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…]

3 Thanksgiving Cookbook Authors Dish on Their Craft

It’s an exciting time of year to be the author of a Thanksgiving cookbook. I spoke to three veterans about what kind of media they do to boost book sales, what they like about being an expert, and what they’ll be serving on Turkey Day. They are:
1. How far ahead do you plan your writing and promotional events for Thanksgiving?

Diane Morgan

Diane: Magazines come the earliest with articles typically due by the middle of May. I am often asked to write stories in the early spring for the coming year’s publication. Newspapers are typically thinking about Thanksgiving stories in July, though pitching in June isn’t unheard of.

For my own website, I plan my blog featured recipes with coordinating video in August. This year, I was a judge on the Food Network Thanksgiving Challenge. That request came early last March. Interviews for Turkey Day stories happen in September or October. Radio interviews come right after Halloween. I was just on Martha Stewart Living radio talking about easy holiday appetizers.

Kristine: During my long tenure as food editor at Bon Appetit magazine, we started working on our Thanksgiving issue about six months before it was published. I created the recipes for my Thanksgiving book a year before publication. I did a book signing and demo at Williams-Sonoma at the end of October. With my blog, I work a week or two ahead, so I am planning and creating in the season when [Read more…]