As with many of the cookbook authors I have interviewed for this blog, Jennie Schacht is a participant in the Cookbook Friends Facebook Group. This is an active group where cookbooks and publishing are discussed.
Group communities are a very popular way to interact on Facebook. In this group we hear different perspectives from aspiring and published cookbook authors, as well as those who have experience with copy-editing, design, promotion, and marketing. Jennie was kind to agree to do this interview and share her experiences about writing cookbooks and give some tips about ghostwriting as well. Thank you, Jennie for your participation.
What is the name of your most recently published cookbook?
i scream SANDWICH! published in 2013 by Stewart, Tabori, and Chang.
Is this your first cookbook?
Actually, it is the seventh of eight books I have done so far. I feel very fortunate to have had these opportunities.
Tell us about your other cookbooks.
My first was a collaboration with a wonderfully creative pastry chef named Mary Cech, who taught at the Culinary Institute of America. The book was called The Wine Lover’s Dessert Cookbook, and it was published in 2004. The first book I did entirely independently was called Farmers’ Market Desserts. Both of those two were with Chronicle Books in San Francisco. In addition to those two and the ice cream sandwich book, I’ve written five books for other authors, as either a named or a ghost writer. Those include Southern Italian Desserts with Rosetta Costantino (2013, Ten Speed) and Without Reservations with Joey Altman (2010, Wiley).
What compelled you to want to write cookbooks?
I’ve pretty much always wanted to write a cookbook. When I met Mary Cech we just clicked, and I asked her to be in touch if she ever wanted to do a book. She was and we did, and it was so much fun, I guess I couldn’t stop after that.
Can you tell us how you were offered a contract for your cookbook?
For the first cookbook, I worked with my co-author to develop our concept, and then I drafted a letter and sent it to several agents. Only one replied with interest but she was very enthusiastic, and she was successful in selling the book concept to Chronicle Books. I think enthusiasm for the work goes a long way in selling the concept to a publisher.
You mentioned that you have been a ghost writer for some cookbooks. Tell us more about ghost writing a cookbook.
Ghost writing typically means that you write the book for the author in their voice, as if they wrote it themselves. Sometimes it can include developing recipes, other times it’s writing the narrative portions (front and back matter, chapter openers, recipe headnotes, etc.). I really enjoy channelling other people’s voices and personalities, so I find it a fun challenge to write books for others.
Should an aspiring cookbook author hire a ghost writer?
In most cases, ghost writers are used by celebrity chefs who don’t have the desire, time, or skills to write their own books. I think most people who want to write a cookbook want to do it themselves, but if writing is not their strong suit, I do think it pays to partner with a writer, just as you would hire a photographer if that was not your expertise. I also think it often is useful for an author — especially a new one but even someone with books under their belt — to hire someone to help with their proposal. We’re just too close to our own ideas. I very much enjoy helping authors to develop their proposals, and I’ve been fortunate that most of the proposals I’ve worked on have been rewarded with book contracts.
Do you have a food blog? If so, was your blog a driving force in obtaining a contract? Or deciding to write a cookbook?
I do have a blog: ForkandSwoon.com. However, I post so infrequently I can’t honestly call myself a blogger. I’d love to do it more but there’s always other work and as blogging (in most cases) does not provide an income, most of the time it has to come after paid work. I actually began blogging after beginning to write books, as a way to increase my following and to promote the books. But most of my posts are just things I’m working on in my own kitchen rather than directly related to my books.
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?)
A blog can certainly help the author to promote her or his book. But I’m not sure it’s essential. It can be helpful to connect with bloggers, though, and ask them to feature a recipe from your book, or review it. Some authors arrange blogging parties where a group of bloggers post recipes from their book on the same day, along with a post talking about their experience preparing the recipe.
What challenges do you think an aspiring cookbook author faces in getting their cookbook published?
The publishing industry is facing many challenges, which means that writers are, in turn, facing those challenges as well. Unless you have a blog with a huge following, or a strong social media following, or some other sort of platform, it’s harder to get a contract than when I began. The terms also aren’t as good as they used to be, since it’s harder for the publishers to sell books. And they often do not have much of a budget for promotion, so much of that also is left to the author.
What is your advice for an aspiring cookbook author who is reading this interview?
Consider all of your options: self-publishing, going through a traditional publisher, or finding another way to share your work, such as blogging. If you are going the traditional work, I think it’s very helpful to have an agent. Dianne Jacob’s excellent book, Will Write for Food, is a terrific resource for exploring your options.
Author, editor, and Culinary Dietitian Maggie Green coaches aspiring cookbook authors during the pre-publication phase of writing a cookbook. If you want to write a cookbook, and wonder if you’re ready, download her 11-point checklist Am I Ready to Write a Cookbook?