Monday, September 20, 2010

Writing a cookbook Part 3: on writing a book proposal, and being flexible

I must apologize, I have been traveling in the last two weeks, and I had little time to dedicate to this blog. It was interesting to read your comments, and a looong comment stream on FB from a friend who shared my link. Most of the comments there came from published authors, and mostly moaning about competition and an overloaded market and not enough good cookbooks (theirs???). Of course there was a bit of humor there, which was good, but no publishing advice of any kind.

Maybe some authors don’t like to share tips?

I don’t know if I can be helpful, but I least I can talk about my own experience. I have been asked (again) “But how??? How do your actually start if there are so many cookbooks out there?”

OK, there are a lot of cookbook out there, and

usually there are two ways to start a book:

1) A publisher contacts you and asks you to write a book

2) You contact a publisher, and ask to write a book

I belong to the first category, probably like most cookbook authors, and in this we are quite different from fiction writers.

Things may change for seconds and subsequent books: you have already established a relationship with a publisher and, if you come up with a good idea for a book, you can initiate the talks. It is correct to always talk to your original publisher first, and not to go to other publishers (this may also be in your contract anyway), unless there are some very good reasons to do this.

A book idea must then become a book proposal, which you have to write, brief but detailed, well written and containing all the information that the publisher needs: type of book, proposed length, target audience, what kind of images…

This is the time to be flexible. A publisher will know the market better than you, and can tell you if your idea may or may not work. Remember, just because it is a good book, this doesn’t mean that it will have a market.

In fact it is the publisher’s own sale department here that can determine if your book is worth publishing or not. Listen to what everyone has to say about it and be prepared to change your proposal if needed. Sometime it is just a question of changing a few things: your recipes are too spicy for the target market? The ingredients are too difficult to find? The book is going to be sold in a different country where they never use cups as unit of measure? Often the reasons seem really superficial, but you should take everything into consideration.

Professional chefs who write books for home-cooks know that their readers don’t have a professional kitchen at home. No high tech ovens, precision scales, and molecular gastronomy tools. And they use different terms. Likewise bloggers who have a big following know that they have to offer something original and not already published if they wants to sell a book.

Most importantly, generally bloggers are used to work alone, but if they want to write a book, and I mean a real book published by a serious publisher, bloggers must be able to work with other people. The quality of work required for a book is totally different from what you may find on a blog, and all throughout the writing process you will have to deal with professionals who can help you, but also expect to see quality work.

To start give your book a working title, even if it may be the title you want to have for real. It is good to show that you are calling it ‘working title’ because this will make you look like a flexible and open-minded author, and by the end of the project you may have changed your mind anyway, and want to call it something else. For both title and content you will work with an editorial team, and not solo, like most bloggers. Show your publisher from day one that you are able to work with a team, and you will be appreciated.

Idea, then proposal, and then contract! And this is going to be the next post.


  1. This is such an interesting series Alessandra! Great resource (though I still don't think I want to write one, hehe, sounds a bit too much like hard work)...i made omelettes for all the guys at the house that day with the other eggs!

  2. It is very interesting to get an inside glimpse into this process, Alessandra. Thanks for sharing. It does seem like a daunting task, but one has to be organized and focused, and it sounds like you are all of that and more. Good luck!

  3. Sasa, I am sure the boys were happy!

    Barbara, I really hope to be organized and focused! ;-)

  4. Thank you again for sharing your inside knowledge Alessandra, it is invaluable.
    In regards to writing a proposal I've found very different "requirements" from each publishing house website I've looked at, some basically want the whole manuscript! Others 2 or 3 sample chapters.
    Obviously it wasn't an issue for you, but do you have any advice on choosing a publisher to approach?

  5. Do you want to publish in New Zealand Bron?

  6. Yes Alessandra, I think so. As if I am to market myself and self-publish; most sales would come from overseas.

  7. Bron, there are a few publishers in NZ that publish good cookbook, just to think of a few, New Holland Publishers, Random House, Penguin... working with one of the big publishers will mean that they will look after distribution, also overseas. If you are thinking of self publishing, and distributing, maybe you should look into 'print on demand'.

  8. This has been a really interesting series of posts. It gives me a greater appreciation for professional food writers and what they go through to bring a product to market. Have a grand weekend. Blessings...Mary

  9. ciao ! da sigrid - il cavoletto, ho risposto alla tua domanda su una ricetta per le zucchine lunghe palermitane .. inoltre, se hai voglia, mi torvi qui :

    ciao e complimenti,

  10. this is such a full time job !! I wish you the best and will follow up !!good luck !Pierre

  11. This is very interesting and I am enjoying reading about the process. Thanks for sharing and good luck with it!

  12. listening to the sound: the material is the worst Taps UK resolved, good leader is the whole cast copper, Bathtub Taps. If the sound is very crisp, Pull Out Kitchen Taps must be stainless steel, the quality difference would a grade


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