In my days of authoring cookbooks, I’ve been fortunate enough to have many learning opportunities that helped me see the world a little clearer, and see myself as a writer more clearly as well. When I first started blogging, all I knew was that there were people who wrote cookbooks professionally, and there were people who did not. Most of those people, who I at one time may have referred to as my idols (many I still do), either worked their asses off to get to writing books, or they knew someone important in the publishing world. Either way, they had what I coveted: a book deal.
I began to research how these people were actually getting said book deals, and one of the first books I came across pretty much spelled it all out: Will Write for Food, by Dianne Jacob. Back in 2009, this book changed my life. With the changing climate of the publishing world and the abundance of food bloggers, I’m not sure how on target many of the points in this book still are (I’d wager that they’re still very relevant), but the one point that Dianne Jacob makes over and over again–the idea of professionalism–still goes a very long way in the book writing world. Get a copy today and read it twice.
For my plethora of readers and friends who have asked–so, how’d you get a book deal? A few pointers:
1) Have a plan.
A lot of people want to write cookbooks; and, there are countless people who could certainly write very good books… but that’s not enough to convince a publisher to back your book. What sets your idea apart from the millions of author aspiring authors’ ideas? Treat your book like a business and plan everything out. From platform to proposal, you need to make sure you have all your ducks in a row before contacting an agent. Before I even started blogging (“building a platform”) I was researching every vegan (and eventually gluten-free) cookbook available at the time and planning out how my book would be different. A proposal should be a very well written outline of your book with a sample of at least 12 recipes. Have this ready to go before ever querying an agent. You want to be ready to send it off immediately when they ask for it.
2) Get an agent.
I know, I know, you’ve probably heard this a bunch, but I’m of the belief that an agent is priceless. In almost every case, you need an agent to get through to a publisher. Even if a publisher approaches you… it’s a good idea to have an agent there to look over contracts, negotiate terms, and give advice before you sign on the dotted line. Most agents take 15% or so, but in my opinion, they are more than worth it. They are well versed in cookbook negotiations, and (the good ones) have strong relationships with the persons who acquire the books, so you can almost always guarantee a higher advance with a reputable publisher if you’re backed by an agent. I wouldn’t trade mine for the world. The Lisa Ekus Group has helped me not only land 4 cookbook deals, but has offered a tremendous amount of advice from day one. I don’t know where I’d be today without them.
3) Don’t be a diva.
Unless you are a diva, like Beyonce or Hillary Clinton, you probably shouldn’t treat others as though you are. Referring to yourself as über important, a celebrity (if you’ve never been chased by the paparazzi), or treat others like they should be lucky to know you won’t get you very far in the publishing world, or at least for very long. It’s a small world out there and people talk. Make sure they’re saying nice things about you. I try my best out there and guarantee that people some people still talk shit about me. That’s okay and probably unavoidable to an extent, just don’t hand people an easy reason to do so. You know, golden rule and all that.
4) Be patient.
You won’t be rich over night with a book deal and writing takes a lot of work. You will have to continuously improve your craft and keep convincing the same people over and over again that you can handle the tasks at hand. You will most likely be expected to market your own book (which is why it’s a good plan to have a platform in place already). Expect this and when you get the deal (hooray!) don’t be discouraged that your publisher isn’t offering you a 6 figure advance or a book tour… I mean, not very many people get those anyway unless they are pretty damn well known. But if you do good work and keep your head up… the rewards will come. And, in my experience, there seem to be many.
5) Be yourself.
Stick true to you and your own voice. While imitation is a nice form of flattery, it’s not the best plan to execute a book. If you are unfamiliar with your “voice”, find it. Write everyday. Online or offline, writing often will help you find your own style. If you’ve already found yours, hold onto it and use it to communicate with your readers. They will love you for you.