Category Archives: food

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Berry berry good books

This morning I picked up an oversize box of raspberries and a regular box of strawberries from the fruit stand on the corner by the DGLM office. berries

Both looked so bright and succulent and rosy and delicious! Then I proceeded to eat way, way too many of the raspberries, giving myself something of a sugar buzz and a slightly sick feeling.

It’s the same feeling I get when I finish a really amazing book. Ever heard of a book hangover? It’s when you find a book you absolutely love, that has everything – plot, characters, writing, it’s all perfect, and you read it in two or three big gulps. A berry berry good book that ruins all other books for you for a little while. Sometimes you just can’t get into the next book you read – it’s flat, overwritten, or too melodramatic. And sometimes you end up judging a book pretty harshly that you might have liked if you read it at a different time, not right after the berry berry good book.

There is no known cure for the post-berry berry good book malaise. I sometimes resort to re-reading something comfortable and well-loved that won’t need to compete with the berry berry good book. For example, a few weeks ago I read My Struggle Part I by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I unexpectedly loved this book of very little plot and very quiet, self-absorbed prose, and the next few books I started were just…lame. So I picked up an old favorite, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, to reset my book appetite. And sometimes it helps to switch genres, like when I read Detroit by Charlie LeDuff after Sappho’s Leap by Erica Jong. Nothing like contemporary hometown journalism as a chaser for ancient mythological fiction!

I’m not complaining about berry berry good books, though – aren’t we all looking for all-consuming, unforgettable books, as readers and as agents?

What are some berry berry good books you’ve read recently? How do you get over the post-berry berry good book slump?

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Developing a nonfiction “slam dunk” book concept

We have many ways in which books become books. Each title we sell has its own history and path to print. I thought it might be an interesting exercise for you to hear about a recent project of mine and how it came to be.

I represent Amar’e Stoudemire, best known as an NBA basketball star, but also the co-author of the just-published  COOKING WITH AMAR’E, which he wrote with his personal chef, Maxcel Hardy. Max and I got together initially in February of 2012 to talk about book ideas that he and Amar’e could pursue together, and he was initially thinking about a Kosher cookbook. We went through a list of ideas and the one that seemed most interesting to me had the two of them in the kitchen together doing informal cooking lessons, Max teaching Amar’e how to cook for his family and friends. It felt very commercial to me, and very accessible for a broad audience.

After finding a writer, Rosemary Black, to help them develop the proposal, which was a process that took some time, we sent it to publishers and hosted a lovely cocktail party for interested editors with recipes and cocktails from the proposed book. We sold the book to It Books/HarperCollins just over a year ago and everyone worked tirelessly to produce the book in time for Father’s Day of this year.

The publication was a whirlwind of media events for Amar’e, including appearances on Today and The View, and several book signings in and around NY. A picture from a midtown B&N signing below of yours truly with Amar’e and Chef Max (good thing Amar’e was sitting down or we wouldn’t have fit together in the photo!).

So, what I’m trying to get at with this post in addition to showing you some fun behind-the-scenes insight into the publishing process, is that there are many ways to develop a book and no matter who the author is or what the book concept is, it is a process that can take many turns and a long time from soup to nuts. Being in the business of ideas allows for a lot of creative brainstorming and you never know when that next great one will present itself.

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When worlds collide

Inspired by a recent posting on Buzzfeed compiling a great list of some of the most mouthwatering foods in literature (with recipes, thank goodness), I started thinking about food and meals in books. Again. Because, if we’re being honest, I think about food a lot anyway, so it wasn’t much of a stretch.

More than that—because sure, I could list even more foods from books that are great and that we should all eat all the time when reading about them and just whenever we feel like it—I’m thinking about the thrill I (and obviously most readers out there) get when a book references a real place, phenomenon or some other specific and actual thing that I can picture in my head through personal experience. There are so-so books that take place in New York that are elevated in my perception in quality because I can envision the exact locales a character may be wandering around. I’ve bought books that take place in the particular region of South Jersey where I grew up (okay, there was just the one, but it was SO local) solely because of their setting and for no other reason.

As a child, I cajoled my family into taking not one, but two trips to Colonial Williamsburg, not because I was super into the culture, but because I could go to the Governor’s Palace and the same sweet shop that Felicity did in the American Girl books.

Even more recently, I was finishing up Rules of Civility by Amor Towles the other week (sidenote: highly recommend) and coincidentally had to run an errand on the Upper West Side. Coming out of the subway station, I was faced directly with an awning on a residential building that predominately stated “The Beresford.” I stopped, stared, considered and then looked at the actual address of the building (211 Central Park West) and concluded that yes, this was the exact building that one of the main characters in the book I had currently in my bag resided. I had had no idea that it was a real building and it delighted me to no end to be faced with its reality so blatantly. I’ve since told several others about that moment and they were more unimpressed than I’d have liked, but maybe because they hadn’t read the book…

I don’t necessarily fall to pieces when books reference popular songs or television shows, but for some reason, very stable things like food, location and iconography really get me and it’s true that I remember the book more distinctly—and generally more fondly—for that fact. There’s a reason people flock to King’s Cross Station to try and see if they can spot Platform 9 ¾ and why all of a sudden The Frick was flooded with book lovers who wanted to get a glimpse of Fabritius’ The Goldfinch.

Planting these notions and references in literature allows sense memory to take over, whether it’s a smell, taste, sound or sight. The story becomes that much realer, the characters that much more relatable to the point where you can’t forget about it. Intentional or not, it’s a truly fascinating combination of literary artistry and the science of brain synapses firing off and making connections that makes at least certain passages of a book memorable.

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Does writing take a holiday?

Being the e-book manager here at DGLM, I am in possession of a wealth of copyedited and polished manuscripts, ready to be uploaded and unleashed onto the various e-book stores on the internet. Therefore, I only see one side of that manuscript, the finished article. What I don’t get to see is the process that writers go through to hand me their completed work.

I have always been fascinated with the variety of routines that writers impose in order to let the creativity flow. With Thanksgiving approaching rapidly – too rapidly for those in charge of turkey duties – I’m wondering if any writers out there will be modifying their schedule to accommodate visiting family, trips to visit family, or to fit in a post-Thanksgiving nap. After reading this piece on writers’ routines, I tried to imagine how the writers mentioned in the article would or wouldn’t break their schedule.

Susan Sontag certainly adopted a pretty stringent itinerary, so would she have invited over guests other than Roger Straus? Hemingway strived to wake at first light when working on novels, but surely Papa would have afforded himself a wee bit of a lie-in over the holidays? And with the increased level of consumption that marks the holiday season these days, would Ben Franklin be able to remain so frugal?

Do you cut yourself some slack in your writing habits over the holidays? Or will you find yourself a quiet corner on Thursday to continue writing?

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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.

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Turkish delight isn’t very good in real life.

I didn’t eat breakfast this morning (not unusual) and am spending my morning glumly munching on broken pieces of vaguely stale sourdough pretzels left at the bottom of a giant tub in the office kitchen (also not unusual). Fantasizing about all the food I would like to be eating, I remembered this post I read on The Hairpin the other month detailing a variety of fictional foods that everyone always muses upon wanting in real life. While it’s easy for a food to appear appetizing in a movie (strangely, even cartoon meals get the mouth watering on occasion), literary descriptions of what a character eats can be just as powerful, despite the lack of visual aid.

The article’s authors list Edmund Pevensie’s Turkish delight, Anne Shirley’s cordial and Harry Potter’s Butterbeer among their desired fictional treats, and I will attest to desperately wanting all of them at some point in my life as well. Often times, the food I read about is your normal, every day sort of meal, but the context of the story or the way the author words the description are often enough to make me look up from my book for a minute and wish really hard that I was eating the same. I recently read Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses for the first time, and for some reason, every single time those characters sat down to eat, I wanted everything. It was never all that special—often a tortilla or steak and potatoes, and Mr. McCarthy is never one for the flowery language, but mixed with all the hard work, gruff talk and horse wrangling that was going on, the meals always seemed so deserved and satisfying that I never wanted a plate of eggs so badly.

Food is so universal that in describing it, a writer has the advantage of not really needing to go very far—the mere mention of a flavor or ingredient and the reader’s own sense memory will insert emotion and taste into the words without much help. How then, does a simple phrasing turn the response from, “oh, I suppose that sounds nice” to an intense desire for the described food, so much so that it lingers years after the book has been read and finished? I still think about the muffins Jack and Algernon argue over in The Importance of Being Earnest and the tomato sandwiches Harriet M. Welsch was so fond of in Harriet the Spy and no real-life version of these relatively simple foods will ever compare.

What are your literary gastronomic weaknesses? Are there any foods you’ve gone out of your way to try simply because of the way a books described the taste?

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Books to eat by

Helen Zoe Veit wrote an op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times that seems to be getting some traction. The Atlantic’s blog picked it up as a top column of the day and she was on NPR talking about it, too.

The premise seems so simple, it’s almost hard to imagine it being newsworthy, and yet its message is one that could potentially have widespread effects on future generations. Teach kids to cook in school. Bring back home ec (or a modern day version of it). In a culture filled with obesity and processed foods, going back to basics seems like a solution worth paying attention to.

As far as books go, there are crusaders out there doing good work on this subject, like Michael Pollan, whose Omnivore’s Dilemma, published in 2007 opened up the conversation about what we eat and where it comes from. Nutritionist and food historian Marion Nestle’s books, including What to Eat, take decades of research and distill them into digestible sound bytes that are accessible to the general public. More recently, celebrity chef and cookbook author Jamie Oliver got out there pitching a book and reality show, Jamie’s Food Revolution, trying to make a difference and teach kids, their parents, and their schools how to cook simple, healthy meals from scratch. And many of my own clients work tirelessly to extend that message of from scratch cooking, like Jennie Perillo of injennieskitchen.com.

Here’s a link to a New Yorker piece I found that talks about some of the books published on obesity, overeating, American’s obsession with fast food, and a myriad of other depressing topics that talk about the way we eat now and how we got here.

I think these authors are making a real impact, even though my house and diet are, like many, full of contradictions. Despite good intentions, the bad habits are so deep rooted (I grew up eating Devil Dogs, McDonald’s, Chef Boyardee, and Kraft mac & cheese every day after school, and I still love all that junk!), and so ingrained in our psyches that it’s going to take a generation to move away from where we’ve been and on to greener and healthier pastures.

Books like Pollan’s,  Oliver’s, and Nestle’s, and op-eds like Ms. Veit’s, are a good conversation starter and reminder of how some basic but widespread changes can really make a difference in the way we eat now and what that means for future generations.

What do you think? Are there any great books on the subject of food culture in America that you can recommend? Any you’d like to see that haven’t yet been written?

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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?

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Vegan Pursuits

I’m generally a big lover of meat and fish, making my views on vegetarian and vegan eating somewhat conflicted. However, I represent a lot of great books and authors in the category, including a very talented and successful vegan cookbook author whose books sell well year after year so I know there is a loyal and growing audience out there for books that appeal to this market. That was confirmed with the release of lifestyle author Kathy Freston’s Veganist, debuting yesterday with an appearance on Oprah and an interview in Vanity Fair, among other big publicity hits. Of course the book shot straight to number 1 on Amazon, and I’m guessing we’ll be seeing it high on the bestseller lists in coming weeks. It is encouraging to me that a seemingly niche topic can attract such a splashy mainstream response, following in the footsteps of Skinny Bitch, The Kind Diet, and Michael Pollen’s books, among others.

I haven’t actually seen the book yet, but from what I’ve read Freston’s book is really a straight lifestyle book, without recipes, outlining the many benefits of a vegan life. I am not someone who generally jumps on the Oprah bandwagon, but I do think there’s a lot of good to be found in this message of eating a healthier, more environmentally friendly, plant-based diet. That sounds a little more realistic to me, and one of these days I’d like to actually give it a try. I’m sure I’d miss the meat, but maybe I’d finally be able to shed those last few baby pounds that have been hanging around way too long, since the twins just turned 2 last week! And there would certainly be some great stories and lessons to share with the kids. If any of our readers are fans of vegan lifestyle or cookbooks, I’d be curious to hear what your favorites are. Now I’m off to make myself a salad for dinner.