As I mentioned in my last blog post I often felt alone when I was writing my cookbook. Because I like solitude I didn’t mind working alone, but when I had questions, or when fear reared its head, I didn’t have many places to turn for answers or support. My acquisitions editor was great and she would have done anything for me, but she couldn’t always answer my recipe-specific or food-related questions. And, because she was busy with other authors too, she was unable to give me much personal time or attention. In addition, I never retained an agent, so when I needed someone to help me expel the fears that writing created, or when it was time to negotiate my contract, I was on my own.
After my cookbook was published I heard similar stories from aspiring authors about the challenges they faced without an editor and/or an agent. Or, as in my case, even when an acquisitions editor was in the picture it was not uncommon for the aspiring author to feel alone because of the difference between the support they needed and what their editor could provide. I also heard stories from authors who self-published their cookbooks and didn’t have an agent or acquisitions editor to answer their questions. And finally, there were stories from aspiring authors who were at the beginning stages of their writing project and had yet to develop a relationship with either an agent or an editor. They really had nowhere to turn for support, encouragement, and direction.
In the life of book publishing, there are three key players that appear in the pre-publication phase of the book: agents, acquisitions editors, and book or cookbook coaches. Let’s discuss what they do, how they get paid, and advantages of working with each.
Literary agents usually work for a literary agency, but sometimes work in a solo-owned business. Their job is to represent aspiring and established authors to publishers. Agents help authors in many ways. They are in close communication with publishers and have inside knowledge about genres or subjects of interest to a publisher. They may also know when a publisher is searching for an author to write a book on a particular topic and one of their authors just might be asked to write that specific book. Agents are essential in selling an author’s book idea to certain publishers and then the agent helps negotiate the publishing contract. Agents are not paid upfront. Agents are paid around 15% (or $0.15 out of every $1.00) of the author’s advance and royalties on the book. There’s no doubt, agents are a tremendous source of knowledge, support, and advice for authors. I know some authors who would never consider writing a book without an agent, but that said it is possible to write a book and get it published without an agent. This all depends on your goals and on the publishing options you are interested in pursuing.
Acquisitions editors work for traditional publishing houses. They review book proposals and manuscripts submitted by agents and sometimes accept and review manuscripts or proposals submitted by authors. They look at several factors when selecting books to publish including an agent’s recommendations, an author’s platform, and any previous success with writing a book. When they find an author they want to publish they “acquire” or buy the manuscript or book idea from the author. In exchange the editor often, but not always, offers an advance of the royalties (money) for buying the book. After the author completes the manuscript she delivers it to the acquisitions editor who then puts the finished manuscript into the publishing house’s pipeline for the EDP (editing, design, and production) phase of the book. Acquisitions editors are paid a salary by the publishing house, not by the author or the agent. They are a key player in the traditional publishing industry. Their book selection sets the tone for the publisher.
Book or cookbook coaches typically own their own business and are paid a set fee by the author. Since they don’t function as an agent or an acquisitions editor their role instead is to coach aspiring authors about the process of writing a book. They work with authors on project organization, writing a book proposal, establishing a writing routine, and other topics of specific interest to the author. They work up close and personal with their clients and it’s not uncommon for a book coach to talk to each of their clients several times a month. The goal of the coaching relationship is to help aspiring authors reach their goals, navigate the publishing industry, and if desired coach them in the process of finding an agent or an editor. Book coaches often have experience writing their own book(s) and it is helpful if they also have experience working in the publishing industry either as a content editor, agent, or acquisitions editor. A cookbook coach specifically coaches aspiring cookbook authors. She is an expert in food writing, cooking, and can teach about the elements of a well-written recipe, how to organize recipes into a book, and the secret to writing with a specific audience in mind. For many the personal attention an aspiring author receives from a cookbook coach is worth the time and money invested in the process. The results speak for themselves as aspiring authors save time on writing their cookbook proposal and enjoy the satisfaction and prestige that comes with writing and publishing a cookbook.
As you can see each person described above plays a key role in the pre-publication phase of writing a book, but for different reasons. Aspiring authors make a choice about the use of an agent, and a book or cookbook coach, or both, to help them meet their publishing goals. The key to making this decision is to know yourself. What do you typically need while working on a writing project? Take some time to anticipate what you might need while you are in the pre-publication phase of writing your book. Between an agent, acquisitions editor, and a book or cookbook coach, the right combination of help and assistance is sure to be found.
Cookbook author and culinary dietitian Maggie Green coaches aspiring cookbook authors on writing cookbooks and cookbook proposals and building their author platform. Download her checklist “Am I Ready to Write A Cookbook?”