Steps to Write a Cookbook Part 8: Find An Agent or Publisher

Steps to Write a Cookbook Part 8: Find An Agent or Publisher

If you have decided not to self-publish your cookbook, the route from your cookbook proposal to a finished book will either move through an agent or a publisher.

If you’re writing your cookbook for family and friends, or if you want to pay a vanity or subsidy publisher to publisher your book, you won’t need to find an agent. For this reason, take time now to evaluate how you want to get your cookbook publisher so you can follow the correct steps. Read this blog post Routes to Publication for tips and discussion on various ways to get a cookbook published.

After writing a cookbook proposal, which we discussed here, your next step is to query agents or publishers. Query means a question, but in the publishing world, it actually has more than one meaning. In this case, it means to ask someone or to inquire about the acceptability of a cookbook concept or other book idea. The purpose of a query is to determine if an agent wants to represent you and/or if a publisher wants to publish your cookbook. (The other type of query refers to a term used when editing a book manuscript.)

In this blog post, we will discuss querying agents and publishers, as well as other methods to attract attention from an agent or publisher.

The purpose of finding an agent is so that they can be your ally in the publishing world.  If you feel uncomfortable navigating a book contract alone, or if you want to go after a larger publisher and get the best deal possible, you may want to use an agent.

If you want to find an agent, you need to research cookbook agents and then to retain an agent you need to send them your cookbook proposal or concept summarized in query letter according to their submission guidelines. These can be found on their website and submissions are done either via email, snail mail, or an online form on their website. Some cookbook agents also publish an outline of a cookbook proposal on their website. If they expect you to follow their outline, organize your proposal according to their guidelines as well.

Once you find an agent and sign a contract they will make sure your proposal is in top notch shape to submit to publishers. Agents often know what different editors are looking for, so they can help submit to the best publisher for your concept.

Agents are paid a percentage of your advance and royalties so they are motivated to find the most lucrative deal for your cookbook. The standard rate for agents if 15%.

Here are some suggested ways to find a cookbook agents:

1. Refer to print or online edition of A Guide To Literary Agents. They even maintain a list of cookbook literary agents.

2. Use Query Tracker to find literary agents. With this site you can also organize and track your queries. You do have to create an account, but the service is free to use for basic use.

3. If you compiled a list of agents in your cookbook research, look up the agent using the the links above.

4. Visit agent’s website to learn more about their agency and about the types of authors they represent. Read their submission guidelines and follow them as defined.

5. Search agents, deals, publishers on Publishers Marketplace. It requires a subscription, but it’s worth the fee if you want to use a site that many editors and agents have access to. In addition, their site is just linked away from Publishers Lunch, a daily newsletter for the publishing industry that you might enjoy subscribing to as well.

6. Network with cookbook authors at book fairs, cooking classes, or conferences. Talk to them about their book and ask if they are represented by an agent. Don’t be afraid to ask for their agent’s name as well or if they didn’t have an agent, how they were offered a cookbook contract. If you know the cookbook author well enough, ask them to connect you to their agent. Agents sometimes give preference to referrals, so a personal recommendation can go a long way.

7. Attend food bloggers or culinary conference to meet agents if they are presenting or offering  speed pitch sessions.

8. Volunteer at food or wine events where cookbook authors have signings or where people in book- or food-related jobs gather. Get to know others and connect with like-minded people. You never know what sort of connection you might make when you get out and give away your time.

9. Join an organization where cookbook authors, food writers, or other culinary-focused individuals meet. The best example is the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Other industry specific groups are James Beard, Association of Food Journalists, and Les Dames Escoffier. Membership requirements are specific and do vary so check their website.

10. Connect with cookbook authors and agents on social media. Engage them in conversation and share ideas about food, cooking, and your expertise in a knowledgeable and professional way.

If you want to find a traditional publisher, without the representation of an agent, you need to search for a cookbook publisher who accepts “unsolicited” cookbook proposals. Here are few ways to research publishers who accept unsolicited cookbook proposals:

1. Refer to the list of cookbooks you made while doing cookbook research. Look up each publisher in print- or online- edition of  Writers Market to see if they accept unsolicited proposals. If they do, 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 haven’t already published a cookbook on the 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 extended a contract by that publisher because it’s too repetitive of a topic.

2. Send your “unsolicited” (unagented) cookbook proposal directly to the acquisitions editor without going through an agent. (If they only take agented/solicited proposals, you must have an agent submit your proposal to the publisher. Use the steps above under Find An Agent.) Follow submission guidelines found in Writer’s Market, or on the publisher’s website. 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.

3. Network with cookbook authors at book fairs, cooking classes, or conferences. Talk to them about their book and ask if they’re publisher accepts unsolicited proposals. Don’t be afraid to ask for their editors name as well. If  you know the cookbook author well enough, ask them to connect you to their editor. Editors often accept personal recommendations from authors they’ve worked with and a personal recommendation goes a long way.

4. Strive to connect acquisitions editors by attending conferences, food events, book fairs, and any other activity where people who love food and cooking gather.

Some aspiring cookbook authors take a less direct approach to finding a publisher and instead of direct contact with agents or publishers they focus on getting noticed as they build their platform and develop a relationship with their audience.

This method of finding a publisher has been known to work, but doesn’t happen overnight. And sometimes it doesn’t happen 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 need 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. And it was because of my first cookbook, that I landed a contract for my second cookbook. You never know what doors can open through hard work to 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.

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.

1. Twitter contest held by The Lisa Ekus Group: Independent Publisher – THE Voice of the Independent Publishing Industry

2. 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.

Watch the free training How to Get Paid to Write a Cookbook without Spending Your Own Money to Publish the Book


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?”. 

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