Friday, November 16, 2012

Yo! Cookbook Authors (& Wannabes): When Chronicle's Bill LeBlond Speaks You Ought to Listen


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."


Author Dos and Don't 


Always send a well-written cover letter with any submission; editors want you to first introduce yourself and your material.   

Never send an acknowledgments page with your submission; it's considered amateurish because it is "getting way ahead of the process."

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.)


Be sure your book idea has  a clear, strong hook—if it takes more than 25 words to 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.  

Be original! Don't start by relating your memories of your wonderful grandmother baking this or cooking that. Bill says he and other editors have "heard that too many times."

Do your homework on what books are similar to  your proposed subject. Learn what's already out there by checking on Amazon and in bookstores. Use the information to explain why your concept is  different and better. Be specific, but don't be nasty or trash the competition; it might be one of the editor’s previous books!



Random Suggestions/Points to Ponder

 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.)



An exciting headnote makes the reader want to try the recipe. "Your guests will love this!" will not do it," he notes. "And if I make the dish," he adds, "it better be good!"

Focus on what you do and know well; don’t try to tailor your concept or proposal to what you think is "in." 


Ask yourself if you really have anything to offer in a cookbook—you must have fresh, fabulous 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:

What Cookbook Editors Are Looking For--Two Top Editors Tell You

Wanna Write A Cookbook?--Make Those Recipe Intros Tasty 

 

10 comments:

Mary Hart Perry said...

Wow! There's so much more to writing and publishing a cookbook than I imagined. Thanks for the very informative article.

a. maren on November 17, 2012 at 11:44 PM said...

helpful, if a bit intimidating!

Nancy Baggett on November 18, 2012 at 10:24 AM said...

I suppose it does sound a bit intimidating, but I think he laid it out very well. It is in truth a very tough business for publishers these days so they want to be very sure they're taking on a book and author who will generate sales.

Rebecca York on November 18, 2012 at 7:40 PM said...

A tough business? Yeah, sounds like it. I wonder what chance an indie pub cookbook has? I do see them on Amazon and I wonder if they make the authors any money.

Nancy Baggett on November 19, 2012 at 9:37 AM said...

I really don't know anything about the independent cookbook publishing market. I'm guessing that somebody with a big following of some sort would do okay, others, perhaps not.

Rebecca York on November 19, 2012 at 10:26 AM said...

I think you could also do well if you hopped on a trend.

Jamie on November 20, 2012 at 12:32 PM said...

Great interview and great tips... many of which are useful to those of us interested in publishing something other than a cookbook. I would like to add that I think there may be a lot more behind why people prefer a recipe from a cookbook than one free from the web other than just the header. Maybe another blog post?

Nancy Baggett on November 20, 2012 at 6:13 PM said...

Jamie, I suppose you are referring to the fact that recipes in books from major publishers are normally more reliable because they are tested. That is certainly an issue--if the recipe is from a book and has an author's name on it, the reader at least has some sense of somebody having develped and/or tested it to be sure it really works!

Anonymous said...

Good info--overwhelming tho.

BettyAnn @Mango_Queen on January 7, 2013 at 8:43 PM said...

This is a great piece, packed with helpful information. I'm bookmarking this! Thanks for the wise advice!

 

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