07 Jan Behind the Scenes: How to Write a Cookbook
Happy 2018, friends!
This is the year that I turn 32 (!!!) but also, the year that my book finally arrives on store shelves and into the hands of fellow bakers! YAY! Coincidentally, both of those two things are happening on the same day this year, which means PARTY TIME!!!
Just kidding, it actually means media interviews, early mornings and a book tour – a busy but fun time! More on all of that soon…
I’ve had so many questions about what it’s really like to write a cookbook, how to go about writing one if you’re a first-timer and what my experience was like, so in the spirit of sharing information (you know I love to share), I thought a blog post on the topic would be the perfect way to kick off the new year. Also, I should mention that I’m writing this from my own personal experience and this process may be different for you!
So grab a coffee, curl up in your cozies and get comfy!
Finding a literary agent
Typically, finding an agent requires doing a little digging. Many cookbook authors list their agents in the acknowledgments in the back of their books, which is one way to find out the name of an agent you’d like to represent you. Another way is to do a quick search online, which will turn up a few names and emails or phone numbers of literary agents that you can contact.
My editor put me in touch with a few agents that she thought would be a great fit for my potential book, I contacted them and after a few phone calls and emails, I had representation. Of course, I didn’t have to use an agent, but let me tell you, having one has been so incredibly helpful! An agent is essentially a direct link between a writer and a potential publisher and can also act as a buffer between you and your editor. For example, if you don’t agree on something that your editor wants, instead of having an argument, you would speak via your agent. So helpful! As for how agents get paid, they take a percentage of your wages earned, usually between 15-20%, which, in my opinion, is so worth it!
Writing a proposal and pitching to a publisher
If you choose to have a literary agent represent you, the two of you will work together to create what’s called a proposal. Essentially, it’s an eye-catching, multi-page document that your agent will use to sell your idea for a book to a publisher. In this document, you’ll include your “story” (aka, who you are), a marketing strategy for your book, sample recipes, who your competition is, a table of contents and lots of photos, all done up in a neat little package that a graphic designer has helped put together for you. Here’s what the cover of my proposal looked like, just to show you what I did:
Once the proposal is completed, your work is done – for now. Your agent will begin pitching your proposal to publishers and once you’ve found a great fit, she (or he) will begin getting the paperwork in order for you to sign! Yay!
Once you’ve signed a contract with a publisher, you’ll need to get started on recipe testing! Even if you have your recipes down perfectly, you’ll definitely want to make sure that they’re easy to follow and that the ingredients are accessible to home bakers. Also, if you own a bakery and/or are used to baking in mass volume, you’ll need to scale your recipes down to home oven size. For example, a cupcake recipe for 12 or 24 cupcakes is perfect for a cookbook, as opposed to a cupcakes recipe for, say, 96 cupcakes. My editor was a fantastic guide during this process, especially when it came to how many recipes I needed per chapter, so don’t be afraid to ask your editor as many questions as you need to – that’s what she (or he) is there for!
I have to be completely transparent here though. As fun as recipes testing was at times, it was also incredibly frustrating. Some of my recipes were ones that I’d loved since the day that they were created, and I felt that they needed little to no adjusting – they were ready to be typed up (yay!). Others, though, I wanted to really perfect, and let me tell you – when you’ve baked a cake 19 times and it still hasn’t turned out the exact way that you’d hoped, it can really make you question your ability to bake anything. How many times I burst into tears in my kitchen during this process was crazy, but I got through it!
Let me tell you, I drank more coffee while writing my book than I ever have in my life. In fact, In fact, didn’t start drinking coffee until 2015, when I signed my book deal! All of the late nights, the early mornings and the very long days spent sitting at my desk writing required such focus, especially when it came to calculating my recipes into weight measurements, like grams and ounces (I almost lost my mind doing this a few times!).
If you feel like you’re able to create recipes no problem, but are having trouble in writing department, there is help available! Many authors bring what’s called a “ghost writer” into the equation, meaning a person who essentially writes your book for you, from your point of view, for a fee. They would write your introduction/biography, all of your recipe intro’s and anything else you’d like to have them write. While writing a book does take a lot of time and concentration, there is, in my opinion, something so personal about reading a book that the author has written themselves.
I’ve never purchased a cookbook without photos (do they exist?!) and my editor and I both felt that the photos in my book needed to mirror my brand and what I had in my Instagram feed, so we made sure to include a photo for every single recipe in my book! Because I shoot all of my own content for my social media and blog posts (unless otherwise credited), it was really important to me to shoot the food photos myself. So I upgraded my camera lens and off I went into the unknown world of food photography, which, let me tell you, was HARD…but I did it! I also asked Kristy of Blush Wedding Photography to come on board and shoot all of the lifestyle photos (ie: me, the kitchen, etc.), which she did beautifully (in only 2 days!). She also helped with the editing of my food photos, which I am forever grateful for! I learned so much about my camera, lighting and about photo editing during this process and even though I struggled through some parts of it, I’m so glad that I was able to shoot my own food photos and I can’t wait for you to see the book!
Also, I can’t forget to say huge thank you’s to my friend Erin (Sparkle Media) who helped style and direct those two days of lifestyle photos and to my friend Suzanna (Tori Blush) who styled my hair and did my make-up! I found it so helpful to have these two wonderful ladies on-set with me those days, as they both have good taste and a great eye.
Handing in the manuscript + future edits
After all of my recipes were completed, typed out and the photography was finished I sent them off to my editor, who began the editing process. This meant that the editing team poured over every word of my manuscript and made appropriate changes to sentence structure, fixed spelling errors and double-checked recipe weights and measurements. This was sent back to me about two months later with all simple changes made, underlining what I needed to fix and also, any questions they had for me were written on the sidebar of the word document. We also decided to reshoot a few of the photos, so I baked and re-shot the necessary desserts and sent that back to the editing team. And then, more waiting.
First look pages and first copy
A few more months went by and all photos and edits were made final. I received a few sample pages of what the graphic designer had put together (SO amazing!!!) as well as a package in the mail, which contained my book pages from start to finish (the above photo!). It was so exciting to see everything come together! After looking everything over to make sure there were no errors, the process of printing and binding the book began. This typically happens overseas, as this reduces cost. And then came the first printed copy…
Front cover (above)
Back cover (above)
Last month, I received the first copy of my book and I cried! My publisher has done such a wonderful job with this book, and I can’t wait for you to see it! I started this project in 2015 and my book will be published on March 6th of this year, so this process has been a long one! The book publishing world is slow, for sure, but time has flown by and in under two months, I will finally be able to share my recipes with you!
Thank you for all of your support along the way!