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…]

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 Giveaway: Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho La Puerta

Cooking with the Seasons.Rancho La PuertaI didn’t intend to make book giveways such a focus of my blog but coincidentally, I have another one.

Somehow the buzz got out with my last giveway for Ready for Dessert and almost 200 people responded. I think it was David Lebovitz’s Facebook announcement. (He has what’s called a “platform,” you know.)

Right now this post is coming to you from sunny Rancho La Puerta in Mexico, one of the best spas in the world. I’m here to teach four 1-hour classes for people who are thinking about writing a book. They’ll have to fit me in between Pilates, massages and hikes.

I first came here last year in exchange for coaching on the ranch’s cookbook proposal, and now I’m lucky enough to come back. The book has done well too: It was nominated for a Beard award last year.

(Speaking of the Beards, follow along with [Read more…]