Mindy’s first solo cookbook was a unique situation where she wrote the book as work for hire. In this interview, Mindy describes the advantage and disadvantages of this writing arrangement and encourages aspiring authors to find a unique voice for their book.
Is this your first cookbook?
Yes. I coauthored other books but this is the first one for which I developed recipes.
Can you tell me how you were offered a contract for your book? Did you have an agent?
A magazine editor I had written for contacted me because she thought that I could both write and develop a diet and recipes. My work life was quiet so I said yes, even though I had never done a cookbook before. I cooked all the time at home and also analyzed recipes, so I felt somewhat confident that I could pull off the project.
Tell me about your experience as “a work for hire” author?
What I like about work for hire is that projects have a tight beginning, middle and end, and they pay in a more compressed timetable than an authored book does. So I get paid upon submission and acceptance of the manuscript rather than having to wait until a book comes out. What I don’t like is having to negotiate to have my name attached to the book, although at this point publishers are willing to list my name as a “with” or “and”.
Did you have a food blog?
Not at the time that I was hired.
Do aspiring cookbook authors who want a traditional publisher need a food blog?
That’s a great question. The world has changed a lot in the four years since I did my first cookbook. Publishers today want authors who are established and bring their own readers in the form of several thousand Facebook friends and Twitter followers. My professional opinion is that a food blog is almost mandatory, unless an author gets lucky or has a lot of connections in the industry who can make introductions and open doors.
What is your advice for an aspiring cookbook author reading this interview that wants to pursue a publisher?
First, try to find a unique voice. While there’s a lot of competition in the field, great ideas continue to abound. The great thing about blogging and tweeting is that they allow prospective authors to explore different directions to learn what resonates most with readers. Use social media to develop two-way relationships with readers — they can be a great source for ideas and inspiration.
Many people ask if cookbooks are dead, or dying, like other print books? Do you have any thoughts on this?
Cookbooks held on for a long time but they definitely are declining in today’s world of recipes online and apps galore. The opportunities today are different and a cookbook might take a different form rather than a traditional hardcover. Still, well-done cookbooks that fill a need can do well. Look at Smitten Kitchen, for example, which demonstrates the power of having an online personality.
What was your biggest challenge in writing your cookbook?
Time always is tight, especially for writing a whole book, developing a meal plan, and creating recipes. The other challenge is that “with” [the work-for-hire author] usually is not included in publicity campaigns (although those are a dying breed also), so authors have to seek their own.
Any thoughts you’d like to share on the marketing and sales for your cookbook?
My book was done with Rodale, which has a marketing machine that routinely gets books on bestseller lists as a result of its marketing model. The price paid includes the challenges of being a work for hire, as described above.