This is the third time I’ve interviewed my friend, Jeanne Sauvage. Jeanne and I met via Facebook and Twitter and then we met in person at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference in New York City. We enjoyed dinner together with other cookbook friends and I learned about Jeanne’s days living in New York City.
Jeanne participated in this interview series twice with her first cookbook. The first interview was after she was finished writing her first cookbook The Art of Gluten-Free Holiday Baking and then the second interview offers an update during the production process. This fall, Jeanne’s second cookbook, Gluten-Free Wish List is scheduled for publication. This interview offers her insights about the importance of an agent, a platform, and a writing schedule (with deadlines). Thanks, again, Jeanne. I can’t wait to see the next cookbook! And your support and tips for aspiring cookbook authors are very helpful.
What is the name of your second cookbook?
Gluten-Free Wish List: Sweet and Savory Treats You’ve Missed the Most
When was it published?
It is to be published this September 29, 2015.
What compelled you to want to write a second cookbook?
I really enjoyed the process of writing the first book. And I am, at heart, a teacher. One of my ways of teaching is via cookbooks. I love to share information!
Can you tell us how you were offered a contract for your second cookbook? Did you have an agent?
I wrote a proposal and sent it to my publisher, Chronicle Books, via my agent. (So yes, I do have an agent). They loved the proposal and made me an offer.
If I want to write a cookbook, do I need to retain an agent?
I think that if you want to get a cookbook published through a publishing house (versus self-publishing) that you absolutely need an agent. The industry is changing by the minute and I think it’s truly become necessary to have someone working for you who knows the business and the people. I can’t imagine trying to negotiate the publishing houses and then trying to figure out a contract without an agent. People sometimes tell you that you can avoid an agent by hiring a lawyer to negotiate the contract. But there is so much more to the process than that—even in terms of the contract. An agent knows the business and the system and can help you get the best deal possible. I highly recommend getting an agent. They are worth their weight in gold.
Do aspiring cookbook authors need food blogs? If no, what other ways can they promote their work (or how do you promote your food writing work?)
I think some sort of platform is necessary. Whether it’s a blog or a cooking show or a restaurant or a teaching facility or a body of freelance writing, you need some place where the publishers can see you connecting with potential readers of your proposed book. A website (even if it’s not a blog) is a very handy thing for an author to have to place information for your readers (where you’re doing book events, any errata you might have for the book, ways to contact you for upcoming events, etc.)
What are your thoughts about an aspiring author, who’s an unknown food entity, writing a cookbook?
I think it’s important to find your voice and your subjects by writing. And I think a blog is a great place to do this—in addition to being public and allowing you to develop an audience. My blog has really been helpful for me to develop a body of work and to practice and hone my writing style. I think if you are interested specifically in writing a book, it’s important to write and read. Use your blog to write and develop ideas and recipes and then read cookbooks and blogs and food articles.
What is your biggest piece of advice for someone who dreams of writing a cookbook, but is overwhelmed with the process?
I really think writing a book proposal is the best way to prepare for writing a cookbook. The proposal contains all of the information about you and your book. Therefore, the process of writing it allows you to hone the idea and to step-by-step clarify what you are doing, why you want to do it, and why it’s worthwhile for readers. I see so many would-be cookbook authors who baulk at writing a book proposal. And yet, writing the proposal is something you have to do in order to get a deal. And a well-written proposal serves as a map to help you write your book. Each proposal I have written has helped me figure out exactly what I want to write about and has required me to do my homework in terms of finding out whether or not that idea has been done, why my take will be different, and then to showcase my recipes and writing style.
How do you manage your time stay focused and get all your work done?
For a cookbook, I set a timeline for myself and then stick to it. I map out what needs to be done by what date (recipe development and testing; getting recipes out to recipe testers; when each chapter needs to be done; editing time). It’s helpful to have things written on a calendar for me. This helps me feel less anxious about things—I can see in black and white what is due when.
How did you pick recipes/develop recipes for your cookbooks? How will I know that the people who buy my cookbook will like the recipes?
I think this is where having a blog comes in handy. I have readers who request certain recipes. And I get questions about certain things over and over again—which helps me figure out what information people need. I also develop recipes that I like or feel would be useful to readers. If you don’t have a blog, I think it’s good to have a general audience-type in mind that you can tailor your information towards (i.e., unskilled cooks or home cooks or enthusiastic wanna-be pros, or whomever you want to write towards).
What part of your writing routine helps you be the most productive when you wrote your book?
I set a schedule for myself. I am the parent who is responsible for taking and picking up my daughter to school and activities. So, I need to schedule my writing time around her schedule. And then I stick to it—I don’t answer the phone or emails during my writing time. Also, I know myself and I know that I don’t do good work late at night. So I schedule my writing time so I don’t have to rely on late-night work sessions. Nowadays, publishers don’t give you much time to write a book, so you have to be pretty organized to do it well and to stick to the deadlines they give you. Also, I have a program on my computer called Freedom—which shuts down my access to the Internet for the amount of time I set. This way, I stop myself from getting too distracted by messing around on the Internet when I need to be working.