When you submit a cookbook proposal to a publisher, what are your chances?
At Andrews-McMeel in Kansas City, MO, only 10 percent of the books its publishes are cookbooks. That’s 20 cookbooks a year.
Of those 20, perhaps half the books spring from ideas generated internally.
How many proposals compete for the remaining 10 spots? About 5,000 per year, estimates president and publisher of Andrews-McMeel’s book division, Kirsty Melville, who started the cookbook division in 2007.
That makes your chances about one in 500.
Wait, don’t give up. Melville is always looking for new authors. If you’ve been to the International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC), or the Greenbrier Symposium for Professional Food Writers in the past year, you might have met her.
“I’m proactive, more entrepreneurial,” she explains. “I like to meet and talk to people.” Her attendance at the first IFBC conference in 2009 led to publishing the Foodista Best of the Food Blogs Cookbook earlier this year.
The cookbook department may be new, but it’s already launched best-sellers (Cake Wrecks and Bon Appetit Desserts) and national award-winners (My New Orleans: The Cookbookby chef John Besh; and The Art and Soul of Baking, a Sur Le Table book by Cindy Mushet). Recently Melville won an auction for Top Chef star Kevin Gillespie’s next two cookbooks, showing the publisher’s new clout in attracting star power.
What does it take to be published by Andrews-McMeel? “Being a good writer and good photographer isn’t enough anymore,” said Melville. “You need a framework or a story or a reason as to why someone would buy this book. It can be expressed by the quality of the writing, the way the words and photos are put together.”
What might spark her interest, when she reads a book proposal? “I get excited about a good idea, well expressed, by someone who knows how to promote a book and has a following,” she explains. Is platform as important as the book idea? “Both are important, and one without the other doesn’t work.”
She tries to meet all authors before doing a book deal, or at least have a conversation. “I want to understand what makes the author tick, what excites them, what their vision is, who they are, to create a book that’s going to work. As an Australian in America, to understand it I have to go there and see who the person is, what the place is about, to grasp its significance and importance.”
Originally the founding publisher of Simon & Schuster in Australia, Melville became vice president and publisher of Ten Speed Press in 1994. She moved to Andrews-McMeel in 2005.
For Melville, every book has its own identity. “I want to give voice to authors so they can express their ideas and vision in their own way.I trust the people I publish. I trust them to have a point of view.” Because of competition from the Internet, a book “has to become something you want to hold in your hands and love. There’s an experiential quality to the books we publish.”
Here are some of Andrews-McMeel’s recent food books and Melville’s take on why they succeeded:
- Cake Wrecks: when Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong. “Just having a following on a blog isn’t enough. Cake Wrecks has a point of view, and it’s extremely well written.”
- My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur. “Platform can be place, particularly a place where people have an emotional attachment.”
- The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook. “Rachel wanted a book that was both contemporary and nostalgic. She had a look and presentation in mind.”
- Quick-Fix Vegetarian: Healthy Home-Cooked Meals in 30 Minutes or Less. “It has no photos, but it’s one of our bestsellers. This audience wants the recipes more than they want the photos.”
Asked what advice she has for potential cookbook authors, she answered, “Why do you want to write a book? That’s the first question. Writing a book takes a long time. You have to really be passionate about what you’re writing, because afterwards you’ll be talking about it for a long time.”
(Disclaimer: Andrews-McMeel bought two books by writers who hired me to coach them on book proposals. See this post about the author of My Nepenthe, Nani Steele. I have also edited books and recipes for Andrews-McMeel.)