A guest post by Linda Ingroia
Producing a book is not a popularity contest. But you certainly want your cookbook editor to believe in you. She spends countless hours with you to shape your work. She’s your champion, representing you throughout the book process. It’s her job, yes, but your book competes with every other book on her list for the time, attention, and creative genius of the whole team. So how do you get her attention?
Here are five ways to win over your cookbook editor:
1. Write About What You Love, Not About What You Think Will Sell
While you’re aware of culinary trends and top sellers, you must be truly inspired by your book concept. Otherwise it’s going to show in how you handle everything about your book.
If, for example, you decide that “paleo” and “instant pot” are the two trends to mine, you might be able to write a serviceable guide combining the two. But if you haven’t already dedicated your time and social media feed to paleo instant-pot recipes, it won’t work. You won’t be knowledgeable enough about the audience, what it needs, and how your book can be different and better than the competition.
You must be truly motivated to research, cook (and cook and cook), write about, and then promote your subject as if it’s the most important passion of your life. Doing so will inspire your editor, who can then share how deeply connected you are to your subject and fans.
There’s so much free cooking information online. Readers who buy a book expect a rare combination of expertise, inspiration, thoroughly tested recipes, and an irrepressible personality that comes through on every page. That’s what you should aim for, every time.
2. Stick With the Schedule
Know your deadlines and hit them. Don’t make your editor chase you. If you know you won’t make a due date, acknowledge it in advance so you can discuss possible fallout, or set a new date that works for both of you.
Although your editor will try to give you the TLC you deserve, she is likely working on many projects at once. Plus, editors have required meetings and obligations. That’s the nature of the business. Don’t badger her, but keep in contact. Ask to set up regular check-ins (biweekly, or as often as makes sense for your shared deadlines) to ensure that you both have time to work together.
The book schedule may change. Your editor may not have much control over that, so be patient and try to meet fluctuating deadlines and requests. If she needs sample material while you’re in the middle of edits, carve out time. If she asks you to send her only one chapter at a time, or instead, the whole manuscript (with manageable deadlines), work with her. Everyone on the team will hear her praise your authority, authenticity, collaborative spirit and reliability.
3. Do All the Work Required of You
Writing the manuscript is almost always grueling when you are tapping into and honing your expertise and voice. When you turn the book in, enjoy a relaxing vacation. But the work is far from over, and you should want it that way.
Your editor expects you to consider feedback or large and small queries carefully. Do the work and make adjustments true to your story. Don’t ignore nor blindly accept her comments. If she suggests an edit, such as “Add cues for doneness,” don’t add just “Check for doneness.” Inaccurate, cryptic, or trite text fixes force your editor to re-query you, or adapt the text herself.
Once you’re done with her edits, there will be more queries from the copy editor, proofreader, designer, and marketers. Stay committed to the project until your editor says “We’re done.”
4. Share Your Vision, Then Let Go
If you don’t know a lot about book design, let your editor and designer guide you. Share preferences, ideas, even a vision board, but don’t try to fake expertise because you think it’s expected of you, or let your author friends steer the book design. If you are also a photographer, food stylist, or have worked carefully to shape your public brand, your editor will also ask you to share colors, fonts, and brand design elements that are key to your work or platform.
Once you share your vision, let your editor and the design and marketing team take over. If something seems egregiously wrong, speak up. But remember that part of why you’re working with a publisher is for the team’s expertise and market knowledge, so try to understand what’s motivating their decisions.
5. Pick Your Battles
When you have a concern about recipe selection, edits, scheduling, photo shoot work, book design, marketing, or anything else, first, take a deep breath. Not every discrepancy or disappointment is worth creating stress for yourself and others.
Once you decide what’s really worth arguing about, show that your point of view is based on detailed knowledge of your audience, subject, or brand. Your editor will want to be educated and will support you if there’s evidence to back your position. If you stand your ground only on the most serious issues, you’ll be able to win over your editor and she will fight for you.
If the publisher decides to go in a different direction because of schedule challenges or market or sales trends, don’t let that destroy your faith in the project. Your resentment or your agent’s anger without a valid argument or solution doesn’t help. Always aim for a constructive way to resolve a serious creative difference.
There will be challenges with every book. In a competitive market and a creative field, everyone involved wants to exceed expectations and produce cookbooks people crave and rave about. If you have a great relationship with your editor, you’ll become a winning team, ideally, for many books to come.
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Linda Ingroia is a culinary and health writer, editor, and content strategist. As an executive editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and at Wiley and Macmillan, she published more than 75 cookbooks. She managed Mark Bittman’s award-winning, bestselling How to Cook Everything series; the bestselling 1,000 Recipes series; The Cooking of Southwest France (second edition) and Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking by Paula Wolfert; and The Fully Raw Diet by Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram. Linda founded and runs foodpassionprojects, featuring interviews with food entrepreneurs.