Cookbook Author Interview Series: Lori Rice: Decide If You Want To Write A Book Or If You Are Married To An Idea

Cookbook Author Interview Series: Lori Rice: Decide If You Want To Write A Book Or If You Are Married To An Idea

When I introduce these interviews I  try to give readers a little insight into how I know the author I’m interviewing. Here’s the funny thing with Lori: I know her. We’ve met. I follow her on Instagram. We DM each other there, but I for the life of me couldn’t remember exactly who introduced us or how we met. I did recall a few details: we met in Lexington at the Incredible Food Show in the fall of 2011. I was promoting my first cookbook, and Lori lived in the Lexington-area at the time. Beyond that, the details escaped me. So I emailed Lori and told her that I couldn’t remember exactly who introduced us. Could she fill me in? 

Here was her reply: “I think we may have originally met online when the girl who wrote [insert name of a particular blog] (I can’t remember her name) approached me to review your cookbook. Then I think we met in person at the show. Although I can’t remember who introduced us. It might have been J. but I feel like there was someone else showing me around that show and I can’t peg who it was!”  This made me laugh out loud. Neither of us could remember who introduced us! Regardless, Lori is a breath of fresh air and I love her cookbook concept for her cookbooks. Lori now lives in California, is an accomplished photographer, cookbook author, mom to 2 pugs, and is a “liquid bread” expert. Here’s my interview with the lovely Lori Rice.

What is the name of your cookbook?

Food on Tap: Cooking with Craft Beer

What was the publication date?

October 10, 2017

Is this your first cookbook?

Technically, no. Strangely, this is always a tough question for me to answer. My book, The Everything Guide to Food Remedies, published in March 2011. It contains 150 recipes focused on fighting and controlling disease. (I’m a nutritional scientist by education.) Writing it felt a lot like writing my blog, though.

My goal with cookbook writing was to have a book with focused recipes and photography. As a result, I rarely even mention my first book. I didn’t feel like a cookbook author until Food on Tap was published. Plus, I’m also a food photographer. It makes up the largest majority of my work these days. I really wanted to photograph my own book. Once I did, I felt like a part of the industry somehow. Like it solidified things for me professionally.

What compelled you to want to write a cookbook?

I love print. I enjoy the web-based work I do for my food blog and for my clients, but I’ve always liked to hold something in my hands. I’m not sure how to explain it, but personally, it feels like a bigger accomplishment. I feel the same way when I write for magazines. Writing a cookbook seemed like a good fit for my goals.

Do you have a food blog? Was your blog a driving force in obtaining a contract?

Yes, I’ve written for over 10 years now. I’m not a wildly popular blogger with loads of followers, so it was not a driving force. I think it shows examples of my photography and writing skills, but honestly, in my proposal, it is just part of a list of my work. If I had tried to make it my main platform for my work or a book, I would have been turned down for a book. Publishers want to see sales potential. So you need to have one of two things – a great idea, or even simply a niche idea, that catches interest OR you are super popular in the web world with a lot of blog and social media followers. I focused on the former.

Can you tell us how you were offered a contract for your cookbook?

I had the idea for a baking with beer book for about 2 years before the opportunity arose. I tabled the idea because all the information I was learning about how to write a proposal seemed daunting. All the resources made it sound like I practically needed to have all the recipes written before pitching. (This was not the case, by the way.)

A friend of mine published a book and her publisher was interested in the beer category. She connected me. I had some calls. Then I decided to get an agent. I want nothing to do with the legal the side, and I really wanted someone on my side to help. The commission an agent gets is worth every penny to me. So I contacted an agent from a very popular literary agency because we had met at a conference (did I mention that networking is incredibly important?). She didn’t want to take on the contract but referred me to my current agent whom had worked in the industry and was now freelance. It was a great fit.

I received an offer from that first publisher and it was incredibly low. So we shopped the idea. The Countryman Press expressed interest and we evolved the idea into cooking with beer. Contract secured.

Do aspiring cookbook authors need food blogs?  If no, what other ways can they promote their work?

You don’t need a food blog, but you do need a social presence on whatever platform you choose – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest. And you don’t need to do them all, you just need to build a following on at least one. My preference is Pinterest, followed by Instagram because I enjoy those.

Otherwise, having a column in a magazine, on a popular website, or in a newspaper helps. Just look at it this way, you need to show a publisher that you have a following, that there are people out there that will want your book because they know you. It’s not easy. But I really believe that the days of simply being a good writer or recipe developer and publishing a cookbook are gone. I’ve struggled with this because some of my very favorite books are written by folks whom I never see on social media and whom rarely blog. But the reality is, they got their start during a different time. Then they sold books and the sales and growing popularity are what have gotten them additional book deals.

Do you find the publishing industry daunting in any way?

Yes. Be prepared to be told you are not good enough many, many times. Even after Food on Tap, I have been told I don’t have the platform for this idea or that, I don’t have a big enough social following…It’s often a broken record of you’re not good enough. You have to have a tough skin and decide if this is really want you want to do. If so, you have to develop an idea that will sell, or focus on your blog or social media following so that you can prove that any idea you have will sell.

What are your thoughts about an aspiring author, who’s an unknown food entity, writing a cookbook?

I think there are plenty of excellent writers and skilled recipe developers out there that could write killer cookbooks. In fact, they’d probably be a lot higher quality than some of the books on the market right now. But the reality is, you have to be visible to sell books. If you can do it without being visible, I think that’s amazing. I’m just not sure it’s today’s reality in the cookbook world.

What is your advice for an aspiring cookbook author who is reading this interview?

1) Everyone won’t be a good fit.

It might be an agent or a publisher. But just because you get an offer, doesn’t mean you have to take it. You need to feel good about it. And you don’t need to apologize to anyone if you choose to go a different direction. A friend referred me to an agent several years ago now and we had a call. It was going great. Then she brought up social media and I told her my numbers. She immediately shut down. Honestly, she made me feel like crap. I could tell she didn’t want to work with me. As I mentioned, the first publisher interested in a my book wanted a lot of photography and recipes for what they were offering in the advance. It wasn’t worth it to me. But there are agents and publishers out there that are willing to take risks on newbies. It just might take a while to find them.

2) Decide if you want to write a book or if you are married to an idea.

People don’t like to hear this because we all think we have grand ideas – sharing our life story, sharing our great grandmother’s recipes. But if you really want to write a book, you need to be prepared to be flexible or chances are pretty good that it won’t happen.

Going in, decide what you are fine with changing and what you really want to hold steady on. My idea began with baking with beer. My publisher wanted to change it to cooking. Honestly, it didn’t matter to me. I just wanted a beautiful book in the category that I could be proud of. If you feel like you have a grand idea and you refuse to be flexible to the current wants and needs of the industry, it might not happen with a traditional publisher. Self-publishing might be a better fit for you.

3) Network.

I don’t believe that you can sit at home in the security of freelance life and be truly successful in food writing. I travel a lot. But that is because I love it, so it works out for me. I’m somewhat of an introvert as many freelance writers are so I do need downtime, but I attend conferences and workshops domestically and abroad. I’ve lived in multiple places. I’ve interviewed a lot of folks for the articles I write. At the time, it may have seemed like no big deal, but nearly every encounter I have had in these ventures has led to a series of connections for my work, a richer experience, and greater success. I’ve also met some pretty amazing people whom I now call friends. If you don’t like to get out there, you may need to challenge yourself a bit in this area. Social media connections are a good start, but it still doesn’t match hanging out with a variety of food folks at events and workshops.

What was the biggest challenge in completing your manuscript?

It was really that I couldn’t focus only on my book. Few of us get advances that allow us to completely halt all other work to focus on the book. And even if we did, who wants to cut ties with great clients you’ve worked so hard to establish relationships with? So while I was writing and photographing my book, I was also photographing another book, developing recipes for clients, and writing for magazines.

During the struggle to produce work I was proud of for the book, a friend said that it was momentum that made the work great. She was right. And it took deadline pressure to get me there. The last month, I did work almost solely on the book and because I was so focused, the work I was turning out was exactly what I wanted.

What was your biggest fear about writing a cookbook?

That I was wrong. On any fact, or sentence, or tip. I researched beer styles endlessly and double checked flavor notes. I researched food science and cooking/baking techniques. It was all stuff I knew, but I was so afraid of someone saying – hey, this is incorrect – once the book was published.

It’s funny because I write for web all the time and it lives forever, right? But one thing you can always do on the Internet is log back in and edit. Once it’s in print, it’s there for everyone to see. Permanent. It was definitely scary.

Cookbook author, editor, and Culinary Dietitian Maggie Green, RDN, LD coaches first-time cookbook authors during the pre-publication phase of writing a cookbook. 

Would you like to write a cookbook, but feel alone in the pre-publication phase of writing?

Are you stuck thinking about your cookbook idea or has you project fizzled?

Do you feel overwhelmed with publishing options and the recipes, photography, and publishing process?

I’ve been there. I know first-hand that there’s not a lot of support for first-time cookbook authors who don’t have an agent or a publisher yet.  That’s why I started my work as a cookbook writing coach.

Here are a few resources for you as you venture into the world of cookbook writing: 

An 11-point checklist that helps you answer the question, “Am I Ready to Write a Cookbook?”

Cookbook Writing Workbook

What Is A Cookbook Coach? 

10 Reasons to Hire A Cookbook Coach

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