In March 2009, I wrote my first cookbook proposal for One Year in My Kentucky Kitchen. (The was ultimately published as The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook in 2011).
In a cookbook proposal, it’s important to identify cookbooks that you like or that you believe are competitors to your proposed book. This gives the agent or editor a glimpse of your “vision” for your proposed cookbook.
One of the cookbooks I identified in my proposal was Chocolate and Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen by Clotilde Dusoulier. Here’s what I wrote “Based on a blog by the same name, this sweet book contains four-color photography and a unique design. I like the size and “feel” of this paperback cookbook.” At the time I was very into how I wanted my cookbook to “feel” when someone used it. And, based on that criteria, I identified Clotilde’s book as a book I admired.
Now here we are in 2018. Clotilde just published her fifth cookbook and my third and fourth cookbooks will be published this fall of 2018. Clotilde lives in Paris. I live in Kentucky. Despite living across the ocean from each other, our paths crossed in a coaching program.
Life delivers the most wonderful coincidences and it happens to me all the time. I cross paths with someone. I don’t see them for a while, and then all of the sudden our paths cross again, as we weave in and out of each other’s lives.
I admire Clotilde and her work. And one day, I think we are going to meet, if not in Paris, then here in the beautiful state of Kentucky. And if you’re still reading this introduction, I hope you enjoy this interview with Clotilde, about her fifth book, Tasting Paris, which as listed as one of the 37 New Cookbooks To Buy This Spring, by Epicurious.
What is the name of your cookbook(s)?
My new cookbook was published on March 20, 2018, and it is titled Tasting Paris: 100 Recipes to Eat Like a Local.
This is the book I’ve long wanted to write to share the many and wonderful flavors of Paris from a local’s perspective. A cliché-free Paris that reflects the way real Parisians eat today.
Is this your first cookbook?
It is my fifth book! I have previously published:
Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen (my first cookbook, containing classics from my own and my family’s French repertoire)
Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris (a guide to Paris restaurants and food shops)
Edible French: Tasty Expressions and Cultural Bites (a little book of French expressions related to food, with watercolor illustrations)
The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes from my Parisian Kitchen (a French vegetarian cookbook)
Do you have a food blog? Was your blog a driving force in obtaining a contract?
I am the author of a food blog called Chocolate & Zucchini, which I’ve been running for 14 1/2 years. I’m an OG blogger, and I was actually the first French person to ever create a food blog, back in 2003.
The blog is what started everything for me, including the opportunity to write my first cookbook, which came out in 2007. It is through Chocolate & Zucchini that I was able to establish myself as a food writer, hone my craft and my voice, show the style of content I like to create and embody my values and my work ethic.
What compelled you to want to write a cookbook?
I’ve wanted to be a published writer ever since I first learned how to write, around age 5 or 6. I’d always thought I would write fiction, but when I started my blog, I realized writing about food came to me more easily — it was a topic that endlessly inspired me — and that my work resonated with my readers. As soon as Chocolate & Zucchini got some press attention in the beginning of 2004, I started to think of a career change: I was a software engineer back then! Writing a book seemed like a natural step in that direction.
Can you tell us how you were offered a contract for your first cookbook?
One day I got an email from a reader of my website who was also an editor at a big publishing house. He didn’t publish cookbooks himself, but he wanted to know if I had thought of writing a cookbook. He offered to introduce me to a couple of agents who might like to work with me. One of them was Claudia Cross. We clicked, and she’s been my agents ever since — it’s been almost fourteen years now.
I then got to work writing a book proposal, which took about a year because I was still working a full-time job and running my food blog on the side. When it was finally ready, we presented it to a dozen publishers, got a couple of offers, and went with the offer from Broadway Books, an imprint of Random House. I took it as a sign of the Universe and quit my day job to focus on the book and my blog full time. This was July of 2005, and I’ve never looked back!
Do aspiring cookbook authors need food blogs? If no, what other ways can they promote their work?
My blog has been instrumental both in getting book deals and in getting the word out about my books. Social media platforms such as Instagram can be quite powerful in establishing an online presence as well, but it’s like building on rented land — the rules and algorithms can change overnight — so it’s important to build a list of emails that you own, to have a way of reaching out to people who resonate with your work. I think it’s very hard for a standalone book to succeed nowadays without some kind of online home.
What are your thoughts about an aspiring author, who’s an unknown food entity, writing a cookbook?
The keyword you’ll hear from every publisher and every agent is “platform”, that is to say, some kind of way to build, nurture, and reach an audience who is interested in your work.
You don’t have to be an international star or have 100K followers to get a book published — especially with the many self-publishing options available nowadays — but you do need the platform to promote it. Even with traditional publishers: they will do a media push around the time of the release, but it’s on the author to keep promoting it and get it in front of new would-be buyers all the time.
So building a platform seems like a good step zero, even as you develop your idea for a cookbook, a book proposal, etc.
What was the biggest challenge in completing your manuscript?
Managing such a long-term, complex project on one’s own is the real challenge. I’ve gotten much better at it with experience, but I remember how daunting it seemed those first few times! Now I know to establish a very clear and realistic schedule for the different phases of book-writing, with milestones along the way, and plenty of buffer-time to account for life stuff that will surely happen along the way.
What was your biggest fear when writing your cookbook?
I’ve come a long way since the writing of my first cookbook, twelve years ago. Back then, my biggest fears were “What if nobody cares?” and “What if there is some huge mistake in the recipes?” Living with fear #1 simply required blind faith; fear #2 strengthened my resolve to triple-test the recipes (and more!) and pay meticulous attention through every proofreading step.
Now that I’m on my fifth book, that I’m in my late thirties, and that I’ve done a lot of work on thought management, I can honestly say I am without fear. I’ve put my best professional self in this work, and I think it is a very strong book that has been beautifully produced by my publishing team. Do I dearly hope people love it? Yes. Will I be disappointed if they don’t? Yes. Can I please everybody? No. Will life go on either way? Yes. 🙂
Tasting Paris is now available for order, and we are offering a bonus for people who order the book. It’s an audio tour of my favorite market streets in Paris, in my neighborhood of Montmartre, and buyers will get it for free when they submit their order receipt here.
Cookbook 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?