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…]

Most Book Deals Originate with Publishers Not Authors, Says Cookbook Agent


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 [Read more…]