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…]

Q & A: Michael Ruhlman on Recipe-Based Apps


Writer Michael Ruhlman (Photo by Donna Ruhlman)

Our industry needs writers willing to embrace the digital future of food writing. Michael Ruhlman, an award-winning cookbook author, dove in. He embraced blogging a few years ago and has now has regular income based on it. Next he put out apps on mobile devices based on his books.

As part of a team, Ruhlman created three apps and he’s in development on the fourth. They are:

1. The Ratio app for the iPhone and iPod. At $4.99, Rulman says the app has sold 11,000 copies, and continues to sell at the rate of 50 per week. Apple takes 30 percent off the top. The team of Ruhlman, the developer, and the designer (Leah McCombe) split the rest. The team worked on spec (basically for free) in exchange for royalties. Ruhlman is working on an enhanced Ratio app for the iPad with the developer, Sideways.

2.  The Ratio Android app. Not quite as popular, it sells 1 for every 10 sold on Apple. The same team created it and splits the revenue.

3. The iPad Bread Baking Basics. Itsells for $1.99. The team comprised Ruhlman; his wife Donna Ruhlman, who shot the photos; and the developer, Will Turnage of R/GA.

4. An iPad app based on his forthcoming book, Ruhlman’s 20. Ruhlman is currently in negotiations with Chronicle Books.

Ruhlman spoke to to members of the International Association of Culinary Professionals on a teleforum last week about apps, and I followed up with this interview.

Q. Why did you decide to make an app from your book Ratio?

A. Because the concept lends itself so beautifully to what a smart phone can do. There’s enough people who have [Read more…]

Valentine’s Day Despite It All

food writing muffinsThe morning started innocently enough. I decided to make Mark Bittman’s muffins as a treat, instead of the usual cereal or toast. After all, Valentine’s Day demands special effort for a special day.

But then I noticed I only had a half a cup of applesauce, and needed a cup, so I had to make more. I made my husband get up from reading the Sunday comics to stir.

And then I remembered I had made roast chicken the other night because Ruhlman said any idiot could do it, so I felt qualified. It turned out fine, but  I also discovered why I stopped making roast chicken at high temperatures: it throws fat everywhere and destroys the oven. Now the oven had to be cleaned, or it would smoke and perfume my special Valentine’s Day muffins with essence of burned poultry fat.

So while I prepped the wet and dry ingredients for my special treat for my husband, he cleaned the oven on his hands and knees. I was so distracted I forgot the sugar.

Finally, at 1 p.m., we sat down to fresh muffins, fruit and yogurt. I asked my honey if he liked the muffins. He said they were “okay.” We’ve been married so long (20.5 years) I knew what that meant.

Crestfallen, I asked if he would have preferred a big ham and cheese omelet instead of this healthy treat, which I realized appealed more to me than him. He said no. “Just next time, add the sugar.” And then he kissed me.

(Photo of sugarless applesauce muffins by Owen Rubin).

Kickin' It at Club Med Food Blogger Camp


I’m  adjusting to this new format of food writing and blogging conference, where hanging out is a big part of the day. Today I’ve walked along the beach in the surf, done yogalates with David Lebovitz and Matt Amendariz, gave Nancy Hachisu a quick Twitter lesson, had lunch with Michael and Donna Ruhlman, and now I’m sitting in the bar, waiting for the presentation at 3 p.m.,when Jaden Hair and David Lebovitz discuss book proposals, with a handout from me.

You’ll just have to join us next year. Really. You can relax and network [Read more…]

Food Blogger Camp and Free Trip Giveaway

images-1Let’s hit the beach, bask in the sun and get to know each other. I’m delighted to announce the first annual Food Blogger Camp at Club Med Ixtapa Pacific in Ixtapa, Mexico, January 9-16, 2010.

Club Med is giving away accommodations for seven nights, coach airfare, and a scholarship for one sweepstakes winner. You’ll get to meet and hang out with me, plus some of the most talented food bloggers, authors, and food photographers in the business.

At the Boot Camp, we’ll have workshops on how to improve blogging, photography [Read more…]