In January, 2020, my husband asked me what were my top goals for the year. Instinctively, I said, “I want to write a cookbook.” At the time, I didn’t know that would mean a work-for-hire cookbook.
A few weeks later, I received a cookbook offer from Callisto Media. The editor wanted a cookbook on world curries made easy, using an electric pressure cooker. Here was a topic that fit my interests and aligned with the recipes on my blog.
I had heard about Callisto from two food blogger friends who published with them. I also read Priya Krishna’s article in the New York Times that highlighted the negatives about writing a work-for-hire cookbook. After brief consideration, I accepted the offer, purely to gain the experience of writing a cookbook.
A work-for-hire cookbook means that the publisher engages services for a fee. That meant doing the research, recipe and content development, writing, editing and rewriting, all for a fixed, full and final compensation. Unlike traditional book offers, I didn’t receive an advance or royalties. The publisher retained all rights to the book, including the proceeds from book sales.
Callisto paid me to deliver 75 recipes along with other content. I agreed to produce close to 30,000 words in seven weeks.
The Electric Pressure Cooker Curry Cookbook: 75 Recipes From India, Thailand, the Caribbean, and Beyond, was published in August, 2020, just eight months later. Since then, I get many queries from fellow and aspiring food bloggers who want to know more about the book offer and if the cookbook was really worth it. So I’ll share my experience, along with the advantages and some trade-offs.
Let me answer a few questions about the work-for-hire process:
1. The schedule sounds crazy. How did you do it?
I had to submit the final manuscript with 75 recipes, plus other content, in less than seven weeks. That meant researching, developing, testing, writing and finalizing two recipes a day, plus time to research and write other content.
Having been a graphic designer prior to food blogging, I knew about tight timelines. I also knew that this highly ambitious deadline needed a fail-proof plan. The publisher provided a helpful outline and a timeline with multiple milestones. They were great templates to divide the content and recipes for my schedule.
Just like any cookbook author, I wanted every recipe to be fail-proof and enjoyable. I wanted curry lovers to expand their palette beyond the common Indian and Asian curries. And finally, I wanted to tell a story about how curry originated, travelled the world and transformed into hundreds of delicious dishes. And all that needed time!
Fortunately, my husband and teenage daughters stepped in. While I juggled all aspects of the book, they ran multiple grocery trips, took over my mommy duties and took on other responsibilities. As my sous-chefs, they cleaned up after I developed and tested recipes, helped me prep for the following day, and provided feedback on the dishes.
With such a tight timeline, I started my day at 6 a.m. and worked past midnight. If a recipe didn’t work, I remade it right away, sometimes twice, until I was satisfied. Towards the end, when I was running out of time, I reached out to my blogger friends and a few of Spice Cravings’ frequent readers on Instagram and Facebook to ask if they would test a recipe for me. Luckily, most obliged.
I continued to test recipes during the three stages of editing. My editor was kind enough to accommodate those changes. That’s how I tested every recipe multiple times before it made it to print. I am proud to say that I met all my deadlines. Discipline and hard work got me through, plus help from family and friends.
2. Was the work-for-hire cookbook experience worth it, personally and financially?
Yes. In retrospect, it depends on what you want from the experience. The financial part isn’t so black or white. It depends on what you’re earning from your blog including ad revenue, sponsorships or other paid recipe development projects at the time. Here are the pros and cons:
What was hard, but expected:
- Limited time. There was less time for my blog, which affected content creation, income, and building my brand image on social media.
- No time. There was no time for other income opportunities, such as sponsorships and other recipe development.
- So tired. I worked crazy hours with no time for family and friends, or self-care. Those seven weeks were physically and mentally exhausting.
What was worth it:
- Terrific exposure. I was less than three years into blogging. Getting a cookbook offer isn’t easy when you’re that early in your career. Even though my blog was fairly established at the time, it’s great exposure and an endorsement for up-and-coming bloggers.
- A great learning experience. The streamlined, well researched outline and disciplined editorial process at Callisto taught me how to weave the book together through my recipes. It introduced me to all the elements that go into writing a good cookbook.
- I became a better writer, thanks to my fabulous editor. The entire team’s professional and multi-tiered process of editing ensured quality and consistency. I couldn’t have learned that as effectively on my own.
- I learned to work efficiently. The tight deadlines made me develop a thorough process to ensure quality. Now I apply that approach on my blog.
- I realized my potential for hard work. I have become far more productive, having learned the importance of planning, prioritizing and delegating.
3. Would you do it again?
Overall, writing this cookbook was a great learning experience. But having done one cookbook this way, why do it again? I have been approached with similar opportunities and I turned them down. Here are a few reasons why:
- It’s not enough money. I want to be paid at par with industry standards.
- There weren’t enough photos. My cookbook has twenty full page pictures, with only nine pictured recipes including the cover. It’s a real challenge to sell a cookbook with limited photos. That’s the only negative feedback I got on Amazon reviews.
- I want royalties from book sales next time. Call me a material girl, but I want to be rewarded for all the time, effort and creativity I put into ongoing promotions of my cookbook.
- Writing a work-for-hire cookbook not necessarily a stepping stone to a dream book deal. Cookbooks are a crowded space. Those with a high social media presence are most in demand as authors. Also, any esteemed publisher would want to see how well a first book sold. Due to the limited photos, that is not going to be a ground-breaking number for me.
I am proud of the Electric Pressure Cooker Curry Cookbook. The reviews tell me that people enjoy the recipes, and in the end that’s what matters. After all, that’s why I started Spice Cravings in 2017.
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Aneesha Gupta is a recipe developer, photographer, writer, and food blogger who has been featured on NBC News, Yahoo, MSN, and more. She is the founder of Spice Cravings, where she shares quick and easy international recipes that are low in effort and big on taste. With step-by-step instructions and smart shortcuts, her recipes are doable for busy families, even on weeknights.