The route from your cookbook idea to a finished book moves through some sort of publisher. A publisher organizes the efforts to edit, design, produce, convert (to eBook), distribute, and market your cookbook. A negotiated and signed contract with a publisher is a big deal. This means that someone believes in you, and your cookbook concept, and wants to invest their time and resources to turn your idea into a book (print and/or digital). In return, the publisher controls the profits for the book, but shares them with you, the author, in the form of an advance and/or royalties.
Some cookbook authors self-publish their cookbooks. This means they are a general contractor for their book and are in business as their own publisher. They not only write a book, but they hire a team to edit, design, convert (if applicable), print, and distribute their book. A self-published author keeps all book profits for themselves. Here are two examples of self-published cookbooks: The Clothes Make The Girl and Angela Grassi.
If you pay money to a “publisher” as a fee to publish your cookbook, you are not entering a traditional publishing relationship. In assisted self-publishing or vanity publishing, the author pays the publisher. In return for the fee, the publisher provides any number of services for the author from editing and design to printing and book distribution. This pay-for-publishing model works well for some authors. However, for this blog post, I am going to discuss ways to find a traditional publisher who pays an author an advance and/or royalties.
1. Build your platform and build relationships and “Get Noticed”
All cookbooks, no matter the type of publishing, should begin this way. The author builds a platform through blogging, writing, speaking, teaching, and volunteering. They create a “buzz” to help sell themselves as a potential cookbook author and to help sell any cookbook they write. Let’s then suppose they get noticed by an agent or an acquisitions editor at a publishing house. That’s great! And this does happen. The problem with this method of finding a publisher is that it doesn’t happen overnight. And sometimes it doesn’t occur at all. A crowd of people currently blog, write, and speak about food, cooking, health, and nutrition. That said, don’t rule out the “Getting Noticed” option. You’ll have to build a platform anyway, so why not get started. With persistence and savvy ways of self-promotion, you can build an audience and get them excited about your food or cooking message. And, at the same time, you just might attract the attention of an agent or an editor who loves that you already have a built-in audience for your message. Before I wrote my first cookbook, I taught cooking classes, wrote for a local newspaper, became active on Facebook and Twitter, and volunteered for local food/culinary events and committees. It was in doing these activities that I met an acquisitions editor, and she asked me about writing a cookbook. You never know what doors can open through hard work and build up a platform in your area of expertise. This won’t happen with a sit-back-and-blog-and-wait attitude though. You’ll have to add time and energy to connect with your audience and with other people who write and publish cookbooks.
2. Work to retain an agent
Literary or cookbook agents help authors connect with cookbook publishers. Agents know what publishers are looking for and they connect them with exciting, qualified, and even first-time cookbook authors. Agents don’t work for a publisher per se, but they are in communication with publishers.
If you want to retain an agent, you can send them a cookbook proposal (check their website for their submission guidelines). Chances are if you have an unforgettable, compelling cookbook concept, and an established platform of connections with your audience, an agent, just might be interested in helping you connect with a publisher. Agents are generally paid 15% of your cookbook earnings. You won’t pay an agent until you are offered an advance or royalties on your cookbook, and typically they receive $15 for every $100 you earn. To find qualified cookbook agents, here are a few suggestions:
a. Visit the cookbook section of your local bookstore or public library with a well-stocked cookbook section. (This exercise doesn’t work well using online bookstores unless you can see the acknowledgments section of the cookbook.) Find at least 15 cookbooks published in the last year and read the acknowledgments section. Make these notes: the name of the publisher, the editor, and the author’s agent, if they have one. Write down the title of the book, the concept for the book, and make some notes about the book design: photography, interior colors, and design elements you find appealing about the book. With the above list in hand, refer to either the print- or online-edition of A Guide To Literary Agents. Look up the agent’s name and note the city where they are located and the name of the company they work for. Visit their website to learn more about their agency and about the types of authors they represent. Carefully read and note their submission guidelines found on their website or in the manual above. Some cookbook agents will even publish an outline for a book proposal on their website.
b. Network with cookbook authors at book fairs or local cooking classes. Talk to them about their book and ask if an agent represents them and ask who he/she is. Cookbook authors are friendly people and willing to share information. Another idea is to attend food bloggers or culinary conference to meet agents and other cookbook authors. Again, talk to them to gather information. Volunteer at food or wine events in your city where cookbook authors might have a signing or where people in book- or food-related jobs gather. Join an organization where cookbook authors or agents meet, such as the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Connect with cookbook authors and agents on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Engage them in conversation. Share ideas about food, cooking, and your expertise in a knowledgeable and professional way.
3. Approach a publisher on your own
With the cookbook list, generated in 2a, look up each publisher in the print- or online- edition of Writers Market. Note the city where they are located. Visit the publisher’s website and look at their most recent online catalog to see what type of cookbooks they publish. Select publishers who produce books that appeal to you and who don’t have a crowded space already with books on a topic you want to write about. For example, if a publisher just published a book 101 Ways to Cook Kale, then your book about kale probably won’t be accepted by that publisher. It’s too repetitive of a topic. Make a note if they accept unsolicited/un-agented proposals. If they do, then you can send your cookbook proposal directly to their acquisitions editor without going through an agent. (If they only take agented/solicited proposals, you have to work through an agent to submit your proposal to that publisher.) Follow submission guidelines found in Writers Market, or on the publisher’s website, and submit a query letter and cookbook proposal directly to the editor with his/her name. Don’t send a query letter without a personal name. You can work to meet acquisitions editors in the same ways you meet agents, by attending conferences, food events, book fairs, and any other activity where people who love food and cooking gather.
4. Enter a cookbook writing contest.
Over the past few years, there have been competitions run by cookbook agents and TV shows/celebrities to unearth the next great cookbook author. Below are a few examples of such contests.
a. Twitter contest held by The Lisa Ekus Group: Independent Publisher – THE Voice of the Independent Publishing Industry
b. A contest on the Rachael Ray show for 5-ingredient family meals: ‘The Great American Cookbook Competition’- The Finale – Rachael Ray Show
Writing a cookbook may be a dream of yours, but the writing of the book only benefits your audience when your book is published. Do your research, build your platform, write your proposal, and you too can find a credible publisher for your cookbook – either through an agent or by going directly to the publisher yourself.
Read my series of the Steps to Write A Cookbook.
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?”