I met literary agent Lori Galvin five years ago when I discovered she read my blog, and we’ve stayed in touch. It’s a thrill to find out someone I respect reads my work.
Until recently, Lori was part of a team that produced more than 70 cookbooks for America’s Test Kitchen. They include the companions to public television shows America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country, as well as the New York Times bestseller The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook.
Lori has also edited cookbooks for Houghton Mifflin, cooked in restaurant kitchens, and she ran a bed-and-breakfast in Maine.
Now she’s an agent for Zachary Shuster Harmsworth, based in New York and Boston.
I met with literary agent Lori Galvin recently to find out how she finds clients, what she’s looking for and what to say when you contact her:
Q. What kind of cookbooks do you want?
A. I’m drawn to writers with deep expertise because of my experience at America’s Test Kitchen, especially if they are definitive in some way. Or if they reveal a new or fresh approach to cooking. Or baking—I love to bake and have edited many baking books.
The projects I’m working on right now also have an artistic aesthetic. Cheesemonger Lilith Spencer crafts incredible looking and approachable cheese plates inspired by the landscape and art community of the Southwest. I really connected to her idea and it surprised me.
Also, I’m working with Adrian Harris and Jeremy Inglett of The Food Gays. Their creativity with food and presentation (they’re both stylists and food photographers) drove me right into the kitchen. I also love their voice and sense of humor.
And I’m interested in stories around food and cooking as much as cookbooks. I just knew I had to work with Kwame Onwuachi, a Top Chef finalist and chef of D. C.’s The Shaw Bijou. When he gave a talk on how he managed to accomplish all he has by age 26, I felt inspired.
Q. Since you brought up Top Chef, does someone have to be on a cooking show these days to get a cookbook deal?
A. No. I’m working with two women, Sonia Jain Kapadia and Marianne Santee of Little Global Chefs. They are incredibly driven and they have great ideas around cooking with kids and developing or resetting kids’ palates with global flavors. They don’t have a TV show—yet!
TV is helpful, but it’s not as big as it once was. I’ve found that most publishers are not impressed. I think social media’s important, Instagram’s become important, but there aren’t any guarantees. Someone can have a super-successful YouTube channel but sell only 3000 copies. Their audience may not necessarily be book buyers.
Q. Speaking of that, do you know what number editors want to see?
A. Many editors have told me 100,000 followers, usually on Instagram. But I have clients who are growing lower numbers quickly, and that’s what publishers want too. I don’t want to discourage people because it’s really about growth, not a definitive number.
Q. What’s the number one mistake people make when they approach you about a book?
A. They tell me too little. It creates more work for me to ask for more information if all they say is “I want to write a book about olive oil.” This applies to seasoned authors too.
Or they argue with me—or rather, they aren’t familiar with the market. I got a phone call from someone working on a make-ahead book, for example. He assured me that what he was doing was new, but when I pressed him for details, it was clear that he hadn’t done his research.
Q. What trends are really hot these days in cookbooks?
A. Trends can be over by the time a book comes to market. As an agent, my job is to land on ideas before they become trends.
I don’t know if it’s a trend per se, but people want to know more about their food. They’re reading labels and questioning ingredients like alternative sweeteners. Overall, people are getting smarter about food and cooking—and more curious. There’s always going to be a market for intelligent eating.
Q. How do you want to be contacted?
A. By email, lgalvin AT zshliterary DOT com. I’d like a three-paragraph query that explains the idea behind your book. Please explain the need for your book (if applicable, what distinguishes it from similar books out there), and who you are and your credentials. Remember it’s a pitch, so be persuasive. The query should be in the body of the e-mail, not an attachment. Please do not mail food.
Q. Do you have advice for those who want to write food-based books?
A. Cookbooks are more work than you think. You’ve got to stick with it for the long haul and through the many details, including recipe developing and testing, reviewing edits, and reviewing copyedits. That said, it’s also incredibly rewarding to bring your idea to life and witness the positive impact it can have on an audience. If writers have a great idea, and can demonstrate they have an audience for that idea—most often through social media—I’d like to hear from them.