In the last few weeks, I’ve heard from lots of food bloggers who are getting calls from publishers, asking them to write books.
It’s thrilling to get one of these calls, but they didn’t necessarily know what questions to ask the publisher.
And of course, there’s no reason why they should know, since they have never been in this position before. So I compiled a list of questions, in case a call like this comes your way.
The most important thing is to not make commitments during the initial call. Get the answers to these questions, and then think it over.
1. What is the advance? The advance is the amount of money you are paid up front to write the book. If the publisher offers you $10,000, and your royalty rate is $1 per book (I’m just making the math easier), then you earn $1 per book after you sell 10,000 books.
Beginning advances for first-time book authors range from $3500 – $25,000, unless you’re a star or you have a big audience. Most of the time, they’re offering you too little, so it doesn’t hurt to ask for more. “It sounds a little low” is a good response.
2. What is the royalty rate? The typical rate is 7.5 percent of the book’s retail price or 10 percent royalties on net profit. One food blogger said the publisher wanted 350 recipes and no advance, but would give her a 10 percent royalty rate. I wouldn’t write a book for a zero advance. I’ve read that 80 percent of authors never see any more money after the advance. So I want as much as I can get up front.
3. How long is the manuscript? If a publisher has a book idea in mind, there might be specs. Most cookbooks have a minimum of 100 recipes. Some might give you a word count, such as 50,000 words. Envision 250 words to a typed 8 1/2 x 11-inch page, double spaced. That’s 200 double-spaced pages. If the publisher wants you to provide the idea for the book, you will have to estimate the book’s size.
4. What is the deadline for the manuscript? I heard from one blogger who said the publisher wanted a finished manuscript in 6 months, and from another who said the publisher wanted 50 recipes in 4 months. That’s crazy, even if you already have most of the recipes. See if you can get at least 9 months, unless the subject is so trendy that they want it done ASAP.
For some bloggers, this deadline is the date their photography is due as well. Which brings me to…
5. How many photographs, and what is the fee? Some bloggers have photos good enough for a cookbook. If the publisher wants yours, make sure you get paid a separate fee. Determine what you should make per photo, based on time and expenses. I can’t tell you exactly what that is, but professional photographers often charge $20,000 – $30,000 per book. If you will not be the photographer, ask whether you can weigh in on whom they choose. Better yet, suggest someone whose work you like.
Many publishers expect the author to cover the photographer’s fee. They pad the advance for that fee, supposedly.
6. Will my name appear on the cover? Typically, yes. But if the publisher wants you to write a cookbook not tied to your blog, it’s a valid question.
7. Will my bio, photo, and contact info appear? You want to make sure.
8. When will my book come out? Most publisher have two seasons for book launches: spring and fall. Gift books come out in the fall.
9. How will you promote my book? Does the publisher send out copies for review? What else will they do for you? Will they pitch your book to blogs, print publications, and websites for review? Will they line up podcast and radio interviews, and television demos?
Once you get past this list of questions, and you and the publisher come to an agreement, you will receive a contract. There’s more to negotiate. (If you join the Authors Guild, you get a free review of your contract.)
It’s possible that the publisher wants you to write a cookbook they have in mind. Typically this kind of writing is called a work for hire. In that case you will not earn royalties. Here are two viewpoints by authors who have done this kind of book:
- Are Work-for-Hire Cookbooks Worth It? (She says no.)
- Is a Work-for-Hire Cookbook Worth It? (She says yes.)
The most important thing is to take lots of notes and push back for the things that are important to you. Don’t just be “honored” that a publisher called you, because it’s a ton of work to produce a book.
My last tips: Ask people you know who’ve written a book for advice. Finally, don’t feel like this is your only opportunity for a book, because it will make you desperate. You don’t want publishers to take advantage.
Okay, all you experts who have already signed a contract: What other advice do you have for these bloggers?
(Photo from freedigitalphotos.net)