Jan 142014
Melt_Turkey and Robusto

Every recipe in Melt was tested four times by our band of recipe testers, including this one for Turkey and Robusto Mac and Cheeselets.

A guest post by Garrett McCord, co-author of Melt

One of the greatest fears of cookbook writers is that their readers — the people who have dedicated time, money, and ingredients –- will be unable to successfully execute the recipes. When Stephanie Stiavetti and I started working on Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, we resolved that recipes would be properly tested and that every single one would work flawlessly.

So how to go about this? Years ago I tested recipes for Jaden Hair’s first cookbook. Stephanie and I discussed the process and decided that the best way to test the book was with our blog readers. We put out a call on our 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 142012

I do a lot of recipe editing in Microsoft Word, both for individuals and publishers. The number one mistake I find is when ingredients are listed out of order, compared to how they’re used in the method.

Before I learned this tip, I drove myself nuts scrolling up and down in Word to check: Did she put the olive oil first? Scroll up, then scroll down. Does the garlic come before or after the Herbs de Provence? Scroll down, then scroll up.

The "Split" feature in MS-Word lets you see two parts of the same file.

Now I use Word’s Split feature so I can see both the ingredients list and the method on my screen. That way I can check the order of ingredients without scrolling like a maniac.

Here’s all you have to do:

1. Open an MS-Word file that has a recipe in it.

2. Under Window in the Toolbar, select Split. You’ll see two parts of one file Continue reading »

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Feb 222011


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 Continue reading »

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Dec 012010

A writer asked if she could pay me to write her query letter. The answer was no. She needs to present her own writing to an editor or agent, not mine.

Query letters are an art form, but once you know the rules, you can succeed. Here are five tips:

1. Only send a query when you’ve written a full proposal. Yes of course, it’s easier to write a one-page letter. But if agents or editors like your book idea, they’ll ask for the full proposal. Then where will you be?

2. Get a referral. Literary agents like word-of-mouth recommendations. If you can say immediately that a friend or client recommended them, they will perk up and keep reading. Get referrals from other writers, writing teachers and booksellers. Work your groups, including IACP, Baker’s Dozen, and Slow Food, to find a connection.

3. Say why you’re approaching them. No one likes a form letter, so do your homework. Tell superstar agent Esther Newberg, for example, you chose her because you adore Ina Garten’s cookbooks (Good luck with that! ). Tell literary agent Stacey Glick your book on salt-preserving would be a good fit because the firm represented The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, a book that’s similar in spirit.

4. Make it short and sweet, and don’t forget the food. Get in and get out in three paragraphs. Grab their attention in the lead paragraph (hook), describe the book in the second paragraph (mini-synopsis), describe yourself and why you’re qualified to write the book in the third paragraph (biography). Most of all, since you’re writing a food book, make the reader salivate. You wouldn’t believe how often people forget to write about the food.

5. Sell, sell, sell, but be realistic. A query letter is no time to say how you’ve always wanted to write this book, or to deliver your condensed life story. Read book jackets to get a sense of the appropriate language. And do not — ever– say your book will be a bestseller or that you plan to appear on Oprah.

For actual examples of successful query letters, see this blog post on the Guide to Literary Agents.

Have you struggled with a query letter or do you have a question? While I can’t write yours for you, write to me here and I’ll do my best to answer.

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Nov 172010

Meat cookbooks are all the rage this holiday season. As I perused the latest cookbooks in the Kitchen Arts & Letters newsletter, I saw Falling Off the Bone; Primal Cuts; The Complete Book of Butchering, Smoking, Curing and Sausage Making; and Cured.

Also included were these two books, with almost identical cover themes:

Yep, art directors at Ten Speed (Meat) and Stewart, Tabori & Chang (Good Meat) had the same idea: Raw T-bone steaks. While Good Meat is about sourcing and enjoying sustainable meat  (hence the “Good” in the title), they still look similar, coming out within a month of each other.

I called Kitchen Arts & Letters to discuss more, but got a busy signal. So I called Omnivore Books, where I left a voicemail that owner Celia Sacks returned promptly (KA&L, take note). She said the covers reminded her of the hugely successful Continue reading »

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Oct 182010

Last week I started teaching a class on cookbook writing at Book Passage bookstore. I begin by browsing the cookbook section (not that I need prompting), picking up books to show the class that fit my criteria of great ideas. Here are five:

1. The subject is timely and capitalizes on a trend. For this criteria I found the new Twitter cookbook, with an introduction by former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni.

Author Maureen Edwards set up a twitter account, @cookbooks, to attract recipes, and published hundreds of them in this playful book.

Yes, it’s a gimmick. Gimmicks often work.

2. It’s about your area of expertise. D-I-Y Delicious capitalizes on the trend to make your own foods from scratch, with recipes for everything from cheese to sodas to ketchup. Written by chef Vanessa Barrington, it’s aimed at people who are into urban homesteading and crafty projects.

3. You are passionate about the subject. Pastry chef Fany Gerson spent years traveling around her native Mexico Continue reading »

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