Category Archives: cookbooks and food writing

Stacey Glick interview at Writer’s Digest

It’s been a while since I wrote about the kinds of projects I’m looking for, and since I answer that question and many others in an interview I did that was recently published on writersdigest.com, I thought it would be nice to share it with our loyal blog readers.

The interview goes into some detail on my background, my list, and my thoughts on many different aspects of the market, where it is now, and where it is going.

I thought Ricki’s questions were really targeted to my interests and as a result we managed to squeeze a lot of information into a fairly brief interview.

I hope it’s useful to anyone reading, and if I didn’t answer all of your questions or you have others you’d like to ask, ask away and I will do my best to respond to each and every one. Promise! Enjoy.

1

Books for Dads

In resisting the urge to write about my fantastic (and first!) experience at BEA, I’ll write about another major event, relevant not just to those in the industry.

Father’s Day is less than a week away, and until this morning, I was all out of gift ideas. Fortunately, I happened upon today’s post on the Washington Post’s All We Can Eat blog and found a list of cookbooks specific for those fathers who love to grill (and really, don’t they all?). I never would have chosen a cookbook for my dad, considering I have yet to see him cook inside, but Grillin’ Wild with Rick Browne and The Gardener & The Grill just seem too perfect to pass up.

Then again, if your father is more into cars than cooking, check out these suggestions from the New York Times. Or, take your pick from the Huffington Post’s 10 Books Every American NEEDS To Read.

What about you? What books have you given as gifts for Father’s Day and gotten great feedback on?

If you want to write about food, read this now

As you know by now, I’m a bit obsessed with food, and I love cookbooks (both selling them and using them). There have been a couple of recent articles published about food writing that have caused quite a stir in the business, so I thought I’d talk about them.

The first was published last month by Food 52 founder Amanda Hesser, and it talked about the ways in which the food writing business has changed, and resulted in an inability for an aspiring food writer to make a living the old fashioned way writing about food in newspapers and magazines. It also gave some smart advice on how aspiring food writers can rethink their options.

Then last week Wiley editor Justin Schwartz’s blog post came out about publishing a cookbook. His piece offers very straightforward and specific advice on what not to do when you’re putting together a book proposal.

The articles are very different, but it’s worth reading both to get two experienced perspectives on a broadly similar topic.

The thing that’s great about Justin and his post is that he says it like it is. No sugar coating, no nonsense, no b.s., just clear and very detailed advice. He could start a consulting business and charge money for this stuff, but instead he shares it for free so those of you interested in writing cookbooks can learn what to do, and what not to do.

It’s funny because I had not one but two cookbook clients send me revised proposals this week, and both had read Justin’s post and included things that weren’t there before, like an author photo. And it definitely made for a better package to present. Sometimes the simplest advice is the most effective.

Amanda’s piece is more of a big picture view, and while it might on the surface feel depressing, it offers valuable takeaway suggestions about how to rethink a career in the food industry. Traditional writing jobs are out, but there are other ways to build up a successful brand, like some of the bloggers she mentions including Pioneer Woman, Smitten Kitchen and Simply Recipes.

If you are interested in learning more about this area, take a look and let us know what you think of Justin and Amanda’s advice. And if you have any other tips of your own for getting a cookbook published, or trying to make a career as a food writer, please share them.

What I’m looking for now

It’s been a long time since I talked about what I’m looking for so I thought I’d share a few words about projects I’m working on, projects I recently sold, and projects I wish I’d sold.

If you check me out on Publisher’s Marketplace, sales categories over the last year include cookbooks, memoir, narrative nonfiction, commercial fiction, children’s fiction, and a business book (full disclosure: the author is one of my oldest friends who came to me to help him after being approached by a publisher). The last few weeks have brought several nice sales and new projects in categories that include narrative nonfiction, cookbooks, commercial fiction, and young adult fiction.

My list has always been eclectic and continues to be comprised of a mix of projects that excite and inspire me. I’ll admit the formula is unpredictable and timing and instinct have a lot to do with it. I think most of my colleagues would agree that they know a Stacey project when they see it (public thanks to Jim for the recent referral), even if that might seem hard to define.

Given the market, the size of my list, and raising 4 kids, I’ll admit I am very selective about signing up new authors, but I am doing it and I’m eager to see new submissions.

In particular I’d love to see more science-based or medical nonfiction, like the upcoming book by pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert H. Lustig about his groundbreaking research about sugar’s effect on our health. Or Dr. Dale Archer’s Better Than Normal, which talks about how key traits of human behavior can be seen as strengths rather than weaknesses.

I’d like to see more smart, original parenting – I just sold a soon-to-be announced book about a particular component of our dysfunctional parenting culture, and my most recent staff recommendation is Mind in the Making, a research-based parenting title that was widely praises as one of the best recent books in the category.

I’d also like to see more food and nutrition narrative. The latest book by Marion Nestle just out, Why Calories Count, is a great example of that, and I’d love to find a book to rival Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones and Butter.

For cookbooks, I’m always interested in smart, savvy food bloggers who bring a new twist to an existing topic, and can open up conversations about family and food that draw readers in. And I’m open to hearing from chefs and food writers who are doing something original and different.

As for memoir, I continue to be drawn to deep, dark psychological stories (and as previously mentioned, I seem to have found a successful niche of powerful mother/daughter stories that began long before I had my 4 daughters!) that showcase real people overcoming crushing adversity. Jennie Perillo’s in-the-works memoir about the sudden loss of her husband is an example. Soon-to-be published titles include Perfect Chaos, a mother/daughter bipolar memoir; I Am Intelligent, a mother/daughter memoir about a nonverbal autistic girl who learns to communicate; and Have Mother Will Travel, Claire and Mia Fontaine’s second memoir following the remarkable Come Back.

And for children’s, as well as adult fiction, I am drawn to strong, believable protagonists who find themselves in difficult situations that require an emotional epiphany to survive and thrive.

Thanks for listening and hope this gives you some more insight into my interests and that I’ll hear from you with new projects soon.

4

A few words about cookbooks and agents

I participated in a cookbook conference last Friday and sat on a panel with four other agents who also represent practical nonfiction, including cookbooks. The discussion centered around the agent’s role in the current market and how that role has changed with the shift into electronic publishing.

It was a really thoughtful and informative conversation that lasted almost an hour and a half. We had a lengthy talk about the cookbook as object and whether that is something that will continue into the future or go the way of the VHS tape. We all agreed moving away from the book is a long way away, if it ever happens at all, and that there is still a great benefit to holding a book in your hands, cooking from a book rather than a computer screen, and sharing books as gifts with friends and family.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the discussion centered on the agent and author relationship, and the question of how important is it to have an agent in a market where so many writers, bloggers especially, are going it on their own. I strongly believe that (and I think, based on feedback, made a persuasive argument for) authors need agents now more than ever. A savvy agent who understands the nuances of the market’s language and culture is critical as they oversee every aspect of an author’s entire career, focusing on the big picture, as well as the smaller details that can go astray at any point in the process.

What really jumped out at me, though, was the concept of how much book negotiations have changed in the recent past. Each and every negotiation now, even with publishers we’ve dealt with for many years and have boilerplate contracts with the best negotiated terms possible, is fraught with challenges that include new and changing digital royalty rates, author deliverables that previously didn’t exist (one agent mentioned a major publisher had asked that the author deliver along with their manuscript 20 minutes of the author on tape), and which rights will be retained by the author versus the publisher.

This might sound simple, but believe me when I say it is not. The landscape has been described as The Wild West, and we are using our collective years of experience to secure the best deal and contract terms that are possible in a market where publishers are pushing so hard in one direction to keep rights in their control and agents are pushing so hard in the other.

The good news is we are making progress with every deal. Each new contract offers an opportunity to renegotiate contract language we aren’t happy with, or get an author an improved digital royalty, or at least the ability to renegotiate the royalty in the future. We are always striving to protect our clients and maintain a positive working relationship with all the publishers we do business with. I’ll admit it can be precarious, but we have leverage because publishers know the value of our long, successful client list.

All this to say your agent is your friend and will be there to guide you through this sometimes messy and difficult process of being a book author. I’d love to know your thoughts on the agent-author relationship in this new market and also on cookbook as object and its future. Do you think cookbooks are going to go away, or will there always be room on your shelf to display your favorite stain-filled tomes as a badge of cooking honor?

Insider tips on how to successfully turn your blog or idea into a book

While this is a complex and challenging question in a complex and challenging market, a friend and editor at Chronicle Books, Kate Woodrow, gets to the heart of the matter in this insightful piece culled from a recent conference panel she was on. It gives some advice from the inside on the book development process, and more importantly from an author’s perspective, what makes a successful pitch. Chronicle is a publisher we do a lot of business with, and they are very creative when it comes to developing nonfiction books from brands or blogs, so it’s worth a read.

A number of the tips Kate shares about developing a saleable book concept apply to fiction writers as well. Like researching and reading your competition. It seems so obvious, but it bears repeating and often. Knowing your market and what’s out there is incredibly important. And no typos! In this moving-so-fast culture we all inhabit, it’s way too easy to hit send before triple checking your work. But if you’re serious about getting published, then take the time to get it right the first time.

One point that Kate doesn’t address but that’s been coming up a lot in my blog-to-book conversations with clients and editors is that the more targeted book concepts seem to be working better now given the competition in the market. Having a great idea is still imperative, even if you have a big blog to support it. That’s something that’s a bit different than it was even six months ago. There was a long stretch where publishers were snatching up books from bloggers at a rapid pace. That has slowed down considerably, and now it’s even more important to think through and develop a commercial, accessible concept that is supported by your blog, but not necessarily the topic of your blog. For example, I just sold a single subject book on avocados by a food blogger. Her blog is a lot more general, but there is a section on avocados because it’s a food she loves and writes about often, so we felt the idea of narrowing the focus of her book was a smart one.

Hope you find some takeaway here that’s helpful. And good luck if you choose to go in this direction!

3

Thinking about Drinking

I’m working on a nonfiction project about vodka, and it’s a pretty fascinating subject. It got me thinking about drinking, and books on drinking, or more specifically, the drinks themselves that we drink. I actually blogged about this once before and thought I’d take it a step further.

An article an author of mine is working on cites a couple of books on his subject, including Linda Himelstein’s THE KING OF VODKA, which is about Pyotr Smirnov and his vodka empire. There have been so many ways alcohol and its long drunken history have been explored in books–from recipe cocktail books, which have been popular the last few years as the DIY movement has shifted to drinking and people are experimenting in their own kitchens, to practical books on wine, beer, and pairing foods with drinks.

What is interests me most, however, are the many excellent narrative nonfiction books about not only the drinks themselves, but the players behind them, like my own client Tilar Mazzeo’s bestselling THE WIDOW CLICQUOT, which describes the fascinating life of Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, the woman who Veuve Clicquot brand. THE BILLIONAIRE’S VINEGAR was a bestseller that delved deeper into the story behind the world’s most expensive bottle of wine. Absinthe is another spirit that we talked about a great deal when thinking about ideas for Tilar. There’s a lot of interesting history there. I personally love these historical narrative nonfiction accounts that paint a broader cultural picture of a seemingly narrow subject. In the hands of a skilled writer, there is much to explore.

In doing some research, I came upon this Wall Street Journal article that lists a few titles that are worth looking at if you’re interested in this vast subject.

What are your favorite books about drinking? Are there any books on the subject you’d like to see that don’t already exist? It’s a little too early for me to start drinking, but the mood is definitely set for an evening cocktail!

2

Gluten-Free Rules

I had the pleasure of bumping into food writer Melissa Clark not once, but twice, in the last month. I was happy to learn she was working on a piece for her New York Times column about gluten-free cooking and baking, and that she’d be talking with my author and early advocate of the gluten-free movement, Shauna James Ahern of glutenfreegirl.com. The terrific article ran today and it highlights a number of gluten-free cookbooks that have hit the market in the last couple of years. As Melissa indicates, gluten-free has become mainstream, and it seems to me this is a direction that more of us will be going in over time. Our diet is literally making many of us sick, and eliminating triggers like gluten is one way to get back to the basics of natural whole foods, and a healthier, more balanced way of eating. I’m not gluten-free, and my kids and I eat more of the stuff than I care to admit, but I’m paying close attention to what’s happening in the world of gluten-free living, and I suspect I’ll be dipping my toes in those waters at some point. The gluten-free recipes I’ve made and desserts I’ve sampled are quite good, and with so many innovators like Shauna out there paving the way for the rest of us, it’s become easier, if not easy, to adapt to this lifestyle change. There are a lot of books and sites mentioned in this piece, but are there any other gluten-free cookbooks or websites you love that aren’t covered in this article?

Blogging advice continued (and a prize!)

Last week I wrote about food blogs. I’m following it up this week with a fun timeline of food blogs published by Saveur. If you are interested in this category, this piece offers a great sort of who’s who, and a bit of information about the blogs and bloggers, along with some of their first posts. It’s amazing to see how fast this world has grown, and how some of the bigger names got their start. And I’m happy to see we have a couple of authors on this list.

For those of you looking for specific advice in the area of blogging, whatever your topic of choice, I found this blog post, shared with me by an editor friend, incredibly helpful. It’s really detailed, and my favorite part is that it offers the approximate time it will take you to successfully complete each of the suggested tasks. The advice is broken down in such a way that it avoids feeling overwhelming or too nebulous, and I think if you read it carefully and implement some or all of the suggestions (if you are already blogging, there will be things you can pass over, but I think there are good reminders here too), you will see results. Who’s ready to give it a try? If any of our readers take the time to follow the 21 steps listed here, let us know one month after completion if there is a noticeable increase in your blog traffic. When you send me the stats, I will send you a copy of one of my books. It’s a win-win – increased blog traffic and productivity for you, and a shiny new book to go with it!

8

Favorite Food Blogs

As those of you who frequent our blog know by now, I represent a good number of cookbooks and narrative books about food and wine. It’s a category that has changed a lot since I started agenting almost 13 years ago, and we’ve seen a lot of trends come and go during that time. Chef books, single ingredient books, lifestyle cookbooks (vegetarian, now vegan), reality TV and Food Network personalities have all had their place in the market, and many continue to thrive with the right combination of elements.

One relatively new phenomenon we’ve been seeing over the last couple of years (and will be seeing a lot more of in years to come) is the rise of the food blog-to-book. There is such a strong network of writers in this community that it’s become a fast growing and successful subculture with a world and language all its own, not to mention a whole bunch of writers’ conferences. I represent a number of the members of this community, including the amazing Shauna James Ahern of glutenfreegirl.com, who was really at the forefront of this emerging market.

I work closely with many authors and editors to tap into new talent, and it’s become an interesting conversation to see which bloggers are getting book deals, which ones have growing stats, and which ones are rising above the pack in terms of subject, content, photos, or voice. There are so many that it’s sometimes hard to keep up with what’s out there! I’ve been very fortunate to have authors and editors who have referred me to some great food bloggers, and I’m really eager to see what happens as many more of these books are published in the coming months and years. There are definitely critics out there who think it’s a trend and that publishers are overpaying for some of these books (there are at least a couple of recent sales that topped $500k), but we’re seeing sales that suggest otherwise. Heidi Swanson of 101cookbooks.com is a successful blogger whose most recent book has been selling very well and has hit top 10 on the New York Times bestseller list.

So, it does seem to be a lot more than a trend, and I’d love to hear from our blog readers what your favorite food blogs are, and what makes them your favorites. Is it the recipes, the photos, the writing, or something else that keeps you coming back for more?