Jul 232013
 

Virginia Willis does a lot of jobs simultaneously to pay the bills, and because she prefers it that way. (Photo by Angie Mosier)

A guest post by Virginia Willis

A few years ago there was a great outcry when Food52’s Amanda Hesser wrote that she wouldn’t advise any one to become a food writer. At the time I disagreed, but now I find that she has a point.

To be successful as a food writer, I wear many hats. Sometimes, I do work outside food writing because I enjoy it. Sometimes that work is more lucrative. Regardless, all these hats create massive scheduling and financial challenges, but also diversity and stimulation. My small business can be feast or famine, but the jobs are tightly intertwined and I cannot imagine it any other way.

The deal is, it’s just not enough to be a food writer, even a successful one. We may not be starving artists, but very few writers are financially successful.

Here’s what I do as a food writer. It’s a lot but it’s not enough:

1. Cookbook author. My two cookbooks have received much acclaim and even some awards. Using the language of Publishers Lunch, my advances have been Continue reading »

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Feb 212012
 

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 Continue reading »

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