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How to Publish a Cookbook

January 26, 2011

The process to get a cookbook published involves more than what most people think. By the time you see a cookbook on a shelf in the store it’s been worked on for at least a couple of years and is the result of a small army of people.

First you have to come up with the idea. For me, I mull around a bunch of ideas in my head and over a period from anywhere from 2 to 6 months one idea rises to the surface. An idea has to be interesting  but it also has to be broad enough to comprise a book. This is also the time where I psych myself up for the project. Writing a book is a significant amount of work and if you’re  not truly excited about your idea and ready to commit to the process you won’t make it to the finish line.

I got the idea for A Passion for Ice Cream when Chronicle Books asked me to write a book on chocolate. There were so many books already written about chocolate from every angle conceivable I thought the world didn’t need one more. They asked me what I thought was lacking on the market. Cookbooks on ice cream had been written but they focused on flavors — not what to do with the ice cream once it was made. I picked up on that idea and a book was born.

Second is the book proposal writing stage. This takes another couple of months. Even with five cookbooks to my credit this part is the hardest. It is the time where you have to turn your hopefully brilliant idea into a book outline. It is the blueprint for all the work going forward. The proposal consists of an introduction explaining what the book is about, how the chapters will be organized, sample recipes, why you think the book will sell and how it differs from other books on the subject.

This time I engaged Lisa Weiss as my co-writer because I wanted to have conversations between myself and home bakers, and she is a much better writer than I am. My proposals are also vetted by my wonderful book agent.  She sends them back with thoughtful researched comments. As an agent she knows the book market inside out.

Hopefully in a month or two your book gets bought by a publisher. The book market is tough as there are thousands of new cookbooks published each year. Not to mention all the good ones from previous years are still vying for consumer’s dollars. At this point the trim size, number of pages, and the approximate retail cost of the book are determined.

Once the book is sold I have to get to work. When I am asked how I get a book written I say “I signed a contract.” A due date is a great motivator. Depending on the publisher you generally have about a year. Recipe testing takes the bulk of the time. I test recipes anywhere from 1 to 6 times to get them right.  It’s a maddening frustrating process, especially in baking where if you add one thing you have to start over. Not as simple as adding a little more salt to the soup.

The book becomes your life. You test seven days a week. You become a bore. When people ask you what you are doing the answer is the same — testing recipes. I invite people over and dinner consists of several variations of desserts. My friends know if they want protein or veggies it is best to bring it themselves.

When I hand in a manuscript I am happy to have it off of my desk. I can put the measuring spoons pencils and away. At least for a little while.

Once the manuscript is handed in the FEDEX deliveries between the publisher and the author begins. Even with the advances in technology, the bulk of cookbook editing is still done on paper. The book is like a ping pong ball. I send it to my book editor who reviews it for overall content who sends it back to me for my comments.

It then goes to a copy editor who goes through the book line by line. Are all the ingredients listed used in each recipe? Is the baking time included? Are the recipes consistently written? Copy editing is a painstaking job and I firmly believe there is a special place in heaven for copy editors. Little Brown, the publisher I am working with now, even brought in a second copy editor for a fresh pair of eyes.

Each review round has questions or inconsistencies written on Post-Its. They are called queries. When I respond I use a different color Post-It to differentiate them from the copy editor’s.

While the book is being copy edited, the design team starts laying out the book. If a book has photographs or illustrations this is when they are done. They create numerous sample covers which are scrutinized by the marketing and sales team.

For my latest book, The Fearless Baker, I handed in the first draft of the manuscript on April 1, 2010. The finished book will come out at the end of April of this year. Only then does it really sink in that I have written a book and haven’t just been working on a seemingly endless project with a growing stack of 8 1/2 by 11 pieces of paper.

After I have handed in each of my books I swear I will never write another book but once I hold an actual copy in my hands I can’t help but start thinking of the next one.

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4 comments

  1. WOW thank you so much for the wealth of information. I will print out the info so I can read and enjoy. Thank you!! xo


  2. I now see the incredible details that are involved in writing and publishing a book.


  3. I own Classic Stars Desserts (I plan to collect them all) and I have to tell you, I really appreciate every little detail that you pour into your cookbooks. They are a joy to read through, your recipes are so exciting – some of the best things I’ve baked are from that cookbook.

    I made a decision today, while making some plum & custard tartlets (I adapted the recipe from your apricot & custard tart) that pastries are what I must do with my life. So, at the age of 26 and after much waffling between many career options, I am beginning to seriously look into pastry chef schools. My greatest fulfillment and happiness comes from baking something and sharing it with others. It would be a dream come true to achieve the success you’ve had, but even if I never do, what you’ve done for me and other home bakers by sharing your wisdom and gifts in your cookbooks are more than enough to make my every day feel full, happy and worth while.


  4. This has to be the best post ever! I will suggest to every aspiring cookbook author I know that they read it! Needless to say, all of YOUR books are flawless and beautiful, and as a terrified baker and one of your biggest fans, I can’t wait to buy a copy. Congrats Emily (and Lisa). I’m so excited for you.–a



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