When Bill LeBlond, Editorial Director, Food and Wine at Chronicle Books, kicked off his IACP Webinar/ Teleforum Wednesday, he should have warned us to fasten our seat beats. For one jam-packed hour, he took us on a riveting, fast-paced tour of how cookbook publishing works; how to win over an editor; and how to see the dream of writing a cookbook come true. He spoke non-stop, with clarity and remarkable candor. I thought everything he said sounded right on!
Here, pretty much in Bill’s own words, are some key points for those who write cookbooks or aspire to. First, he laid out the following publishing basics, then went on to provide a wide range of practical suggestions and advice.
> An acquisitions editor’s main job Bill says is, “to find cookbooks that will earn the publisher money.” All other considerations are secondary.
> The process normally starts with the author sending an editor or a literary agent a cookbook proposal, query letter, or full manuscript detailing the project; a well thought-out proposal is most common. Many publishers today will only look at material vetted by and submitted through a literary agent; details on why are here. (I’ll be writing a separate post on what’s in a formal cookbook proposal in the future–it’s a very substantial package and includes a number of components.)
> If the acquisitions editor likes the book proposal, he or she prepares a “top sheet” spotlighting its strong points, potential audience, season, etc. He takes this to an editorial board (including marketing and sales staff members). At Chronicle Books, the editor’s job is just to present, NOT to sell the proposal during the meeting, as all in attendance have read it
already. Together, the group assesses whether it has sufficient sales potential and quality to proceed.
> If the Committee decides to proceed, the editor prepares a profit and loss sheet and devises a deal to offer the author or his/her agent. This covers the book’s projected price point, potential number of copies, photos, publishing rights granted, and much more. Addionally it covers what recipes and text the author must deliver and when and what advance and/or royalties she will receive in return. All elements are negotiated and, if the parties come to terms, a deal is made.
>Normally, a year to 18 months later, the author delivers the manuscript. Then a year to 18 months after that, the book is published. As Bill emphasizes, “The process takes a much longer time than many aspiring authors realize.”
Always direct your pitch or proposal to a specific editor. (Tip: Look in the Acknowledgements page in published cookbooks to find out editors’/agents’ names and what kinds of books they take on.)
describe what it is about, the hook is not strong enough. A good hook (Bill’s favorite is Big Fat Cookies by Elinor Klivens) sells the book right away.
better. Be specific, but don’t be nasty or trash the competition; it might be one of the editor’s previous books!
Editors tend to be skeptical, so be prepared to respond effectively to these three reactions: “So
what? Who cares? Why you?”
An important difference between cookbook recipes and free Internet recipes is that the former start with an interesting story or useful information (called a headnote). Says Bill, “Good headnotes are a key reason cookbooks are able to successfully compete with free recipes today–people love good stories.” (My dos and don’ts on writing headnotes are here.)
Focus on what you do and know well; don’t try to tailor your concept or proposal to what you
think is “in.”
recipes and an exciting, well-conceived idea. Friends saying you’re a great cook is not enough.
“Take yourself and your work seriously. Be
passionate about your idea. And PERSEVERE!!”
Other related posts you may want to check out: