If You Can’t Write Truly Great Recipes, be Honest, says Veteran Editor

Rux Martin in her kitchen with some of the books she’s edited. (Photo by Barry Estabrook.)

I met cookbook editor Rux Martin years ago, before she got an imprint in her own name. Now she is Editorial Director of Rux Martin Books at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

She specializes in cookbooks, narrative nonfiction on food, and diet books. She has worked with Dorie Greenspan, Mollie Katzen, Jacques Pépin, and Ruth Reichl, to name just a few, and has edited New York Times bestsellers including The Gourmet Cookbook; Hello, Cupcake!; [Read more…]

A Book Proposal You’ll be Proud to Present

Looks boring, right? But this is what you might see on the desk of an agent or book editor: a stack of book proposals.

Most people don’t think much about the appearance of a book proposal. They think that what’s important is the content.

Well yes, but believe it or not, agents and editors want your non-fiction book proposal to look a certain way. If you present something else, you run the risk of appearing unprofessional. Folders, binders, ribbons, and [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…]

Crafting A Book Title That Rocks

Culinary mysteries sport some of my favorite food-based titles of all time, full  of puns and double entendres.

Yesterday my agent said she’d just told someone how my book, Will Will Write for Food, got its title. She suggested I tell you as well.

I hadn’t thought about that story for a while, and it’s a good one. Should you be faced with coming up with a witty book title one day, you might be able to use it. And I give a few suggestions for coming up with good titles at the end of this post.

(Isn’t it ironic? As a freelance editor, I can come up with great titles for others, but I had so much trouble with my own.)

Back when I turned in my manuscript for the first edition, I had a loser working title. My agent (who does not like to be named),  my publisher (who no longer works at the publishing house and the publishing house no longer exists) and I went around and around for two months, trying to find a better one.

Ready to know the name of the working [Read more…]

Let Your Story and Identity Shine Through, says Cookbook Publisher


Kirsty Melville, president and publisher of the book division of Andrews-McMeel Publishing, based in Kansas City, MO.

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 [Read more…]

Five Tips on What Makes a Killer Cookbook Idea

One of the classes I taught at Rancho La Puerta last week (between hiking, eating sensational vegetarian cuisine and taking a cooking class with Denise Vivaldo) was “What’s A Good Idea for a Book?”

Agents and editors often give the same answer to his question: “You’ve got to have something to say.” And what does that mean, exactly? Here are five definitions:

1. The subject is timely. While at the IACP conference in Portland, Literary Agent Lisa Ekus mentioned that Barnes & Noble made “vegan” a permanent category in its cookbook section. What’s the next hot topic and are you part of it?

2. The idea is about your area of expertise. Do you write extensively on your topic? Do you speak on it or teach cooking classes? Are you obsessed? Good.

3. If you’re not a recognized expert, you’re passionate about the subject. Communicating intense enthusiasm, excitement, and knowledge can sometimes carry a book idea.

4. Your idea is well focused. Lack of focus keeps many potential authors from moving forward. If you want to write about “everything” to do with the subject, the task becomes overwhelming. Take a piece of your idea. That’s why there’s a book called Vegan Brunch vs. The Complete Guide to Vegan Cooking.

5. You have a new approach. Michael Ruhlman did it with Ratio, his book on cooking formulas.

Want to learn more? Take my 2-hour teleclass Wednesday night: “How to Write a Killer Cookbook Proposal,” or my Berkeley, Ca. 5-week class “Want to Sell Your Book? Write a Fabulous Book Proposal.”

And if you’ve got a question about book proposals, pose it below and I’ll answer.

Photography by CNP Digital Studio, courtesy of Bon Appetit.

Book Proposals that Don't Deliver

Traca Savadogo of Seattle Tall Poppy sent me a Wall St. Journal story about business plans that don’t deliver, and wondered if I saw parallels to book proposals. Indeed I did.images-1

Here is the newspaper’s top 5 points of flawed business plans. They translate well to the same reasons book proposals end up in the trash:
1. Writers are smitten with the elegance of their technology. The corollary is  writers who are so in love with the subject of their book they don’t bother to explain why it needs to be published in the first place, and who would care
2. The writer isn’t sure what the initial target market is. Even worse  are book proposals writers who say “everyone” will buy the book. “Everyone” is not a market. It’s better to have a smaller, identifiable market than a vague large one.
3. The numbers look good on paper. Book proposals don’t contain numbers. But they do need to be believable. Agents and editors can see right through hype, such as saying the book is destined to become an immediate bestseller.
4. The team doesn’t have hands-on experience. The author lacks sufficient qualifications to write on the subject of the book.
5. The writer can’t find anything but good things to say about the opportunity, instead of acknowledging some weaknesses. It’s best to address any fears or doubts that might come up in the mind of the reader, instead of leaving him or her to wonder.

I’ll take a realistic and specific proposal every time that’s easy on the hype, and one that answers and slays any concerns that come up.