Feb 122013
 

Cookbook author Andrea Nguyen doesn’t have an agent and has never had one. “No one would take me on until Into the Vietnamese Kitchen was published in 2006. Then they said ‘I’ll work with you anytime.’”

Andrea discusses her book ideas and negotiates subsequent book contracts herself, developing trust by staying with the same publisher. “As long as I remain at Ten Speed (an imprint of Random House), I don’t feel that I need to use an agent because they deal with me fairly. If I have questions I email Aaron (Wehner, the publisher) or the attorney at Random House. I don’t feel like I need to give 15 percent to an agent forever.”

Negotiating her own contracts makes her feel empowered. “You enter into a contract because all parties want to be fairly dealt with. My mindset is, ‘What is the publisher going to Continue reading »

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Feb 052013
 

Your book just came out, and it needs reviews on Amazon. Not just any kind of review, but positive ones.

Do you rally your supporters on social media? Ask friends and family to post (implied glowing) reviews? Email anyone who’s ever complimented you and ask them to post?

According to Amazon, all of the above methods lead to “manipulated reviews.” The company is deleting thousands of them, says this story in The New York Times.

If you’ve already employed these strategies, don’t worry about it too much. Most of the time, Amazon is not looking for small fry like us, but for authors with huge followings who can incite people to write reviews on the first day of publication, sometimes without reading the book. But even so, we smaller authors are not immune. The article includes Continue reading »

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Dec 262012
 

Nancy Hachisu makes rice bran pickles in her Japanese farmhouse. Photo by Kenji Miura. (Courtesy of Nancy Hachisu)

When I met Nancy Singleton Hachisu in Mexico in 2010, I was taken aback by the sight of another woman in her 50s at a food blogger camp.

Over our week together, more surprises came. Nancy had moved to Japan to teach English 22 years earlier, married her English conversation student —- an organic farmer, and raised their three boys in the Japanese countryside, living and working on their farm.

My head was spinning. How did a blond white woman from an upscale California neighborhood live in rural Japan with her family and mother-in-law, where there were no others like her? Plus, she spoke Japanese with ease, established an English immersion preschool near her home, and cooked traditional Japanese meals with her husband. How did she do all this with such gusto?

Fortunately, now there’s a 400-page cookbook to explain, called Japanese Farm Food. (Disclosure: I helped Nancy with the book proposal.) A hefty hardcover with a spine wrapped in indigo cloth, the cookbook features stunning photographs of Nancy’s food, family, and life on the farm and off. Personal essays make the book almost memoir-ish, but in a no-nonsense, affectionate way, not confessional or nostalgic. Simple vegetable-forward recipes are based on seasonal fresh produce from the family farm, flavored with classic ingredients such as miso, sake and soy.

Nancy began her writing career in 2008, with two magazine articles published in Japanese about Slow Food and Alice Waters. A year later, she took Stanford Continuing Studies writing classes and started a blog called Indigo Days at the encouragement of fellow writers, about Continue reading »

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Dec 112012
 

I know. If we’re going to talk about books, you want cookbooks, preferably with luscious photography. Fine. Here are two lists of favorite cookbooks of 2012 from The Washington Post and The Kitchn.

Now that you’ve got that out of your system, we can get on with today’s post. In the past few weeks I’ve paged through and marked up six how-to books sent to me, at my request, by inquiring publishers. I’m here to report on how or whether they’ll help you improve your writing, freelancing, photography, book promotion and public speaking.

Despite reading an essay on how writers don’t need to read how-to books and attend conferences, I am a big fan of how-to books (and conferences). Whenever I read one, I find something valuable I can immediately use to improve myself. Besides, people learn and progress in different ways. Some read books and practice with exercises. Some take classes and attend workshops. And some just stumble through, learning by doing. That’s what writers always say in interviews, right? “If you want to be a writer, write.” I’ve heard it a hundred times.

Well yes. But some of us need help, encouragement and inspiration. We need to learn from people who have been there or done that. We need new skills, like how to write literary narrative, photograph food, promote books, and pitch articles. So if you’re the type who learns by reading, here’s a handful of books that came across my desk recently:

1. Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling, by Helene Dujardin of Tartlette. Shame on me for not recommending this book as soon as it came out. Dozens of luscious photographs will lure you into understanding how Dujardin works her magic, and how you can do it too. This is a full-color book full of photos that teach you how to set up a shot, find the light, diffuse it, understand non-automatic camera settings, be an effective food stylist and other subjects valuable to food bloggers.

2. Talk Up Your Book: How to Sell Your Book Through Public Speaking, Interviews, Signings, Festivals, Conferences and More, by Patricia Fry. Finally, someone had the courage to join the two topics writers dread most: promoting their books and public speaking. Fry, the author of Continue reading »

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Dec 042012
 

Yotam Ottolenghi, co-author of Jerusalem, says food writers should specialize. (Photo by Keiko Oikawa)

It’s unusual for a famous chef and restaurateur to write his own cookbooks. So when Ten Speed Press sent me an copy of Yotam Ottolenghi‘s latest cookbook, Jerusalem, I was curious about his process (and intrigued by this stunning cookbook). I interviewed the chef about writing, collaborating and on establishing oneself as a food writer:

Q. You have a degree in a philosophy and a Masters in comparative literature. What were you planning to do with them?

A. I wasn’t sure, but a university teaching career seemed like a possibility at the time.

Q. But then you left to study cooking in London.

A. I didn’t get enough fulfillment from academic life. It felt a bit stale and was also stressful – papers to write, books to read.

Q. Why did you decide to write a column on vegetarian cooking in The Guardian in 2006? You had been the chef at Ottolenghi for four years by then.

A. That’s what The Guardian asked me to do. At first I wasn’t sure that this was a good idea; after all, I wasn’t a vegetarian. But as this was a great Continue reading »

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 Posted by on December 4, 2012 at 10:57 am
Oct 162012
 

Hey, cause for celebration, possibly. I just found out the Kindle version of my book, Will Write for Food, is the 16,620th Most Highlighted Book of All Time on Kindle — just a few points below The Qur’An and Start a Cupcake Business Today.

Is this good news? I have no idea.

But it’s info I didn’t have before, and potentially helpful. Now I can look up what people highlighted and see that they tweeted quotes from my book. (That’s how I found out about this phenomenon. Someone included @diannej in the tweet).

Kindle users sign an agreement granting Amazon permission to store information, including the Continue reading »

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Sep 042012
 

Peter Reinhart is a baking instructor and faculty member at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Peter Reinhart has authored eight cookbooks, including the The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, winner of two national awards. That cookbook alone has sold more than 100,000 copies.

You’d think he’d have an ego, but during our interview Reinhart came across humbly, talking about the value of working with a team and not burning bridges.

I caught up with him as he taught baking classes in California to promote his latest book, The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking, co-authored with Denene Wallace. It’s his first book on low-carb breads, pastries, cookies, and cake for those sensitive to gluten, diabetics, or those who need to reduce carbs to prevent weight gain. The focus is on baking with nut and seed flours and non-sugar sweeteners.

In this interview, he talks about the value of sticking with the same publisher, learning a new subject, and why you need a thick skin to grow as a writer:

Q. Why did you decide to write a gluten-free, sugar-free baking book? You are a bread and pizza guy.

A. Ten Speed asked if I wanted to do a gluten-free book, and I said only if we cover new territory. They told me gluten-free and allergen-free was the hottest new category. It was nice to be asked. I felt like I had arrived.

Q. You’ve been with Ten Speed for a long time.

A. It’s common to jump around to publishing houses, but it feels traditional to be with a publishing house where you feel like they’re part of your family. There’s a comfort level there and a trust level there. I’ve been with them for 12 years.

I got lucky when Random House bought Ten Speed because they got bigger distribution but they kept the same team. My former editor, Aaron (Wehner, publisher), is a great idea man. He stays engaged and I have access to him. Melissa (Moore, Food Editor) is the new Aaron, very collaborative. This is our third book together.

In the old days you read about Judith Jones and Julia Child, where people were together for years. I feel like I’m in the stable with thoroughbreds. And if I want to do a non-food book I can stay within the Random House family and go with an imprint.

Q. What makes an award-winning cookbook?

A. Writing a book is not a solo effort. Sometimes the magic is just there with the editor, the publisher, the design, the photography — it’s like putting a movie together. Everybody contributed something. Having great recipe testers has been invaluable too.

From the writer’s standpoint, it’s important to appreciate that process. I know a few writers who have fought the process, to their Continue reading »

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