In our interview below, cookbook author Cathy Barrow talks about the importance of social media to connect and “meet all the people”. This is ironic, because social media is how I met Cathy. She’s been a friend to me, and many others, on Twitter and Facebook. Through our regular social-media-led interactions, we got to know each other well enough that I felt comfortable emailing Cathy to ask a few questions about cooking classes she taught in her home. Not only was she responsive to my questions, but her answers were helpful and thorough. A few years passed and I had the good fortune to meet Cathy at a cookbook conference. True to everything I imagined, Cathy was friendly and we were happy to meet in person. In my experience, most cookbook authors are like this – helpful and willing to share what they know – all you have to do is ask. I hope after reading Cathy’s interview that you’ll agree: She’s wants aspiring cookbook authors to succeed in getting their cookbooks published too.
What is the name of your cookbook?
Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving
When was it published?
Is this your first cookbook?
What compelled you to want to write a cookbook?
I’m not sure I was compelled to write a cookbook, I sort of slipped into it once I started my blog, got some notice on the internet for my recipes, and people started asking me if I wanted to write a book. I don’t mean agent or editor people, I mean readers. Nevertheless, I suppose that got me thinking.
Was your blog a driving force in obtaining a contract?
Yes, there’s little doubt that my blog helped, but more than that, writing for national publications helped pave the way to obtaining a book contract. But I never could have written for national publications without getting noticed for the writing on my blog.
Can you tell us how you were offered a contract for your cookbook?
I spent about a year writing a book proposal. My agent, Martha Kaplan, was very helpful editing and commenting and helping me prepare the proposal. I never could have done it without her. Martha sent the proposal out to a number of publishers, there was an auction, and I opted to work with W. W. Norton and the legendary editor, Maria Guarnaschelli.
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)?
Aspiring writers should be writing all the time anyway. Practice, practice, practice. And what better place to do that than a blog, which also helps to build your audience? Social media is imperative these days. You just can’t expect to get a writing gig without social media to go right along with it. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are all important.
Do you find the publishing industry daunting in any way?
It’s a little old-fashioned, which can be frustrating, but daunting? Not really!
What are your thoughts about an aspiring author, who’s an unknown food entity, writing a cookbook?
It’s tough these days. The cookbooks that sell the most are those from TV chefs or from restaurant chefs. But that’s not to say there isn’t room for others. Work to make sure your voice, the topic, or something about the cookbook can be differentiated from the pack.
I know that you taught some some cooking classes in your home. How long did you teach there?
On the advice and urging of friends (many of whom had come into the kitchen with me to learn how to make this and that), I taught cooking classes in my home for about three years.
Do you still teach classes in your home?
I’ve stopped teaching at home. My husband didn’t like the disruption it caused in our home and I couldn’t blame him. I do think teaching is important and I continue to teach at cooking schools and other venues.
What did you learn from that experience?
I learn so much from my students. Techniques and concepts in cooking that are second nature to me are surprising moments of genius to my students. I appreciate my mother, grandmother and great grandmother even more after teaching other people and realizing how much I learned as a child. When I sat down to write my book, I had a much more realistic sense of what most people do, and know, in the kitchen because of the classes I taught.
What is your advice for an aspiring cookbook author who is reading this interview?
Keep at it. Write every day. Polish your skills. Find your niche. Be hopeful. Meet all the people, talk to everyone, share your idea, be part of the community.
What was the biggest challenge in completing your manuscript?
It wasn’t difficult to complete the manuscript. I am a very disciplined person and I worked every single day in some way or another. Writing a cookbook takes a huge amount of coordination. There is the writing, but there is also the food shopping, the cooking, the testing, the retesting. All the dishes. But, I’ve worked for myself for most of my career and I am organized. The thing that was difficult, actually, was letting go of the manuscript for the very last time, after months of editing and rewriting and fitting words onto pages and fiddling with the order of things and checking, rechecking and checking again for typos. That final farewell before my manuscript went off to the printer ripped me apart.
What was your biggest fear about writing a cookbook?
That a recipe, any recipe, wouldn’t work. So far, I haven’t heard of any problems. Knock wood.