meet paul jarvis
photos by Marnie Recker
He’s an accomplished web designer, musician, llama lover, nut enthusiast (yup, you read that right), blogger (who writes posts like “fuck being cool”) and now, the author of an excellent e-book called Eat Awesome: A regular person’s guide to plant-based, whole foods. Full disclosure: I also edited* Eat Awesome.
Paul and I first met nearly 10 years ago, and we’ve been friends and frequent collaborators ever since. I was lucky enough to have Paul design this blog and my professional website. He’s smart, talented, grounded and very funny. He also lives in Tofino, B.C., which is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and he spends several months of each year traveling with his wife and musical accomplice, Lisa. Sounds good, right?
But back to the book. Paul has the (surprisingly rare) ability to make big plans – and then make them happen. He also has a big following on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. When people started demanding recipes for the vegan dishes on his Instagram feed, Paul decided to write a book. One week later, he finished the first draft. That’s classic Paul: get an idea, dive in and do it.
Eat Awesome is ultimately a handbook for the “vegi-curious,” so it doesn’t matter whether you’re a vegan, a committed carnivore, or you land somewhere in between. No judgment. Just fresh, plant-based foods and delicious photos by Marnie Recker. I wanted to know more about Paul’s creative process and his experiences with self-publishing, so I asked him all kinds of nosy questions. Here’s what he had to say.
What inspired you to write Eat Awesome?
I had written Eat Awesome a bunch of times in emails to friends and family. They all asked the same questions about what I eat and wanted recipes for the plant-based food that I make. I didn’t want to keep writing that same email, so I thought I’d write a book.
Why were you getting so many questions about food? There are lots of other plant eaters out there…
Mostly because all I talk about is food and eating. I post a lot of food photos and I talk about food all the time on Twitter and Facebook. People often said, “can I have the recipe?” or “that looks good… how can I be vegan?” Strangers started asking the same questions that I got from my friends and family.
Were you always so obsessed with food?
I’ve always enjoyed good food, and for me, the point of traveling is pretty much to eat and try new things at restaurants. But in the last couple years I’ve been getting more and more into whole foods and clean, vegan eating and eating gluten-free. It just keeps snowballing.
Now that it’s summer, I’m getting all my produce from Vancouver Island or B.C. farmers. I just keep going further and wanting to know more and more about my food. It’s gotten to the point where I need to know where all my food is from and who, for example, picked these berries that I just bought.
When did you become vegan?
I’ve been vegetarian for eight or nine years. One day I realized, “I haven’t eaten dairy or eggs or anything like that for about a year. I guess I’m vegan.” So, I’ve probably been vegan for about three or four years.
Why publish Eat Awesome as an e-book?
I’m a nerd, so I like to do digital stuff and I know that world really well. I didn’t necessarily know anything about writing a book, but I do so much online and on the computer that it seemed like the best way to go.
I created a full e-book, though, because there’s still cachet attached to that form. I could have written all these recipes as blog posts and people might not even read them. But because I made it a PDF that you have to pay for and download, more people have been interested. And I do tons of writing. I write lots of guest posts and blog posts for other people, and I have a newsletter where I publish recipes that aren’t in the book or anywhere else online. The e-book seemed like the best way to get it into as many people’s digital hands as possible.
Why do you think books – even digital ones – have that cachet?
To be honest, I don’t have a clue. But I think it’s cool. I like that even though you can’t feel the pages and smell the paper, there’s still something about having it all in one place, formatted how the author wants it to be, and the content flows more like a story than on a blog.
What was the most difficult part of the project?
Learning how to do it. I did everything on my own, basically, like figuring out how to publish it and how to handle the e-commerce and the marketing. Writing the book probably took less than a week. But then there was the photography, getting the editing done, figuring out the marketing plan, and submitting it to all the different blogs and online review sites. All that took way more time than writing it – and I did it myself because I wanted to learn how to do it. For me, that was the most difficult part, but also the most interesting and fun.
What’s the best response to the book that you’ve received to date?
Every time I hear that somebody has thought more deeply about what they eat. That’s why I wrote it. I don’t really care if somebody is vegan or not, but obviously it’s cool if someone tells me, “I went vegan because of you.” People are seeing the connection between food and their bodies and their health and how their lives work. To me, that’s the biggest thing – hearing that people are questioning food and thinking about it.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about self-publishing?
Everything takes a lot of time. I had the idea to write book at the beginning of the year, and I thought, “I can get this done in a week or two.” That didn’t happen at all. So, you need to have patience. Even when you send the book to iTunes or Amazon, it takes 3-4 weeks for it to show up on their systems. The delay gave me time to really think about the book promotion, to get review copies out, and to build the buzz. I built a big mailing list, too, so as soon as the book was out, I could send an email blast and generate lots of interest. I didn’t expect the whole process to take so long, but I’m glad that it did.
Have you recouped the money that you invested in creating the book?
Basically, I spent 10 bucks on the domain name and 100 bucks to get it on all the online e-publishing platforms. So, yes, I’ve definitely recouped that cost!
I also bribed the photographer by saying, “you can eat every single one of the recipes if you help me with this.” All of my friends and neighbours were really stoked when we did the food photos. We finished the photography in about three days and we shot every single meal in the book. So there was a lot of food!
I’m lucky that I know lots of people who are really good at what they do. I could also build the website by myself, because that’s what I do, and I could build the newsletter and set up the e-commerce functions. I was lucky that I could cover everything that might cost money, other than getting it onto the publishing sites.
In your opinion, how viable is self-publishing as a revenue stream?
I didn’t publish this book to make money – and that’s why I only charge five bucks for it. I just wanted to get it into people’s hands. But, I think there’s definitely some value in original content. Unfortunately, it’s not as much as it used to be.
I didn’t look for a publisher and I didn’t write a proposal, because I knew I could do it myself. That way, I can get 100% of the revenue, and my costs to write it and produce it were low. So, I think it’s kind of viable, but unfortunately, as with anything in the arts and the creative realm, you’ve got to really work at it and you’ve got to really hustle to make money doing it.
What’s your best advice about promoting a project like EA?
Be genuine about it. I use social media as the main source of promotion for the book, and a lot of people on social media just talk at everybody. I don’t think that works and I don’t find that engaging at all. I think it’s good to have conversations with people. I probably tweet “my e-book is available” about once a week, but in that week, I’m still tweeting and talking and sharing photos on Instagram and engaging with people. When I do have something to promote, they’re more likely to pay attention, because they’re invested in our conversation.
You always describe yourself as an introvert, yet you’re very active on social media. What gives?
I’m much better at written communication. I have done public speaking, but I would never do it in the future, and playing music is about the only thing I’m going to do in front of people. But I can tweet and share a photo with thousands of people, and I can set the interaction that I want. I can reply or not reply, and I can engage or not engage, and if I don’t feel like “talking to people,” I don’t need to put anything out that day. For somebody like me, I think it’s perfect.
What advice would you give to people who have ideas or content they want to share (potentially in an e-book) but don’t know how to start?
There are so many free and relatively cheap services out there. For example, anyone can create a site with WordPress, pick from a bunch of free themes, and just start writing content. If you’re creating a book, you can write in whatever program you want, save it as a PDF, and there are a ton of shopping cart systems that are simple to set up (I use Sellfy) – even if you don’t have any programming knowledge.
Bottom line: There are easy ways to do everything that I did, without having the technical background that I have. It’s just a matter of finding those services. It might not look 100% perfect right away, but there are so many pro WordPress themes and templates in Pages (the Mac app) that can make all your stuff look good.
Did you have any goals or targets for the project?
I had no goals. I just wanted to do it. I thought it would be cool if a couple hundred people bought the book, and now a couple thousand people have bought it. So, it’s doing better than I thought it might, but I wasn’t trying to sell a certain number of copies or recoup a certain amount of money. It was a project of love and interest for me.
Any other advice or words of wisdom?
I know lots of people who want to write a book or an e-book, but they think, “I don’t know how.” You can learn as you go. If you make mistakes, just own them and move on. People aren’t expecting perfection. They’re okay with a process, so don’t get hung up on doing it right. Just do it.
What’s next? Do you have more creative projects up your sleeve?
So many. I wish I had more time in the day. I’m working on an iPhone app about being vegan and eating awesome food. I’m also doing a website that interviews vegans, but doesn’t touch on anything related to food or animal rights. Plus, a couple more cool things that I can’t share yet.
*I love editing big, meaty (no pun intended) projects like Eat Awesome. Send me an email if you want to chat.