As you’ll read in this interview, Robyn is a prolific cookbook author. However, little did I know when I asked Robyn to participate in this series, that she had even written a travel guide about Paris.
One of the secrets to Robyn’s cookbook success revolves around her area of expertise with diabetes. As a result, she became known for her knowledge and was sought after to write cookbooks on the topic of diabetes. In addition, Robyn is connected with her audience as the food editor for Diabetes Forecast magazine.
It was the result of her extensive travel that Robyn made the leap into another book genre – travel guides. I think this is of value to remember – just because you want to write a cookbook, it doesn’t always mean that you will always be stuck in that genre. There are topics for both fiction and non-fiction books that aspiring authors can write about, as well as many routes to publication of your books including eBooks.
Thanks, Robyn, for participating in this interview series and for being a good role model for everyone who wants to write books, especially cookbooks.
What is the name of your most recent cookbook?
I’ve actually written 16 books and at work on one now. My last cookbook was the 2-time award winning The Diabetes Comfort Food Cookbook. It has remained in the top 5% of all books on Amazon since 2011 and is still the number one bestseller in the American Diabetes Association book store sales.
When was it published?
Tell us about your other cookbooks.
Wow there are many. Most of my books are with the American Diabetes Association as my expertise as a nutritionist is diabetes. I serve as the Food Editor of their award winning magazine Diabetes Forecast. All of my books are special to me, starting with the bestseller (and my largest money maker) Diabetic Meals in 30 Minutes or Less written in 1998.
What compelled you to want to write a cookbook?
At first, I thought, oh right, just what the world needs – another cookbook! I actually never planned on writing cookbooks at all. But when American Diabetes Association came calling in 1996, they hired me as a consultant to the magazine at first, then they added me to their editorial board, then they gave me my own column, and then asked me to write a cookbook for them. Ever since then it snowballed into making diabetes my niche.
Do you have a food blog? If so, was your blog a driving force in obtaining a contract?
I’m from an entirely different generation well before we even used computers in our everyday lives! I started a blog several years ago, but honestly I don’t come from that arena – I honed my skills as a writer the old-fashioned way. So no, a blog was not instrumental in my cookbook success.
Can you tell us how you were offered a contract for your cookbook?
I was just offered a contract after getting involved with the ADA as a consultant. However, I have written 2 books with DaCapo books from NY and Readers Digest. With the DaCapo books, one is a co-author situation and we both knew they were interested in both of us and so we submitted a brief proposal and were awarded a contract. For Readers Digest, it was a culinary friend, David Joachim, who sent my name to them and then I was awarded a contract.
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?)
Gosh, I think today is so different from when I started. A food blog is probably your best platform for a publisher to come to know your work. Today, you really have to back up your expertise with social media numbers. I’m glad I came up the old-fashioned way!
But even if you don’t have one, another way is to do recipe development for companies, so that you have a body of work to bring to a publisher. Note that this kind of work has dwindled, but it’s still out there. You may not get paid much, but the point is to create a body of work that’s published.
I from looking at your Amazon page that you wrote a book about Paris apartments. Can you tell us a bit more about this book and any tips for publishing a nice guide such as this?
Simultaneous with my long and successful over 25-year career as a cookbook author, nutritionist and culinary instructor, I also have traveled the world. I’ve been to all the continents except Antarctica (we may still go!) and over 70 countries. But my favorite place has always been Paris. As a yearly visitor to the city, when I first started visiting there, I stayed in hotels. Now, I’m a hotel brat- I grew up in the hotel industry and have always loved glamorous, fabulous places to stay. But after awhile being in a hotel in Paris just wasn’t hitting the mark. I wanted to be closer to ground so to speak and of course as a cookbook author I just couldn’t let another year go by without being able to cook the amazing food from the markets.
So thus began my search for an vacation apartment. What an education it was! The research, the trials, the tribulations, the confusion- oh my! So I learned the process of how to really choose a great affordable apartment through lots of time and effort and thought why not help others make the process less daunting. And so I wrote The Paris Vacation Apartment Guide: Rent with Confidence- Learn Where To Stay Without Getting Overwhelmed, Ripped-Off or Scammed. The book won the prestigious Benjamin Franklin Silver Award in Digital, and it debuted on Times Square!
The book is actually an ebook. To tell the truth my agent and I had no contacts in travel publishing and she had her own ebook publishing company, Eggplant Press. So we decided to go the ebook route. And I’m glad we did as the book allows you to directly book an apartment from my recommended sources, look at maps and click on links to the arrondissements and their attractions.
This project was such a labor of love for the city that I love and know so well. I would say to anyone if you have something you are deeply passionate about, and that is helpful and useful to others, think about writing about it.
But be prepared for long stretches of writing! Unlike my cookbook writing, this was all straight text. I was so into it that I sat for 3-4 hours straight just typing away. Cookbook writing for me is a start and stop process just because of its nature.
Do you find the publishing industry daunting in any way?
I do have a longtime agent and so all the contract work, negotiations, etc. all go through her. I just have to write! But I think the industry has changed and not all for the better. There are really talented people out there, but perhaps don’t have a big food blog or are unknown. Unfortunately we have a lot of shall I say, poorly written cookbooks out there today. I’ve seen books written by so called “names” but the recipes don’t work, etc. Very sad…..
But, don’t let that discourage you. There are still talented people getting started everyday and there are some really good books out there.
What are your thoughts about an aspiring author, who’s an unknown food entity, writing a cookbook?
One way for an aspiring author to show their work is the power of partnership. I’d latch onto someone who might for instance be writing a nutrition book and is in need of recipes. You do this as what we call “work for hire”. Sure, you won’t get royalties, but it’s a way to get published by ” riding” on someone else’s coat tails. Then you have a body of published work you can take to another publisher.
What is your advice for an aspiring cookbook author who is reading this interview?
Please know that writing a cookbook and writing a blog are worlds apart. I’ve given several lectures on this at blogging conferences and nutrition conferences. Writing a cookbook is ALOT of work and you must be up for it. I could go on and on and on about the differences, but let’s just say cookbook writing is not for the faint hearted.
And if readers have an idea, or what they think is a good idea?
Toss around your idea first to family, friends, and colleagues. After all, they are the ones who will be buying your book. Don’t ask the ones who support you no matter what, ask for critical feedback.
Then you already have a food blog, start leaking your idea to your readers. Perhaps make a post like a sample chapter and see what feedback you get.
Then you can start the process of finding a publisher. I still think it’s easier if you work with an agent, especially when it comes to contracts (of which that my least favorite part, so I leave it to her!). But I know successful authors who just have an attorney look over the contract. I also just saw today that someone was Kickstarting her cookbook and has raised a lot of money. There is no publisher and no agent involved. That’s something I certainly would not have thought about, but hey, times have certainly changed and if you want something badly and won’t let anything stand in your way, why not?
What tips can you offer for developing a writing routine? Or can you share your secret to a good writing and recipe-development routine?
Block out social media! All kidding aside, when you are on a cook book project, you need uninterrupted time. You can’t make cooking mistakes because you are distracted. I know my best time for writing cook book text ( head notes, sidebars) is in the morning, but my best cooking time is actually about 1pm-6pm. So that’s what I do so I can maximize my productivity. I can write better fresh in the morning, but by afternoon, cooking relaxes me.
What was the biggest challenge in completing your cookbook manuscripts?
For me, sometimes fatigue sets in. Sometimes my inspiration wanes. But knowing that the type of cookbooks I write actually improves lives; I keep my eye on that target.
What was your biggest fear about writing a cookbook?
Oh that only two people will buy it! Great question! I actually think it’s the challenge of your vision and the vision of the publisher coming together so both sides are happy. In general that’s been true for me, but not without some frustrations and struggles.
Cookbook writing is a lot like Hollywood- you may have a hit or a flop, but you keep going because you must believe in yourself!