One of the most practical sessions I attended at IACP in Chicago was The Vanishing Cookbook. The panelists included Tanya Steel, Editor in Chief of Epicurious.com, Rick Rodgers, noted cookbook author and award-winning cooking instructor and Pam Chirls, Senior Editor at publisher Wiley responsible for books such as The Soul of a New Cuisine, The Professional Chef and The Bon Appetit Cookbook. Their combined experience in the publishing world is tremendous and provided the audience with a snapshot of what the cookbook publishing landscape is like these days and what it takes to succeed.
First the good news. We learned that cookbook sales are up--but that there is more competition for shelf space than ever before. We heard about the growth of the celebrity chef, but also learned food bloggers can be celebrities too(!) The presentation covered topics such as how much income you can expect as a cookbook author (5-100k depending on numerous factors). We heard about all the right reasons to consider writing one and many of the wrong ones.
Some tips I learned from Steel about being on the web were to consider podcasting and even more importantly, video. Her suggestion for bloggers and webmasters was to purchase a camcorder kit and keep the videos to three or four minutes, and said even a 90 second clip can make a good video.
Much of the presentation was devoted to the cookbook proposal process. Lots of useful tips were shared such as, be the only one who can write the book, consider a spicy memoir, don't ignore the web and look for cookbook ideas at places like the Gourmet Products Show and the Fancy Food Show. Rodgers told us about how he came up with the idea for a fondue cookbook after seeing how many companies were introducing new fondue pots.
From Chirls we learned the essential elements in a proposal such as a compelling introduction, table of contents and at least five properly formatted and fully tested recipes. Editors often try out those recipes! Despite the challenges, the tone of the presentation was upbeat and optimistic. It was encouraging to all of us considering writing a cookbook...
You can download the full presentation I saw from Rick Rodgers web site (just click on the Vanishing Cookbook image).
Still curious about publishing a cookbook? Reading Dianne Jacob's book Will Write for Food is one way to learn even more about what it takes. Actually if you are at all interested in writing about food her book is worthwhile. I have a copy and refer to it frequently. This week you can read an interview with her and even ask her some questions over at David Lebovitz.com.
Over at Bay Area Bites is my take on Recipe Cards Redux