An Agent Answers: “What Should I Expect for a Cookbook Advance?”

Literary Agent Sally Ekus represents cookbooks and food-based books.
Literary Agent Sally Ekus represents cookbooks and food-based books.

A guest post by Sally Ekus

Every time I talk with a new author or perspective client they ask the same question: “What can I expect for an advance?” I tell them $250,000. No wait, that was a dream I had last night. In reality, though, I can’t answer.

Spoiler alert: the answer to most everything in publishing is “It depends.” In the case of cookbooks, the answer depends on platform, proposal, and concept. And no agent will tell you an amount in advance. Let’s be real, if you were applying for a job and you were told your salary could be [Read more…]

Agent Prefers First-Time Book Authors

Literary Agent Danielle Svetcov

Literary agents are notoriously coy about interviews. So it was a pleasure to meet Danielle Svetcov, a San Francisco-based cookbook agent who’s part of a New York agency, Levine Greenberg Rostan, who welcomed the opportunity.

Here’s what she has to say about why she became an agent, what she’s looking for in a new author, and what’s new in cookbook publishing:

Q. So you’re a journalist, a professionally-trained chef, and you have an MFA. How did this massive education lead to you becoming an agent?

An agent wears a lot of hats: editor, writer, reader, critic, life coach, translator, therapist, news-junkie, diplomat, lifeboat driver — you need a lot of degrees for those jobs!

Here’s the actual path: age 13, request Sunset Magazine subscription, discover bologna has a fancier cousin, prosciutto; 18, fancy self a journalist and [Read more…]

5 Things Literary Agents Say When They Mean No

Snagging a literary agent for your book proposal takes nerves of steel. You might have to send a query out to many agents, while telling yourself that it only takes one who’s excited about your book.

Most agents accept only one or two percent of the queries and book proposals they read. They spend a lot of time saying no. The problem is that they don’t have time to tell you why they don’t like your book idea or you, and often their responses don’t shed any light. On top of that, you’re not supposed to ask for clarification when you do get a response, because once they’ve said no, it’s no.

Possibly the most stressful thing of all is how long literary agents take to answer. Many take a month to six weeks to write two sentences back about [Read more…]

3 Issues to Consider in Negotiating Book Contracts

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 [Read more…]

3 Keys to a Killer Query Letter

Want to interest a literary agent in your book idea?

Often, agents want a query letter first. The query sells them on the book idea and introduces you. It’s your chance to make an indelible impression.

Queries have to be short. Here’s the formula for this three-paragraph letter:

Paragraph 1: You need an evocative opening that intrigues the agent enough to keep reading. It includes the book’s hook: a concise sentence meant to pique interest about why the book is needed now and how it’s different. Include the book’s working title and subtitle.

To create a connection, the paragraph should also include why you chose this agent, based on the agent’s website, books represented, or a [Read more…]

5 Tips for When a Literary Agent Calls

I had just started working with a food blogger on a book proposal when she got a call from a literary agent, who said he might be able to get her a book deal.

That’s exciting, but how do you know if it’s true, or if this person has the right credentials?

Literary agents, just for review, represent writers. Once you write a book proposal, they find a publisher and negotiate the book contract .

My client had a long talk with the agent and he seems like a good match. I checked him out too. Now, what if you get the call? Here are 5 tips to increase your chances of working with a worthwhile literary agent and getting a book deal:

1. Listen politely and do not commit. Sure, you’re honored and humbled (my two favorite blogger terms to make fun of), but you probably don’t know this person, so you don’t yet know if you want the agent to represent you. Maybe you haven’t even thought about writing a book. Thank the agent, seem interested, and say you’ll get back in touch soon.

2. Ask the agent if he or she represents food-based books. You want an agent who has expertise in your area. If you forgot to ask during the call, check the agency’s website to see if he or she has represented cookbooks, food memoir, reference books or guidebooks — whatever type of book you want to write. If your search comes up [Read more…]

Most Book Deals Originate with Publishers Not Authors, Says Cookbook Agent


Literary Agent Lisa Ekus of The Lisa Ekus Group

Want to get your book published, and think you need to write a proposal? Maybe.

I spoke with Lisa Ekus, a literary agent who represents food-based books exclusively, about what’s new, what editors want, how she works a deal, and what writers need to do to attract the attention of an agent like herself.

What she said about the majority of her book deals might surprise you.

Q. You’re entering your 11th year as a literary agent specializing in cookbooks. What kind of changes have you seen in the publishing world during this time?

A. There’s no better time to be a food writer. There are fewer obstacles to have one’s voice heard because of the proliferation of blogging. In the past it was very challenging to break in. Now anyone who has something to say is online, and many editors who are looking for content can find it.

So how do we separate the wheat from the chaff? More talented writers have opportunities, but there has to be a system of building credentials and credibility, of putting the same diligence to your writing in an e-format: doing your own research, having ethics about where you get your material, having recipes tested, and having copy editing done before it gets posted. You still have to market yourself because there are 120 million blogs out there.

There’s more interest than ever before in food and travel and ethnic cuisines. People are now looking for people to weigh in, and writers have such an opportunity.

People keep saying that print is dead, but it’s not. It’s shifting. Highly illustrated books are harder to go [Read more…]