When is a Book Successful?

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 [Read more…]

Cookbook Giveaway: Seasonal Fruit Desserts

Fruit Desserts.Madison

Six years ago Deborah Madison started working on a cookbook she called “Desserts for the Pastry Impaired.”

“Pastry chefs are exacting people who have a deep sense about measurement and clean aprons,” she explains. “Cooking is more intuitive, more relaxed, with more opportunities to taste and adjust.” She wanted to write a less rigid book about desserts.

As she wrote the book, the focus gradually changed to fruit, a natural for someone with a bent towards produce. “When you’re working on a book it talks to you in different ways over time,” she says. Apparently it talked to the editor in a different way too. Madison found out her editor regarded her title as a placeholder. “That kind of changed things,” Deborah admits good-naturedly.

She was already three years into the project when it shifted, but that was fine. Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm, and Market stayed “in the background, although I was always working on it.” 

Here’s what she was doing in the foreground. She wrote three other cookbooks: What We Eat When We Eat Alone: Stories and 100 RecipesVegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen; and Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen.

No stranger to working on challenging projects in tandem, Deb had opened a restaurant during the [Read more…]