Ever Wanted to Publish a Cookbook? – Food Book Fair 2013 Panel Discussion
Today at the Food Book Fair, a multi-day event which took place in Brooklyn, a panel was convened to shed some light on the process involved in bringing a cookbook to the bookshelves. The panel, moderated by cookbook author, designer, and photographer Emilie Baltz, included editor Deborah Brody of Harlequin, literary agent Stacey Glick of Dystel & Goderich, chef and cookbook author Elizabeth Faulkner, and co-founders of Ovenly (and authors of a forthcoming cookbook) Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin.
Probably the most significant takeaway from the panel was a comment made by Deborah Brody: cookbooks, she said, are “a growth area,” and there “seems to be quite a bit of demand” for them. In precarious times for publishing, it’s great to know that cookbooks are still salable (and perhaps the publication of Michael Pollan’s newest, Cooked, will increase demand for cookbooks!).
But how to get that inkling of an idea for a cookbook to become reality, a published collection of recipes, stories, and beautiful photos?
First thing is to attract an agent. The question here is usually: why not go directly to publishers? As Brody explained, publishers trust agents to submit good proposals, so they will give priority to something from an agent they know and have worked with, rather than an unknown author submission. Plus, agents know how to deal with complicated contracts.
But the proposal needs to be good. It has to show, most importantly, that the author has some platform from which to attract a customer base for the book. This could be a successful and growing food-related business, a strong personality, a TV or radio show, or a blog with a large following and a social media presence. Ideally, it would be some combination of those things.
And a proposal takes work. An agent is willing to help, but ultimately, as Elizabeth Faulkner stressed, it is up to the author to make her voice shine through. Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin emphasized the value of including good photos in a proposal, since cookbooks are so visual. An author needs to be patient while working on a proposal; Stacey Glick said that some of her authors spend a year or two working with her on a proposal before she’ll submit it to editors; meanwhile the author can be developing his company’s brand and client base so as to ensure that the cookbook will do well. Of course, above all the proposal (consisting of intro/sample chapters with recipes/photos) needs to demonstrate that the book brings a fresh, unique, clear concept to audiences.
Thanks to the Food Book Fair for a fantastic discussion! For further reading, see Rachel Signer’s two-part interview with British chef Arthur Potts Dawson, founder of The People’s Supermarket and author of the recently-released Eat Your Vegetables cookbook.