Cookbook Author Interview: Carole Cancler: Cookbooks Have Done Well And Sales Show Little Signs Of Abating

Cookbook Author Interview: Carole Cancler: Cookbooks Have Done Well And Sales Show Little Signs Of Abating

Is this your first cookbook?

Yes. Well, The Home Preserving Bible is the first book I’ve written that was actually published. I’ve had at least 2 others, one never quite materialized, the other never found a publisher. It’s been a long time coming.

Can you tell me how you were offered a contract for your book?

I belong to and an agent posted a notice in the newsletter about needing an author for a book about preserving food. I have an extensive background in food preservation and food science, applied for the opportunity, and was accepted by the publisher as the author for the book. Prior to The Home Preserving Bible, I had written a proposal for a “baby boomer” memoir/cookbook that was accepted by a (different) agent who shopped it around for a couple years without finding a publisher. Many, many years ago (…before Perla Meyers was popular…) I wrote and tested a pretty good chunk of recipes for a seasonal cookbook, but never finished or moved forward with it. Ms. Meyers can be credited with helping to insight the seasonal craze with her book The Seasonal Kitchen in 1973. But, I digress….

Did you have an agent?

Prior to this book, I did not have an agent. Of course, I do now–the agent and the book happened at the same time, because I responded to her request to write a specific book for a specific publisher.

Do aspiring cookbook authors who want a traditional publisher need a food blog?

Maybe, not necessarily. But, they absolutely need a “platform” for their demonstrated expertise, which might be a well-followed blog, or something else, such as a restaurant associated with the topic, or whatever (e.g. Ina Garten and her 20 years as proprietor of the Hamptons food shop, The Barefoot Contessa). The publisher considered me for this book because I had topical experience in the food business and as a cooking instructor, education as a food scientist, deep (professional and personal) expertise in the subject, AND demonstrated writing ability by providing a sample chapter.  I have been turned down for other books because, despite deep expertise, did not have enough of a platform. Of course, after I wrote the book, I started, an associated website/blog to market and promote the book. So, the short answer to this question, after all, is “yes”, sooner or later you need a blog. It’s a 21st Cenury requirement.

What is your advice for an aspiring cookbook author reading this interview that wants to pursue a publisher?

Have the expertise AND a solid platform AND a well-written book proposal. Network online in food forums, go to food-related conferences, get out there, and stay involved. Generally speaking, there is more possibility of getting a book accepted by a publisher if the topic is unique, or at the very least proposes an interesting spin on a popular topic that only you can do. If anyone already famous such as Ruhlman, Pollan, Deen, De Laurentiis, Ray, or the World’s Biggest Loser can also write about it, you’re screwed. Look for another idea. It might be possible to characterize recent successful books in just two piles: (1) written by an already proven/popular author or (2) unique idea. The Home Preserving Bible is unique because of several factors: the number of methods covered (8 general methods–canning, freezing, drying, fermenting, pickling, curing, sealing, and cellaring–each one demonstrated in multiple techniques from DIY to high tech), the interesting historical perspectives presented throughout the text, and the broad range of ethnic recipes. Most preserving books have a decidedly North American/European viewpoint.

The Home Preserving Bible discusses preserving traditions from every continent except Antarctica (including North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia/Oceania). HPB covers preserving traditions from many cultures, including Latin/Hispanic, Asian, African, Hawaiian, and Native American. I simply present the information in a way that isn’t typical.

Many people ask if cookbooks are dead, or dying, like other print books?  Do you have any thoughts on this?

I haven’t checked the trends in a few years, but historically cookbooks have done well and sales show little signs of abating, even when it’s expected that they will due to recession, or other influences. Still, the field is very crowded. It would appear that everything has already been written. With the advent of digital books, there are definitely changes on the horizon. I don’t plan to anticipate what these changes might be relative to the projects I choose to do (or reject).  I’ll keep my finger on the pulse of what is happening as I continue to write about food and cook. It’s something that I love to do. Isn’t the the quintessential advice “Do what you love, the money will follow”? The trick is, you’ve got to keep looking ahead and moving forward; resist the urge to urn around to see what’s following.

What was your biggest challenge in writing your cookbook?

Meeting deadlines. It was tough to make commitments that seemed entirely possible, then realize I didn’t or couldn’t meet them. I’m the consummate professional, so it went against my grain in the most excruciating way.  However, I never panicked. Rather, I used the setback to re-energize my work and dig-in all the more. Now that the book is in my hands, I can hardly remember there was ever any challenge. There were many 16-20 hour days spent at the keyboard and in the kitchen testing recipes. I never once thought I couldn’t do it. I just went as fast as humanly possible. OK, maybe I should say insanely, not humanly. If I wasn’t writing or cooking, it was only because I had to sleep, eat, check email, pay a bill, or pee.

Any thoughts you’d like to share on the marketing and sales for your cookbook?

As I networked online, I heard from several different authors who shared the information that marketing and sales are at least as much work, if not more, than writing the book itself. I agree, although the timeline for writing the book was very tight (3 months, which stretched to 5-1/2) and the timeline for marketing the book is much longer (12 to 15 months and beyond). I like Laura Laing’s philosophy (author of Math for Grownups) who recently said (I can’t recall her direct quote, so I’ll paraphrase) “market ’till you die or they carry you off”…or something to that effect. You can continue to blog and keep coming up with other angles to reach expected audiences and find new ones who haven’t yet been introduced to your fabulous work. Anyway, that’s my plan and I’m sticking to it!

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