, and has been featured in Shape, Women’s Health, Fitness, Fox News, and USA Today, on Food Network.com, and has appeared on The Doctors, TODAY, and more.
Danielle lives with her husband and three children in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share about your “backstory”?
I had a pretty normal upbringing filled with an amazing family who filled every holiday and gathering with delicious dishes, so food became an important part of my life pretty early on. My grandma frequently had parties with our entire extended family, cooking for 40 or more people at a time. The thing I remember the most was how she always had different proteins or sides so that everyone could find something to enjoy, despite allergies or dietary preferences.
When I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Ulcerative Colitis (UC) at 22, it turned my life upside down and I spent a couple of years trying out different medications only to find that they weren’t working. My days were spent in and out of the hospital, and I almost died a couple of times.
I wasn’t finding the help and solutions I needed, so I decided to take things into my own hands in the only way I knew how — using food. It was a total experiment but as I started to remove grains, gluten and refined sugars from my diet I started to see a change in my symptoms for the first time in years. My blog was a catalog of my successes and failures, and once I found success, I wanted to share it in hopes of preventing other individuals from going through a similar life-threatening experience.
That was really the turning point that kick-started my career as a cookbook author.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life?
I’ve always been inspired by cooking thanks to my family. They made sure every holiday and family gathering was filled with delicious food that overtime became important traditions to my family. And I’ve always loved the classics that make those holidays and family gatherings so special, so when I first started cooking myself, I absolutely loved Ina Garten’s cookbooks.
As I’ve grown my career as a cookbook author, I’ve really looked to her as a role model as an author and cook who has built an incredible and meaningful business around her passion for food.
What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world?
When I was diagnosed with UC, it took five years from my life which were filled with doctor visits, unexpected trips to the ER, and a variety of different medications that only worsened how I felt. I couldn’t get those years back, and that was devastating to me.
As soon as I discovered that food could be a solution and that I had the ability to have some sort of control over my health, it was a critical turning point. I knew that I had to share what I learned and what was helping me in hopes of preventing others from having a disease take years from their lives.
What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book?
My illness took years from my life and heavily impacted me and my family. Once I saw how food was positively impacting my body, I found myself wishing that someone had told me to experiment with my diet earlier.
My hope with my cookbooks is to inspire readers to get healthy and know that despite dietary restrictions or intolerances, you don’t have to live in a world of bland food.
Did the actual results align with your expectations?
Everybody’s body works differently, so naturally diet impacts their body’s differently. I initially became curious with food from doing some extensive research and learning how people have used food as medicine, but it was a total experiment to figure out how specifically it impacted me.
I knew that my specific diet wouldn’t necessarily be relatable to everyone, but my hope was that by sharing a collection of different recipes that were dairy free, grain-free, and sugar-free, that I could make an impact in someone’s life — whether that be a child suffering from allergies, or other people who were recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
What moment let you know that your book had started a movement?
The outpour of success stories from my community really reassured me that my blog and cookbooks were having an impact, and it was such a rewarding experience. When my first cookbook landed on the Times, I knew I was on to something. Later that year, it was named one of the top 10 cookbooks of the year — where Ina and Ree each held 3 spots with their books, so there were really only 4 slots left! To see my book hanging among mainstream books was surreal, and also really eye-opening that so many people were suffering and seeking quality recipes to help them heal.
As other programs like Whole30 and Paleo started to take off, it became clear that nutrition and its relation to health and wellbeing was having a moment, and it was so humbling to be a part of that movement.
What kinds of things did you hear right away from readers? What are the most frequent things you hear from readers about your book now? Are they the same? Different?
The best compliments I got, and still receive are these:
“I threw out my Joy of Cooking cookbook because I can no longer use the recipes and replaced it with yours!”
“You taught me how to cook. I used to eat out or order in, and when I had to change my diet I had to learn how to cook from ground zero.”
“I know that I can trust every single recipe that comes from you and your cookbooks. Most of the cookbooks I own only have a handful of good recipes and the others are duds.”
My readers come from a variety of different backgrounds, whether they’re trying to use food as medicine, are following a strict diet, or have dietary restrictions, and it’s so rewarding to see how many people my recipes have impacted.
With each cookbook I release, there’s always new excitement and feedback from my community, but overall, my readers are constantly amazed that they can be adhering to a strict diet, such as Paleo, gluten-free, or dairy-free, yet they can still make delicious tasting meals.
What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book?
In January, I finished a 14-city book tour for my new book, Eat What You Love. I was at the signing table and a woman walked up to me and told me that for most of her life she was wheelchair bound from MS. I was amazed as she stood in front of me with no walker or wheelchair telling me how diet changed her life. It was such an incredible experience and real testament to the power of food and diet.
Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book that starts such colossal conversation and change?
Maintaining a blog and social media presence can always warrant negative feedback. There are plenty of instigators on social media, but I’ve found I have such a loyal following and if there are ever negative comments, I have a community of individuals who are constantly supporting my work, and that’s incredibly inspiring.
Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?
When I started sharing my recipes on my blog, I don’t think I had an idea of how powerful the Paleo and grain-free movement would be. The only thing I knew for sure was that my diet had a life-changing impact on my everyday health, and that I wasn’t the only one who found healing through food.
I think movements are truly created by mobilizing people around a shared purpose, and books have the power to mobilize those people. Around the time when I published my first book, Against All Grain, it became clear that diet and nutrition had the power to spark a movement.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer?
I think it certainly takes more than just one habit to reach the accomplishment of a bestselling writer, but for me I’d say dedication played a pretty critical role. As a mother of three, changing my diet meant changing my lifestyle, and changing my lifestyle meant disrupting the lifestyles of my whole household, which isn’t always easy with toddlers!
Fortunately I had the support of my whole family, who kindly gave me the kitchen to experiment with recipes all day and enthusiastically became the test subjects for some of my food creations. But overall, the dedication in changing mine and my family’s lifestyle, paired with their continued support, is the driving force behind my success as a bestselling author.
I also think that my perfectionism when it comes to recipes played a huge role. Every recipe in my book is not only tested by me and my team multiple times, but they go out to a pool of my fans and readers to test in their own kitchens. I love to hear their feedback, questions, and hopefully praise to confirm that the recipes are sound and can be recreated in the homecook’s kitchen.
What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? Can you share the lesson(s) that you learned?
I learned quite early on that I can’t do it all on my own, and running a business is easier with a supportive team. It takes a lot to write a cookbook, from developing the recipes and coordinating book tours, to photography and graphic design — I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of others who have generously invested time in helping me succeed.
Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 5 things writers needs to know if they want to spark a movement with a book?
- Have a strong mission that you truly feel passionate about — for me it was easy to build a passion around my movement, because it was critical to my health.
- Be prepared to go beyond just becoming an author, build a social following and create a community.
- Be invested in the community that you create, engage with them, share advice with them, and support them. My readers and followers on Instagram have played an integral role in helping to create the Paleo and grain-free food movement.
- Insert yourself into a larger conversation. Food was an obvious one to me. It’s something that we need everyday, but unfortunately some people are unable to consume certain ingredients due to allergies or dietary restrictions.
- Do something that makes a difference. My goal was to have a positive impact on people’s everyday lives, and it’s so rewarding to hear the stories of how my recipes have done just that.
The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next?
I’m excited to see how diet and nutrition continues to evolve. Six years ago when I wrote my first cookbook, it was just the beginning of the paleo and grain-free movement. It’s become obvious that food and nutrition can start movements and change lives, and I’m excited to see how chefs and authors continue to innovate the industry and have a positive impact on people’s health.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for these insights. It was a true pleasure to do this with you.
About the author: Sara is an author and writing coach with a private practice in Chicago. She has appeared in Oprah, Good Morning America, NPR, The View and Katie Couric. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Tri-Quarterly, Good Housekeeping, Parenting, IO Literary Journal, and Psychobabble. Her first book Bringing In Finn was nominated for ELLE magazine Book of the Year. www.saraconnell.com