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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Mar 062012
 

What is it like to sell more than 300,000 copies of your self-published cookbook? It’s rare. Extremely rare.

But Martha Hopkins did it, starting when she was 25 years old and didn’t know any better. Her 1997 erotic and visually stunning cookbook, InterCourses, is still selling, especially as a wedding gift.

Martha will be speaking on self-publishing and marketing (see her fantastic website) at a March 27 full-day class in New York, Creating and Selling Your Dream Cookbook, along with food stylist and cookbook author Denise Vivaldo, photographer Jamie Tiampo, and myself. I was so impressed with her success that I thought I should share it, as a preview of what she’ll cover in the class:

Q. You were so young. How did you hit upon this subject of aphrodisiacs?

A. Honestly, my business partner and I went through a whole slew of ideas over the phone. We thought about an Oaxacan cookbook because I spent a summer there, and then we thought about aphrodisiacs. Food and sex! Sounds like fun, I thought.

We picked aphrodisiacs that tasted good and would look good in photos, like asparagus and Continue reading »

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Feb 212012
 

A former student, Cheryl Sternman Rule, whose first cookbook, Ripe, comes out next month, asked, “How do I know when my book is successful?”

Good question. I told her she had to define it for herself, that everyone thinks something different, and some never feel success, no matter how many copies they sell or awards they win. She decided her book would be successful when she sells past the first print run.

Fair enough. I thought about my definition. While I’ve won two awards for Will Write for Food since it came out in 2005, I think it’s successful because people are still buying it.Then I wondered what other authors, publishers and agents would say.

One of the authors I asked was Michael Ruhlman. First he said, “I believe a cookbook is successful if it inspires someone to cook; if it advances our understanding of food or our skill in the kitchen. For the cookbook writer, it’s successful if convinces a publisher to give you money to do another one!”

Then he was so taken by the subject that he asked his Twitter followers what they thought, and created an excellent simultaneous post about cookbook success. It was fun to work together on our posts.

Now, let’s see what the others have to say:

“When the publisher asks you to write another?” Paula Wolfort, cookbook author

“First, reviews: if the book receives no attention online, in print or in broadcast media, then it has obviously failed to reach its audience. For sales, if the author is a relative unknown, 15,000 to 20,000 copies sold in the first year would constitute a success in my book. Obviously, if the author is someone who has written other cooking titles or who has an ongoing presence in print or other media, the benchmark of success would be higher. –Rux Martin, senior executive editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

“I asked my first editor that, and she said, ‘When you’ve made back your advance!’ — David Lebovitz, cookbook author

“There are several measures of success: Critical success, as exemplified by many good reviews. Popular success, as evidenced by strong sales, documented by best-seller lists. Financial success, wherein a publisher’s advance earns out and royalties flow. This last ties into the estimation Continue reading »

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Nov 172009
 


DSC_5425When a cookbook comes out, you see the finished product and the glory, and you don’t know the behind-the-scenes story of struggle, sacrifice, and hard work. Here’s my “proud mother hen” story about one author. It may surprise you.

In 2005 Romney (Nani) Steele worked at the San Francisco Ferry Building selling mache and working with the Cowgirl Creamery. A tall, single mom with a Master of Fine Arts  in Poetry, she came to a Food Writer’s Conference I chaired, ostensibly to learn how to write a cookbook about salads.

Later I reviewed her cookbook proposal and sent her an email that said, in part,”You write like a confident published writer. That’s fantastic — don’t let go of that skill.”

She confessed to wanting to write a different, more difficult book. It was about growing up at Nepenthe restaurant in Big Sur, as the granddaughter of the original owners, Continue reading »

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