I interviewed Sharon Palmer in January 2012 about her first book The Plant-Powered Diet. Sharon is a Registered Dietitian and has figured out the formula for translating a powerful nutrition message about plant-based eating into book format. She was willing to participate again in this interview series and shares here her tips and ideas for writing cookbooks.
What is the name of your cookbook?
Plant-Powered for Life: Eat Your Way to Lasting Health with 52 Simple Steps and 125 Delicious Recipes (The Experiment, 2014)
When was it published?
Is this your first cookbook?
If no, tell us about your other cookbook(s).
First was The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan For Achieving Optimal Health, Beginning Today (The Experiment, 2012)
What compelled you to want to write a second cookbook?
My first book was “moderately successful” as my publisher and agent put it. So, they were interested in my writing a followup right away, while there was still interest. Apparently, that’s a good idea in the publishing biz. While you are still on the radar. But more importantly, I loved writing my first book. Don’t get me wrong, it was so much work, but it was a labor of love. To have interest in writing a second was icing on the cake. If I could just write books and my blog, I’d be a happy camper.
Can you tell us how you were offered a contract for your cookbook? Did you have an agent, self-publish, or find a publisher without an agent?
I had an agent, my same agent from the start. She and I talked about my second idea, honed the focus and then first pitched it to my first publisher, whom I was very happy with. Fortunately, the publisher really liked the idea, so it went very smoothly.
If I want to write a cookbook, do I need to retain an agent?
You don’t have to. It’s the route that I took.
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 don’t think you have to have a blog, but it helps. I feel that my blog gets my name out there and I have a following—a community. I’m not sure how closely that related to book sales, but it helps get word of mouth out there, and that’s very important if you want the media to pick up your book. When you write a book, you have to do most of your own promotion—even if you have a publisher. It’s important to do everything you can to get your book out there!
What are your thoughts about an aspiring author, who’s an unknown food entity, writing a cookbook?
I know the experts will tell you that it’s very hard without a “platform” and it’s true. It’s really hard to sell books without a following. My agent told me to take 6 months before she pitched my first book to a publisher to give me time to build up a platform with cooking classes, speaking engagements, popular articles in the press, a bigger social media following, etc. And that’s when I was an editor of a publication and had written 750 articles in magazines! Those are all things you can do to get things rolling.
What is your biggest piece of advice for someone who dreams of writing a cookbook, but is overwhelmed with the process?
You just have to take the plunge. Set yourself a reasonable goal and get going. For example, you might want to first write your book proposal, which will help you focus your ideas, write a table of contents, a sample chapter, and a market analysis. This may be the impetus to get moving. It worked for me.
How do you manage your time stay focused and get all your work done?
I work a lot now. But I’m in a good place in my life that I don’t mind working a lot. My kids are grown up and ready to start college, and I find my work provides me with a great deal of satisfaction. It’s important to schedule time for yourself, too. I try to avoid working at night (after 7) and on the weekends.
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 it’s important to establish your culinary “voice”—what makes you different. My recipes are based on whole plant foods with a fresh, seasonal influence and global flavors. I created a spreadsheet for all of my recipe ideas to keep track of what I was testing and which recipes were “in” the book. I highly recommend that!