Monica Bhide – an engineer turned writer – lives in Washington D.C. An expert in Indian cooking, Monica has written three cookbooks. In 2014 her first work of fiction, The Devil in Us, was published. Monica belongs to IACP and our paths cross on social media in IACP and cookbook writing groups. In this interview Monica shares her expertise on writing and what it takes to write three cookbooks.
What are the names of your three cookbooks and when were they published?
The Spice is Right: Easy Indian Cooking for Today (2002)
Everything Indian: 300 Tantalizing Recipes – From Sizzling Tandoori Chicken to Firey Lamb Vindaloo (2004).
My third cookbook is called Modern Spice and was published by Simon & Schuster (S&S) in 2009.
My most recent cookbook is A Life of Spice (2015).
After you wrote your first cookbook, what compelled you to want to write more cookbooks?
My second book was a work for hire and it came to me through an agent. (This means that my agent helped connect me with a publisher who wanted to publish a book on my topic of expertise.)
My third cookbook, Modern Spice, I pitched the idea [to my agent] and the proposal was bought by S&S.
What compelled you to write a cookbook proposal for your third cookbook, Modern Spice, and pitch it to your agent and publishers?
I felt that there was a need for an easy Indian cookbook that celebrated the cuisine of India but in a modern way. I wrote the proposal, and my agent submitted the book proposal to several publishers. He then helped negotiate the contract and contract terms with the editor at S&S.
If someone wants to write a cookbook, do they need to retain an agent?
I think having an agent is a bonus as [agents] know the market and have the right connections. Many [publishing] houses do not accept un-agented manuscripts. That said, if you have a followership [audience] of over 100K people, I am sure the publishing houses will be open to hearing from you. Also, and this is important, good agents really help you all along the way – from writing the proposal, to selling your idea to a publisher, to helping you work with your publisher. Good agents are worth their weight in gold!
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)?
Tough question. I get this all the time. I think it is critical to have a presence that YOU CONTROL – meaning FB, Twitter, or your own blog. Writing on a blog that is not your own (like say Huffington Post) – you have no control. If they close tomorrow or change their policy, you have no way of saving your work and your platform.
As far as promotion, I am of the opinion that these days the marketing strategy for a book needs to come WAY before the book! You need to figure out who your audience is, where they hang out, and how to reach them effectively.
What are your thoughts about an aspiring author, who’s an unknown food entity, writing a cookbook?
I published my first cookbook with no platform. I was an engineer who wrote a cookbook. So, yes, I am all for aspiring authors who are unknown entities writing a cookbook!
What is your biggest piece of advice for someone who dreams of writing a cookbook, but is overwhelmed with the process?
Take it one step at a time. One recipe, one idea, one page….whatever works for you. Bite size your work!
How do you manage your time stay focused and get all your work done?
It is a challenge! Setting priorities is critical but being disciplined about them is what distinguishes a successful writer.
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 love to play with flavors. I also have a large group of testers who test the recipes and give me their opinions. If the testers hate it, chances are the audience will as well! You have to have a small group of people, whom you trust, to help test drive the recipes to see if they appeal.
Cookbook author and culinary dietitian Maggie Green coaches aspiring cookbook authors in the process of writing cookbooks, cookbook proposals, and building their author platform. Download her checklist “Am I Ready to Write A Cookbook?”.