Whether you’re a seasoned food writer, blogger, bartender or chef, publishing a book is definitely a career milestone. We got the lowdown on the proposal-to-publish-to-promo process from Chef Jeremy Nolen of Brauhaus Schmitz (and the upcoming Whetstone Tavern) who co-authored New German Cooking with his wife Jessica Nolen; food writer and canning teacher Marisa McClellan, known for her books, Food in Jars: Preserving Small Batches Year-Round and Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces; along with writer and gin enthusiast Matt Teacher who authored The Spirit of Gin: A Stirring Miscellany of the New Gin Revival.
To start, how does one develop a concept and shop a book deal?
Jeremy Nolen: I was actually approached by my agent, Clare Pelino, after a meeting about PR work. She thought it would be a great idea and she was confident that she could get me a deal with a publisher because of the uniqueness of the book idea. After the proposal was written, she shopped it to a different publisher before we came to an agreement with Chronicle.
Marisa McClellan: I initially approached a publisher through an acquaintance that worked there, and an editor helped me develop a proposal. That publisher eventually passed on the project and I ended up taking the document I’d worked on with them to a different publisher, who ended up acquiring my book. From start to finish, I spent about six months creating and attempting to sell that first project.
Matt Teacher: After two years of noticing new and interesting gins during my travels I wrote a proposal and submitted it to Cider Mill Press, whom I had worked with on several books previously.
But how does one get a publisher’s interest if they’re not a famous chef and attempting to write their first book?
McClellan: Having the blog was a significant player in my first book deal. It established me as an expert in the field and also helped build the audience that eventually bought that first book. Having the blog helped secure my second and third book deals as well, because my publisher was able to see that I had a dedicated community of people who invested in my work.
How do you craft a winning proposal?
Nolen: The best tip I could give is to make sure your proposal is unique. Writing a cookbook on a subject that has been covered extensively will be difficult to sell unless you’re already a celebrity or established writer. The other tip would be to write it, rewrite it, and edit it many times. This is the first impression publishers and agents will get, and you want to make sure you put your best foot forward. I was lucky that I knew an author, Marnie Old, that has written several books on wine. She gave me an old proposal of hers to read over and study and she helped me with the editing.
McClellan: My book proposal process was not a traditional one; my second and third books sold on the basis of a two- to three-page document that summarized the idea and listed a possible table of contents. Again, this is unusual and I’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to find homes for my ideas so readily.
Teacher: For me, the two most important parts of a book proposal are a title and subtitle that immediately grab the reader’s attention. After the title and a brief synopsis, the first thing I always include is a paragraph titled “Target Market,” which explains exactly who will be buying the book. I also find that it works in my favor if I have researched existing books in the same field and explain why this one is going to be different and better. I probably spent two months writing and revising the proposal and then a month getting feedback from trusted friends and colleagues before submitting.
About how much time do you need to devote to writing the book?
Nolen: The timeline for writing the book was pretty short for cookbook standards. We were given six months from signing the contract to delivering the manuscript. The publisher thought the book needed to be published sooner rather than later, so we worked really hard to get it done in that time frame.
Teacher: I would have liked to have had two years to complete researching and writing, but in reality, since we wanted to document the trend ahead of the curve, we decided to do it in a year. There were a couple of short extensions as new content was added to the original proposal, but it didn’t take much over a year. Approximately six months of research and six months of writing.
When it comes to recipe testing, what’s the protocol?
Nolen: We worked off of a master list of recipes for the selection. I wrote a table of contents with about 150 recipe ideas and dishes that I’ve either done before or ideas that I had and narrowed it down to 100. I did most of the testing myself in my home kitchen and also had a few friends and some of my cooks help test them.
McClellan: When drafting a proposal, I craft a list of about 100 recipes that fit the theme of the book and are balanced both across the seasons and styles of preserves (jams, pickles, compotes, chutneys, etc). As far as testing goes, I make every recipe in a book a couple of times and then have volunteer testers try things for me as well. This is another place where the blog is incredibly useful, as I recruit my readers to serve as testers. This last round, I had over 300 people offer to help in about six hours.
And what about promoting the book?
Nolen: It’s much harder to sell a book than you think. Unless you’re a celebrity chef, your book will not fly off the shelves immediately. I’m still learning that side of the business. At first you sell a bunch and then it becomes stagnant until you get a review or something like that. We were lucky that Chronicle is a large publisher and has great connections, so we were able to get it reviewed in major metropolitan newspapers like the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Miami Herald and more.
Teacher: I’m fortunate to have published this book with Cider Mill Press, which has distribution through Simon & Schuster, so that opened the doors to most retailers. As far as promotion, Cider Mill hired local Philadelphia PR firm Profile (a recoupable cost). Profile handled setting up signings, happy-hour events, and promotional opportunities. Once the book was set to release I contacted some of my industry contacts, including those featured in the book, and connected them to Profile to set up events. I launched a blog and Twitter account (@thespiritofgin) to promote and supplement the book.
McClellan: Selling and marketing is a huge part of being an author these days. I start planning the promotion of a book four to six months before it comes out. I reach out to blogging friends and acquaintances to see if they’ll review on their blogs. I plan book signings, classes, and demos. I’ve learned that for me, the very best kind of event is one where the venue includes a copy of the book in the price of admission. This typically leads to sales of 50 to 60 books in a single evening and makes that trip to Portland or Chicago worthwhile.
— written by Swabreen Bakr for industree