[Update: The contest is closed. Commenter Kris Diede won a copy of the book.]
It’s a story so many writers dream of: publishing a cookbook with no author platform. Not only did the author Reem Kassis persevere, but her popular book, The Palestinian Table, appeared on many “Best Cookbooks” lists for the end of the year, including New York magazine, NPR, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Independent, The National Post.
Meanwhile, back to the story. The author, Reem Kassis, approached me in 2015 to review her proposal. At that time, Reem was a home cook and mother, a former business consultant with a Wharton MBA who missed the taste of her family’s Palestinian home cooking. She blogged for the Huffington Post, but not about food. She based her cookbook on recipes from her grandmother’s and aunties’ kitchens.
When she contacted me about working on a book proposal, I was interested in coaching her but realized she had no platform. Even so, I never questioned that Reem could pull off the book and get published.
Here’s how Reem Kassis got a cookbook deal for The Palestinian Table:
Q. Why did you want to write this book?
A. Living abroad in the US and Europe is what pushed me to put this book together. I wanted people to know what the real food we eat here is like. It’s not the stuff you get in the restaurants and food trucks. Most of all, I wanted my kids to know the same joy and richness of experience that food added to my life growing up, even though they are most likely going to be brought up abroad.
Q. What did you do after finishing the proposal?
A. I took my daughter to a meeting with Phaidon, which had expressed interest. At the same time I started sending emails to agents. I got responses within an hour from many of them. Even Ottolenghi’s agent responded and thought the proposal was great but it was a conflict of interest.
Q. So then what happened?
A. I got the agent I wanted and he shopped the proposal around while waiting for an answer from Phaidon. In the end it went to Phaidon, which published it in the UK and the US.
I signed the deal in London. Halfway through, we had to relocate to the Philadelphia for my husband’s job.
Q. You put photos of your dishes in the proposal but you did not photograph the book.
A. Phaidon hired an Israeli photographer. They wanted a pared back look, so there are few props in the photos. We did the photo shoot at my parent’s house in Jerusalem. All the plates and serveware were my grandmother’s.
Q. How did you get a quote from Anthony Bourdain?
A. I reached out directly to Laurie Woolever, his co-writer, by email.
Q. How and when did you build an online presence to help sell the book?
Q. And you didn’t you do much of a book tour.
A. No book tour at all, actually. I signed books at the book launch in London, and I have some events coming up with Mark Vetri.
Q. How did you get so many media interviews?
A. Most of it came through the publisher. The New York Times piece was random, because I reached out to the author about something unrelated.
Q. Why are people so excited about your cookbook?
A. What I’ve heard from a lot of people is that the emotional part of it brings them home to a Palestinian table. Also it’s very authentic because it shows people what we really cook. People are curious and want to learn. All they know is the conflict and now I have a book that is not political. It’s a true narrative about who we are as Palestinians, not just our conflict.
Q. The recipes come from aunties and grandmothers who never wrote them down, right?
A. Right. I had to go sit with my mother and figure out how much sugar was in her hand. In other cases it was recipes I was cooking myself, cooked multiple times. It’s my name on the book but my mother cooked 90 percent of the recipes with me. I’m sharing family recipes and there are lots of contributions.
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