When there’s a one percent acceptance rate, it’s kind of important not to make mistakes in cookbook proposals. But if you’ve never written one before, how would you know what’s right?
Sure, you can read books on writing proposals and use them as a guide. But somehow, errors in judgement creep in.
Having read dozens of cookbook proposals, I can spot where people go wrong. So let’s go over the main things that throw off agents and editors, if you’d like to send out a proposal soon.
Here’s my list of the top 5 mistakes in cookbook proposals:
- Leaving out the food. It may sound crazy, but about half the cookbook proposals I read don’t mention the dishes until deep into the proposal. The problem is that agents and editors don’t necessarily read that far. So don’t wait until page 6 to lay it all out as to what kind of food you propose for your cookbook. Agents and editors want to be seduced immediately by sensuous descriptions. They have never tasted, seen, or smelled your pasta puttanesca, twice-cooked pork, or mushroom and poblano tacos. Since you’re writing a cookbook, it is not optional to get readers salivating over your dishes immediately.
- Comparing the proposed book to similar books that don’t sell. Why would a publisher want to publish a book similar to those that don’t sell? Editors check sales numbers of competitors because they subscribe to proprietary software. Agents check Amazon rankings to get an idea of sales. So can you. Select books with an Amazon rank of 75,000 or less. If you can’t find similar books that sell well, you’re going to have to make a heck of an argument as to why yours will.
- Not testing the recipes. Recently I read a proposal where the author had cut and pasted in a chef’s recipe. It had an inaccurate title, the wrong amounts for a home cook, and the method did not make sense. It did not occur to the writer to fix it and test it, to ensure it worked for the home cook. Maybe she thought it would be a disservice to the chef. I would not want to read that sample recipe as an agent or editor. It would not give me confidence that the writer could produce a recipe for home cooks. Also, sometimes agents and editors make a recipe from a proposal if they are intrigued. You don’t want them to find out it doesn’t work.
- Unclear on what goes in the promotion plan. If you’ve already written for magazines or appeared on shows, that info goes in your bio. The promotion plan is about what happens when your book comes out. It’s not a list of what you’ve already done. Implying that you will do it again is not direct enough.
- Leaving out your social media numbers. If you’re not proud of them, it’s too late. Agents and editors can easily see your numbers by researching you online. Don’t make work for them. Put the numbers in your bio. If they’re low, don’t send out the proposal until you’ve improved them. It’s more important than ever to show that you have an audience waiting for the book.
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