7 questions to ask when considering a publisher

It’s a gray, rainy day here today, and it feels so nice. I especially love riding the train up to New York when it’s foggy and gray like this—if you’ve ever seen some of those Northeast corridor water views and murky woods, you know exactly what I mean.

cookbook publishing blog

We had a blast this past weekend doing things like eating too much at The Dabney and Whaley’s and making Mary Randolph’s chicken croquettes.

I was looking through one of our smaller memory boxes the other day, and I found my old business cards from when I worked as an editor at a smaller publisher. I loved working there, but it also reminded me how different the book process is from house to house. And just as importantly, how hard it is for anyone on the outside—especially writers and bloggers new to the publishing world—to figure out what kind of publisher might be right for them and their book idea.

Which, of course, launched me into a loooooong article about the differences between larger and smaller publishing houses. Phew, this one’s a doozy! But that’s because there’s just so, so much to say. There’s more diversity in the industry than most people can imagine, and even among the Big 5 publishers or the smallest of the small presses, there’s no one set way of doing certain things.

So, I thought it would be helpful to share a few key questions that you should ask when considering what kind of publisher is right for you or when negotiating a book contract, especially if you’ve been approached by a publisher already. I also tried to provide the broadest of benchmarks to help you have some context if you do already have an offer in hand and you now want to negotiate for standard book royalties or an advance. Of course, I have to insert one million caveats about how every house is unique—I promise this is not a cop-out; it’s the honest-to-goodness truth—and how every publishing contract can be its own universe of non-standard and standard terms.

But this at least should provide a starting point for anyone who has an offer in hand and isn’t sure whether they should accept, negotiate, look for a literary agent, or walk away.

A real-life case study

That exact scenario happened to one of my authors—she had been approached by a smaller publisher who wanted a certain kind of book from her. She asked around to a few author friends and other bloggers, not sure what she should do. Her asking around led to a referral to me, and we chatted about her existing offer and about what her goals and hopes were for a book.

I love the idea for her book; I thought her platform was ready; and most importantly, I loved her sweet personality and thought we’d have fun working together. We turned down the existing offer, spent 6 months refining her book concept and working on the proposal, shopped it around, and ultimately found her a fabulous publishing home, as well as an advance that was 8x more than what she’d originally been offered.

That is the kind of success story I love—seeing my authors end up with book deals that put them in the best possible scenario for a successful launch, and hopefully, a long career as an author.

We see stories like this all the time, especially in the nonfiction world: a publisher approaches an author; the author gets a literary agent; the literary agent finds or negotiates a far better offer for the author; the author becomes an evangelist for using an agent. I won’t toot the lit-agent horn too much, but I do strongly encourage anyone considering a publishing offer to get a second opinion. You only get one debut book, so it’s worth doing the research to explore any and all options that might be right for you!

Now, let me step off my soapbox (ha!), and let’s talk about the initial questions you should ask when considering a publisher. 

7 questions to ask when considering a publisher

negotiating a book publishing contract

1. Are you being asked to pay them for production costs, or are they offering to pay you an advance?

Most commonly, publishing contracts fall into one of four categories:

  • A traditional contract, where the publisher covers all costs and offers an advance and royalties
  • A hybrid or digital-first contract, where the publisher covers all costs but offers higher royalties instead of an advance
  • A work-for-hire contract, where the publisher covers all costs, but the author is selling her writing services to the publisher for a flat fee and is relinquishing copyright
  • A publishing services contract (these publishers are often called vanity publishers), where the author is covering all costs and essentially paying to have a book printed but will receive little, if any, distribution, marketing, or publicity support

For the purposes of this piece, I’m going to talk mostly about those first two types of contracts, since they’re the two arrangements that authors most often pursue and need help navigating.

2. Now let’s get the big question out of the way: how much of an advance are you being offered? And most importantly, are you comfortable with that amount?

Just like in any industry, the larger a business, the more resources it will have at its disposal. So generally, smaller publishers tend to pay more modest advances, while larger publishers can offer a broader range of advances. An offer from a small publisher can range from a no-advance offer to $1,000 to $5,000 to $10,000 or more. An offer from a large publisher, such as one of the Big 5 publishers, can also start at no advance (most often for digital-only imprints) but range as high as the $65 million the Obamas just received for their two books.

Of course, what matters most is whether that advance it right for you. Some books, like cookbooks and other heavily photographed books, require upfront capital to pay a photographer, or to cover ingredient and travel costs, and so an author may be looking for an advance that will cover both his costs and the value of his time. For fiction, the manuscript is usually completed at the time of sale, and so an advance could be used to pay back an author’s time, to cover the value of her time during the promotion phase, or to re-invest in her author brand.

It’s also worth finding out whether you’ve received a fair offer–as in, an offer that’s on par with other comparable authors in your genre or category. For this, it’s helpful look for a literary agent who has experience in your category or genre.

However! It’s extremely important to note that the advance itself isn’t nearly the whole picture. Typically, the advance is directly correlated to the back-end numbers that can most influence the success of your book—numbers like how many books they’ll print and how much money they’ll put into marketing and publicity.

Wait, so the advance isn’t the most important number?

Yes and no. The dollar amount of the advance matters in that it allows you to invest in your business and in the success of your book. But the symbolic meaning of the advance—the level of investment a publisher is making in you, and the print run and marketing/publicity budgets that come with it—matter just as much.

Essentially, advances are more modest at smaller publishers because the print runs are typically smaller. Rather than a print run of, say, 5,000, 10,000 or 20,000 copies, a smaller publisher may project a printing of 1,000 or 2,500 copies. At smaller publishers, their profit projections (the P&L) are often run using only the small initial print run, because there’s no guarantee there will be a second print run if the first doesn’t sell. (All this can be true at larger houses, too.) Therefore, a lower initial print run will always result in a lower advance. This allows the publisher to test out the market for a book in a less risky way, before deciding whether they’ll go back for additional print runs. However, this also means that your book may only have a few thousand copies printed, and that if those move slowly, that initial print run may be the entire lifespan of your book.

By contrast, if a publisher is able to project a larger total printing—and have the confidence that they can sell those copies—then the P&L will allow for a larger advance, as well as more copies of your book in existence.

Generally, a publisher won’t share the details of their P&Ls, as each house has a proprietary calculation, so you may not know what the projected print run is. But again, the size of the advance and the context that an agent can provide can help you make a good guess.

3. What kind of royalties are being offered?

Royalties can vary drastically from publisher to publisher and project to project, and so I can’t give a very accurate range and fair range here. This is another place where working with a literary agent can be very helpful, as she should be able to tell you what’s standard across the industry, what’s standard in your category or genre, and what’s standard from that particular publisher, as well as be able to negotiate the best possible rate for you.

But, what you can determine is whether the royalties you’re being offered are being paid on the retail list price of the book or on net (i.e. the author receives a percentage of the net revenue). Of course, the definition of “net revenue” or “net amount received” can vary by publisher, as can the actual percentages offered, and what is standard can also vary drastically from publisher to publisher, as well as from genre to genre. And 7.5% of list price is very different from 10% of net!

Be mindful of this difference, and in particular, look to see if there’s a clear definition (one you actually understand!) of either list price or net in the contract, depending on which is offered. If not, this could be a red flag.

4. How long will you have to write the book?

Again, the timeline for manuscript delivery varies so drastically from publisher to publisher and book to book. But very generally, smaller publishers work on more accelerated timelines, which allows them to move more quickly to get trend-driven or timely books into the marketplace. This is great if you’re not too excited about waiting 18 to 24 months between contract signing and publication, which is the timeline at many medium and large publishers.

When I worked at a smaller publisher, we often asked authors to deliver manuscripts in 2-4 months, and we were able to go from idea to finished book in anywhere from 6 months to 12 months. And while crash schedules can definitely be done at the Big 5 publishers (I did one crash-schedule book last year!), they largely look for an author to tell them how much time they need, rather than pushing for a quick turnaround.

The important thing here is to figure out what’s right for you. You want to make sure that you’re giving yourself enough time to write a book that you’re truly proud of. I’ve seen book contracts where the author is given 4 weeks to turn in a manuscript—and that was for a manuscript they hadn’t even started yet! This means that the author had to set aside nearly everything else in her life to work full-speed on the book for a month. And some authors love this! It’s entirely about knowing yourself and how you work best.

But typically, unless an author tells me they like to work on a condensed schedule or we have a strategic reason for rushing the book into the marketplace, I recommend authors take between 6 – 12 months to write their book. That’s because I don’t want my authors to lose their minds during the process and to be so burned out on writing the book that they have no energy to promote it.

It’s important to remember that everything else that makes up your daily work—the platform-building, the business-running, the speaking, the social media—is also laying the groundwork for the success of your book. If all of that comes to a screeching halt as you write the book, your platform will be weakened when you most need it. Also, your family will miss you a lot.

Luckily both small and large publishers may be open to negotiating the timeline, so don’t immediately take their proposed date as the final word.

5. What will the publisher do for publicity and marketing?

Many authors don’t realize it, but the publicity and marketing budget for a book is typically integrated into its P&L. It’s helpful to think like a publisher (or any other business owner) when trying to understand the way publishers make bets on books. If you spend a greater amount of money acquiring project, then naturally, you’re going to spend more money promoting the project so that you can recoup your investment.

A great advantage to working with a traditional publisher of any size is that your book will be assigned to an in-house publicist, who will write a press release, send review copies of your book, and do everything in her power to get press for the book.

But small differences may exist in the process, depending on the publisher and the publicist herself. Some campaigns may include a mailing of finished printed copies; others may only send digital copies of the book in order to cut costs. Some publicists have personal connections with magazine and online editors and producers; others may be cold-pitching. Either way, this is essentially free publicity for you and your book, and it can go a long way in helping you grow your business.

The same principle applies to marketing: campaigns will differ, but generally, the bigger the budget, the more they can do to spread the word about your book. Smaller publishers may only do limited campaigns with standard practices like SEO-optimizing the online retailer metadata and including the book in the publisher’s catalog. Other publishers may buy space at tables at bookstores, run multi-platform ad campaigns, or create landing pages and shareable assets. While a publisher likely won’t tell you exactly how much they’ve budgeted for marketing and publicity, they should share the details of their campaigns and how you can support them.

The most important thing to remember is that you can, and should, take the lead on the marketing and publicity for your book. The publisher’s role is to support your efforts and share best practices, but it’s ultimately the author who should be the driving force for brainstorming ideas and executing them. After all, publishing a book is a masterclass in learning how to convert fans into customers, so don’t miss any opportunities to experiment and learn about what works for your particular audience.

6. Where will the book likely be distributed? Where will it be pitched?

This is another extremely important point to discuss with a potential publishing partner: where will the book be distributed? As I mentioned, some book deals are for digital-only editions, or they’re for digital-first. Make sure you understand both where the book will be distributed digitally, and if there’s potential for a print edition later on, which metrics will be used to determine whether your book will be published in print.

If your book will be published in both print and digital, ask the publisher which accounts they almost always distribute to and which they will try for, but can’t guarantee. Most publishers can get most books into the main bookselling outlets, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-a-Million.

Most publishers will also pitch the books that they think are a fit to the non-bookstore outlets, which can include the mass merchandisers (Wal-Mart, Target, etc.), the warehouse stores (Costco, Sam’s Club, etc.), the specialty retailers (Anthropologie, Williams Sonoma, Whole Foods, etc.), but there’s never any guarantee that an account will take them. The same is true of independent bookstores—because they’re typically smaller stores, it’s much more difficult to have a book picked up by an indie bookseller.

Of course, the stronger of a track record a publisher has with a particular account, the higher the likelihood they’ll keep ordering new books from that publisher. If seeing your book in a particular store is very important to you, I highly recommend visiting a few of the stores in that chain and seeing which publishers are represented there. As always, the more research you can do on the market, the better you can craft your own book to succeed in that space!

7. How much creative control will you have over the look of the book?

This is so important. It’s one of the key concerns writers and bloggers have when I talk to them, and I totally understand why. There’s nothing worse than pouring your heart and soul into a book only to have the final package leave you feeling deflated.

Unfortunately, this is also the area that can be most difficult to navigate without an agent. But a good place to start is to look at the existing books on the publisher’s list and determine if you like those. Are there any you don’t like? Any you do? Try to engage the publisher in a conversation about how much creative control you’ll be given.

Yet, even in cases where there are specific creative-control clauses in a contract, it can be helpful to have the leverage of an agency behind you when discussing the tricky matter of design. We can step in and make sure the author’s feedback is taken seriously. While no publisher wants to print a book the author hates, it can sometimes be helpful to have a little extra nudging for one more round of revisions or a few more tweaks that the author might want.

But the most common scenario I see is authors who don’t love the design of their book, but they’re not sure why. That’s where we can also step in and help them pinpoint what they like and don’t like, as well as translate those feelings into the kind of design terms that designers can best act on.

 

While I don’t want to portray that this is a comprehensive list of everything you should discuss with a potential publisher, I do hope it’s a good starting point for thinking through your goals and priorities. And as you can see by how incredibly long this piece is, this stuff is complex! But that’s why I love what I do–it feels good to help authors have the best possible shot for making a difference in the world with their books.


What I’m Reading

How to Smartly Evaluate a Small Publisher (Jane Friedman): To tie in to our conversation about comparing different kinds of publishers, here’s a fantastic run-through by Jane Friedman of how to evaluate a small publisher. Definitely read this piece if you’re considering an offer but want more insight and another perspective!

Publishing a Cookbook: How We Got Started (Thriving Home): And in one more tie-in, here are my authors Polly and Rachel sharing a bit about what it was like being approached by a smaller publisher and how we ended up working together.

How to Land an Agent for a Self-Published Book (Jane Friedman): This is a must-read if you’ve self-published, but you’re also interested in working with a traditional publisher. Every last bit of advice is spot-on!

5 Ways to Expand Your Platform for a Book Deal (Nicole Gulotta on DianneJacob.com): Stonesong author Nicole Gulotta shares fantastic advice for growing your platform so you can get a book deal. And take a look at her book, Eat This Poem! It is so, so lovely.

Richard Bolles Dies at 90; Wrote ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’ (Paul Vitello for the New York Times): I was sad to see that beloved self-help author Richard Bolles passed away this week. If you’re looking for a self-publishing success story, here’s one for the record books: “Mr. Bolles (pronounced bowls) originally self-published his manual in 1970 as a photocopied how-to booklet for unemployed Protestant ministers. In 1972, he recast it to appeal to a wider audience and found an independent publisher in Berkeley, Calif., willing to print small batches so that it could be frequently updated. Since then, “Parachute” has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and has never been out of print.”


What We’re Eating This Week

Travel, travel, busy, busy, what’s a gal to eat? Well, here’s the real and true story of a cookbook agent eating not much of anything worth reporting. Ha!

Monday: So tired, so Monday! I added more butter (hahaha, oh yes I did!) to Mary Randolph’s tomato sauce and tossed it over some spaghetti, with some sautéed green beans on the side. It was simple; it was easy; it was all the things you want on a Monday.

Tuesday: Dinner at my Yaya’s, aka, How Much Rice and Beans Can One Human Eat in One Sitting: A Novel.

Wednesday: Eating out, or takeout, or desk dinner, or another form of #survivalfood.

Thursday: If I’m lucky, soup from my favorite soup spot in the Garment District. If I’m not lucky, something vile from the Amtrak Café Car.

Friday: I don’t know! But it’s Friday, so mealtime angst can be easily cured by a gin and tonic or twelve.

Cheers!

Read More

How to get a second book deal

Guys, my new coworker is a bad influence.

how to get a book deal

Look at how she shamelessly propped her little snout on my trackpad and pinned my hand down with her paw. Because my typing was getting in the way of petting. And because she hasn’t put it together yet that typing = work = money = more treats for her. Pretty shortsighted, if you ask me.

Speaking of shortsighted, I thought it would be fun to take the long view today and talk about second book deals. Since you all have been loving my post from a couple of weeks ago with case studies of debut book deals, I thought it’d be helpful to also talk about what comes next: the second book deal! A second book deal is the real holy grail in publishing. Yes, receiving a book deal at all is an enormous accomplishment, but it’s that second book deal that cements an author as an expert in his field.

A second book deal means an author has proven that she can sell books, and therefore, that she’s making an impact on the world with her work.

That right there is why I do what I do. And I know it’s also why authors do what they do.

So as exciting and motivating as it is to hear about top-line numbers like advances, it’s even more important to focus on back-end numbers: namely, copies sold. (To learn more about the pros and cons of 6-figure and 7-figure book advances, read this.)

Focusing on copies sold as your key metric is the best way to take the long-view of your own career, as that’s the number that ultimately determines whether you’ll be able to get a second book deal, and therefore, more opportunities for you and your business.

I thought it would be most helpful to illustrate the path between a first book deal and a second book deal by telling you about one of my lovely clients who successfully made that leap. And lucky us, Becky was generous enough to share a few tidbits about the differences between her two publishing experiences, as well as some great advice on how she made her business stand out in a crowded world.

Becky rapinchuk clean mama how to get a book deal

Becky Rapinchuk is the writer and creator behind Clean Mama, one of the most successful homekeeping blogs and brands online today. Becky and I first started working together when I was an editor working at a medium-sized nonfiction publisher, and I was lucky enough to acquire her first book, The Organically Clean Home. Becky was working a day job at the time but putting in long nights and weekends building her blog, which had just gotten started.

At the publisher, we were encouraged to brainstorm book ideas in-house and then scout bloggers or other experts to pair them with the project. I still remember when I first stumbled across Becky’s blog—it was so much more beautiful and professional-looking than everything else out there! It was also immediately obvious that Becky was so passionate about cleaning and committed to sharing that with readers. That’s what struck me most: Becky was that perfect mix of passionate and committed that I always look for in authors.

Back then, Becky’s readership was small but growing, and so she was the perfect fit for a concept-driven book like The Organically Clean Home. The book deal that resulted also meant that she was finally able to quit her day job and work on her business full-time, which helped solidify her as an expert in the cleaning space. Over the years, the book sold very well, largely driven by Becky’s marketing savvy and her commitment to making it a success.

As Becky’s brand continued to evolve and she began experimenting with selling other products to her audience (have you seen her adorable cleaning goods line?!), her traffic and social media numbers kept growing.

When she was at the point where she was one of the leading voices in her space, we started chatting again about what a second book could look like. I was a literary agent by then, so I knew Becky’s platform was strong enough that larger publishers would be interested in working with her.

We put together a proposal for the book Becky had always dreamed of writing: a comprehensive manual on her signature cleaning routine, which shows readers how to clean their homes in just 10 minutes a day. We took her proposal out wide to lifestyle editors, and within a few days, had received two fantastic pre-empts from Big Five publishers. Becky decided to work with the Touchstone imprint at Simon & Schuster, and now we’re just 2 short weeks from welcoming that dream book, Simply Clean, into the world!

To be clear: there wasn’t any secret shortcut to getting that level of excitement from major publishers. Editors loved the project because Becky had earned her place as a leader in her category, and we had done the research and brainstorming necessary to offer a unique concept in the marketplace. Becky had spent the years between her first book and her second book doing the hard work: writing blog posts, scheduling social media, guest posting, connecting with other bloggers in her space, promoting her first book so it had a strong sales track record, creating new products, and earning the trust and goodwill of her readers.

Now let’s hear from Becky herself about what it was like to write her second book, as well as what one thing most helped her build her business and platform (I hinted at it earlier!).

Becky Rapinchuk of Clean Mama on Writing a Second Book

How was the publishing experience for your first book different than for your second book?

There were a lot of differences but the biggest one was that I understood the process from the first book, making the second book easier from the beginning.  I was able to plan backwards because I understood the big picture and process.

I did not have an agent for my first book and I would never have thought that I needed one until I actually had one.  This was probably the biggest game-changer from the first book to the second.  Having an agent eliminates so much stress in the process – there’s no guesswork, the agent has your best interest in mind and knows the ins and outs of the entire process.  It was so much smoother of a process.

I had different publishers for each book and while there are a lot of similarities, the differences are also there too.  Make sure you are looking at all your options and if you have the opportunity to offer your book to multiple publishers, take it.  You’ll be working very closely with an editor and a large or small team of people for a while – make sure you work well together and that the editor is excited about your book too!

What was special to you about your first book?

It’s something that I never expected to do. My first book really launched my platform and authority in the online cleaning space.  I grab it all the time and mix up recipes from it – it’s a resource that I am so proud to have brought into the world.

What’s special to you about this new book?

 Simply Clean is the book I was searching for when I started on my own homekeeping journey in my early 20s. It’s different from any book out there – complete with challenges and how-tos with a dose of realism. I truly loved writing Simply Clean – it was so much fun to put my ideas to paper and think of the homes that would be a little cleaner too!

What one thing–if you had to pick just one!–do you think most helped you build your business and your author platform?

Branding – having a cohesive and recognizable brand sets you apart from everyone else, and it solidifies your voice in the noisy online world.

What advice would you give to other bloggers interested in writing a book?

Find your own voice and don’t just write a book because it seems like it’s the next logical step or because everyone else is writing a book.  It’s a long, difficult process – make sure you’re up for the challenge!

What’s the most important thing you want readers to take away from your book?

Cleaning doesn’t have to be complicated, and a clean, organized home in minutes a day is possible!

Simply Clean Becky Rapinchuk book cover

I love Becky’s book because (I know this is hard to believe), she actually makes cleaning cute and fun. Really. Her cleaning routine works no matter your work schedule or house size, and it takes all the stress out of thinking about when and how to clean. (Which is the part that always trips me up!) But I love that Becky takes you by the hand and shows you how to clean each part of your home in only 10 minutes a day, so that you can build habits that become automatic and effortless. And if there’s one thing I never want to stress about again, it’s cleaning. 🙂

Simply Clean is in stores on March 21st, but you can preorder it here! (And if you preorder, you’ll get great free gifts from Becky, like The 7-Day Simply Clean Kick-Start, a 1 month subscription to her Homekeeping Society, and over $30 worth of products from Grove Collaborative, including Mrs. Meyer’s soap, a cute kitchen towel, and beautiful walnut scrubbers. Just don’t forget to enter your receipt information here to receive the gifts!)

By the way, next week I’ll be sharing an in-depth post on how the publishing experience differs between small publishers and large publishers and what questions authors should ask when considering working with any publisher. If you don’t want to miss it, make sure to sign up to receive new articles below!

Subscribe to have publishing advice, platform-building tips, and free printables sent to your inbox!


What I’m Reading This Week

Add a Pinch cookbook on QVC (Robyn Stone on In The Kitchen with David): This was such a highlight of the week! My lovely author, Robyn Stone, had so much fun sharing some of the recipes from her cookbook with David Venable. If you need a giggle today (and who doesn’t?) watch as David near loses his mind over Robyn’s Sweet Cream Cheese Biscuits at the 5:15 mark!

You Don’t Have to Finish Every Story You Start (Jane Friedman): “How often do you abandon an early draft? I have abandoned far more drafts of personal essays and short stories than I’ve ever completed. In fact, the ratio is rather embarrassing—maybe twenty starts for every finish. … Writer David Ebenbach discusses the wisdom in abandoning a draft—in not seeing it as wasted time, but as an inevitable part of the creative process that produces great work.”

The Art of Storytelling As Explained by Pixar (Pixar Directors and Story Artists on Khan Academy): If you want a hands-on, free, and short course on how the masters at Pixar craft stories, then ta-da!

How the Internet Changed and How Our Lives Changed With It (Young House Love): It’s tempting when you’re building your platform to stay laser-focused on the immediate tasks ahead: building traffic, securing brand partnerships, writing posts, maybe getting a book deal. But once you’ve arrived–once you have that massively successful blog and that New York Times bestselling book–what does that look like? What’s on the other side of the mountain? Sherry and John Petersik have been answering this question, and this retrospective on their careers and the way the internet has changed is fascinating.

Deep in the Weeds of Publishing Economics (Mike Shatzkin): A great and wonky look at the economics of publishing P&Ls–worth a deep read if you like this sort of thing, too!

When Your Launch Fails–How to Avoid It and How to Recover (Kirsten Oliphant of CreateIf Writing): I love this post from Kirsten–it’s brave of her to share her failure so that others can learn from it. And all of this advice is spot-on! This article is a must-read for anyone planning, or even dreaming, about launching a product, whether it’s a book, a course, or anything else.


What We’re Eating This Week

Certain unnamed parties in my household have said I’ve gotten out of hand with slotting in too many new and multi-step recipes for us during the week, especially when we have volunteering shifts or Pepper’s training classes to run off to. While I can neither confirm nor deny the validity of this accusation, I have benevolently agreed to plan us a week of Just-the-Favorites. Nothing fancy here!

Monday: Burrito bowl salads and guacamole with chips

Tuesday: Lemon thyme roasted chicken with cruciferous crunch fritters and roasted cauliflower (Ha, ha, I snuck this one in, convinced that it would “be a snap!” to roast a chicken and two separate sides after a busy workday. Oy.)

Wednesday: Repentance: the sausage and kale penne recipe we’ve made a thousand times.

Thursday: Lemon chicken noodle soup, another recipe I’ve made a zillion times and which was originally inspired by this recipe.

Friday: Yaya’s Tortilla de Patata (read: fried potato frittata) and a simple green salad–very restrained for a Friday night, if I do say so myself!

Cheers!

Read More

how to get a book deal–3 case studies

In case you missed it on Instagram, we got a dog!

literary agent blog

Meet Pepper, the newest addition to our little family. She’s a blue merle Australian Shepherd we adopted through the great folks at City Dogs Rescue, and she loves pets, couch-laying, and Breakfast Jacs. She was rescued from southwestern Virginia (where we visited her in January!) and spent the past two months making, birthing, and mothering 8 beautiful little pups who also went to their forever homes last Sunday.

Pepper’s a hard worker who naps next to me while I work from home. Anybody know of a part-time job I could sign her up for?

literary agent blog

In publishing news, we’re right in the thick of submissions season, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the kinds of authors I want to help grow. I mentioned in this post how important engagement and voice is for getting a book deal—it’s not enough to just have a huge platform anymore.

But the trickiest thing for me to explain when I’m chatting with potential authors is the exact configuration of attributes I want in a client. And that’s because (of course!) there is no one answer. Which brings me back to the standard publishing answer: it depends.

So, instead of rattling off a long list of things I like to see in potential authors who are ready for a book, I want to talk today about how diverse—wonderfully diverse!—the paths to success can be. There is such a complex interplay of platform, concept, storytelling/perspective that makes a project attractive, and my job is to help authors see where they can most shine.

Lately I’ve been thinking of a well-rounded book as:

platform + concept + storytelling = a great read.

Each of those three elements, while always present, can step into the foreground or recede into the background depending on each author’s particular talents.

But the only way to make this concept fully come to life is to tell you the stories of a few of my first-time authors and how they got their book deals. My hope is that these case studies will bring into the light something we don’t talk often enough about:

There is no one path to success.

There is no one right way to get a book deal. There is no checklist or step-by-step plan that will guarantee your success (and often, one-size-fits-all approaches can stifle the uniqueness that’s vital to success).

And though we do build deep reservoirs of best practices over many years of working with authors, every one of my authors has different goals and therefore deserves a different strategy. After all, not every book exists for the same reason, so why should every author get a book deal for the same reason? That’s what I hope these case studies will show—how to get a book deal that fits your particular strengths.

How to get a book deal

A few things to keep in mind about these book deal case studies:

  • All three books sold at auction with advances in the $75,000-$100,000 range.
  • All three authors were first-time authors who built their platforms, from scratch, on their own—they were regular people who, day in and day out, started to share their work, build an audience, and earn the respect of their communities. No celebrities here!
  • All three authors received very different proposal treatments—again, one-size-fits-all just doesn’t work!—which highlighted their particular strengths and helped them get their book deals.
  • All three book deals were cookbooks sold to publishers in 2016. I wanted to remove the variables that exist between different categories and from year-to-year as the market changes, so that those fluctuations wouldn’t interfere with illustrating how these projects were valuated.

Book Deal #1:

This author is a talented photographer whose photos dazzled editors. She also has a fascinating, unconventional life story and wrote a proposal which one editor told me brought her to tears. It was a visually beautiful, highly personal proposal that showcased the author’s strength as a forward-thinking recipe developer, a skilled photographer, and a rising star in food media. The editor that acquired this project told me that she fell in love with the author’s unique perspective and story, and that it was this unique point-of-view, rather than platform metrics, which ultimately won over her team and allowed her to offer competitively on the project.

Traffic: 100,000-200,000 page views per month

Social media reach: Around 50,000 followers across platforms

Press: Heavily buzzed about in top-tier food media; writes regularly for a major-market newspaper

Speaking engagements: Regularly invited by colleagues to speak on food culture panels and at conferences

Awards: Recently received 3 high-profile, national awards

Connections: Very well-connected and has real friendships with movers and shakers in the food community; foreword contributed by a top food writer

Takeaway: This author’s storytelling and unique voice are what pushed her project over the top, but she had the necessary foundation of a strong concept and critical acclaim to back it up.

Book Deal #2:

This author has an incredibly popular blog, where millions of readers come again and again because they love her practical approach to home cooking. Her readers love her recipes because they work every time, and they know they can trust her with their time and their ingredients. The concept was highly practical yet elegant, and it offered a new perspective and new insight on how to cook more easily at home. The book is also targeted to the average home cook—a very broad audience. The author’s large and engaged platform was a clear sign that she was already winning the trust and admiration of readers—readers who would be eager and excited to buy her cookbook, just as editors were excited to buy the cookbook proposal.

Traffic: 4 million page views a month

Social media reach: Around 800,000 followers across platforms, as well as an email list of over 100,000 with extremely high engagement

Press: A long list of print and online outlets who had featured her work

Speaking engagements: None

Awards: None

Connections: Had a great list of high-profile connections who were willing to review an early copy of the book for possible endorsement

Takeaway: This author’s very large platform clearly shows that she is already producing recipes and writing that readers think is worth their time. Yet it was crucial that we still come up with a concept that did something new, without going so niche that we created a book only a segment of her readership would like. The author’s emphasis on telling engaging stories with her recipes and sharing snippets of her life also brought the world of this cookbook (and cookbook proposal) to life.

Book Deal #3:

This author is very well-known in his particular niche in the food blogging community. His writing is personal, authentic, and vulnerable, and therefore his readership, though on the smaller side, is highly engaged and supportive of all his new projects. He was also able to identify a significant trend in the food blogging world that hadn’t yet been explored in a full-length cookbook and to make a very convincing argument as to why he was the expert in this particular niche. Ultimately, editors were excited about this proposal because it offered something new—it had an entirely unique angle that both filled a hole in the marketplace and fulfilled a real need in people’s lives.

Traffic: 500,000 page views a month

Social media reach: Around 45,000 followers across platforms

Press: Some online press, but particularly strong brand partnerships that were relevant to the book concept

Speaking engagements: None

Awards: None

Connections: Well-connected to other bloggers within his niche

Takeaway: For this project, concept was king. It’s so rare to find a real hole in the marketplace, especially because we also need to show that it’s a hole people actually want filled! Yet this author was savvy enough to carve a niche for himself in this space and to use his great personality and real-life stories to build a small, but mighty audience for himself.

 

As you can see, all of these authors had one leading strength (platform, concept, or storytelling), but they had to exhibit all three of those elements to be well-rounded authors. And even though their paths (and stats!) were incredibly different, they all received fantastic book deals with great publishers, and even more importantly, they’re all well-positioned to make their books successful.

This is why it’s pointless to compare your path to anyone else’s, and it’s also why I hope you never forget that:

Your book is unique. Your platform is unique. Your path is unique. Don’t try to change that. 🙂

 

Want more? Read this case study of how one author had her second book pre-empted by a Big 5 publisher! 

And sign up below to receive new publishing articles directly to your inbox!

Subscribe to have publishing advice, platform-building tips, and free printables sent to your inbox!

 


What I’m Reading This Week:

Organized Enough is here! (Amanda Sullivan): We celebrated the release of Organized Enough last week with my client, Amanda Sullivan, at a packed reading and book signing at The Corner Bookstore! This is the book to buy if “get organized” was one of your New Year’s resolutions. Amanda is equal parts wise and gracious, and her advice is that gentle kick in the tush you need to finally get organized enough. (And if you think I’m just being biased, watch her in action yourself on WPIX!)

A Brown Kitchen (Nik Sharma): A huge congratulations to my client Nik Sharma whose San Francisco Chronicle column, A Brown Kitchen was just nominated for an IACP award! If you don’t already follow his blog, why not start now?

The Truth About The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists (Tim Grahl): Tim Grahl has updated this essential read to reflect new changes that are happening with “The List,” as we call the NYT list. This is exactly why I always hesitate to let authors get too attached to “hit the NYT list” as a goal. There are just too many variables, and the hard truth is that it does matter who your publisher is, who you are, and whether your book is being “watched”–it’s not just about copies sold.

How to Read More and Internet Less (Danika Ellis for BookRiot): “At some point–usually while taking Buzzfeed quizzes–I know I’m no longer even enjoying myself and would benefit immensely from just picking up a book instead, but I can’t seem to resist the siren song of the internet. Maybe you have amazing self control and never find yourself in that mess, but just in case, I thought I would share some ways that have worked for me in limiting my internet use and maximizing my reading time.”

7 Useful Insights for Savvy Book Marketers from Digital Book World 2017 (Goodreads Blog): Graphs, charts, and snippets of takeaways: all the DBW nerding-out you could want!

Where to Find Opportunities to Teach (and Supplement Your Writing Income) (Eric Maisel on JaneFriedman.com): Teaching others is a fantastic way to both build your platform and help others along the way, but just like with anything else, it usually takes starting small to grow this facet of your portfolio and platform.

A Vanderbilt Library Comes to Life (CJ Lotz for Garden & Gun): We adored visiting the Vanderbilt library when we were there in January, but we just missed this fantastic exhibit: “A new exhibition at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, ‘Designed for Drama: Fashion from the Classics,’ opens February 10 and pays tribute to George Vanderbilt’s love of literature by presenting a selection of his favorite tomes alongside more than forty costumes from their screen adaptions.”


What We’re Eating

Monday: We were off work for President’s Day and focused on settling in with Pepper, so naturally, all three of us ate a lot of hot dogs and not much else.

Tuesday: We received our extra-early air freight copies of the Add a Pinch cookbook, and so we’ll be eating Robyn’s delicious food all week! This book is so full of heart and good food and sweet stories, and your home will be a little happier if you add this book to your collection. (Not to mention the fact that we had THE BEST of all time short rib tacos on Tuesday night using Robyn’s slow cooker short rib recipe. There were words had at the dinner table over the last scraps of meat–even Pepper was drooling all over the floor over them!)

Wednesday: Robyn’s Jambalaya, also from Add a Pinch. And you know because it’s Wednesday that this is an extra-easy, one-pot recipe.

Thursday: I’m at a volunteering shift, so leftover Jambalaya it is. (The crowds rejoice.)

Friday: Baked Chicken Spaghetti from Add a Pinch. I’ve never had Southern-style Baked Chicken Spaghetti, but you know you can’t go wrong when something like spaghetti is South-ified.

Cheers!

Read More

How many followers do you need to get a book deal?

When you work in an industry like publishing, you tend to get the same questions over and over.

Where do I start with publishing my book?
How long will it take for my book to come out?
How much creative control will I have in the process?
How many followers do I need to get a book deal?

I hate to see authors feeling in the dark about these things, which is why I aim to build an archive right here to help shine a light into the sometimes mysterious workings of the publishing world.

So today, I’m answering that last question–how many followers do I need to get a book deal–over on Dianne Jacob’s blog!

how many followers to get a book deal

Here’s a little snippet, but head on over to her site to read the full piece. And while you’re there, take a poke around her archives. Dianne has an incredible wealth of information on cookbook writing and publishing!

So, how many followers do you need to get a book deal?

When I was an editor, my publishing house did one of the first blog-to-book cookbooks. We were only allowed to do one, because obviously, we had to wait and see if this “blog” thing was going to blow over.

Now, every one of my authors is a blogger or vlogger (except the chefs). It still amazes me how blogging can build deep and lasting relationships. Yet, too often, I get that inescapable question: How many blog followers is enough? How much traffic do you need to get a book deal?

Click here to read the rest of this piece on Dianne’s blog!


What I’m Reading This Week

How to Stay Positive on Your Path to Getting a Book Published (Adrienne Proctor on The Write Life): This is a great, great post, because it’s a reminder that nothing worthwhile happens overnight. I think cultivating the skills of patience and persistence is just as important to success as a writer or blogger as plotting or character development skills. I believe in this so much I created a cute art print to remind me and others of it! Click here to download this free art print:

you can't rush something you want to last forever quote printable

This is Why You Should Still Buy Cookbooks in 2017 (Julie R. Thompson for The Huffington Post): This is a must-read for any author writing (or thinking about writing) a cookbook. As I always tell my authors: you need to give the reader something they simply can’t find on Google.

Book Promotion: Do This, Not That – February 2017 (Amy Collins on The Book Designer): If you’re not already following these “Do This, Not That” posts, you should! Why make your own mistakes if you can learn from the mistakes of others?

Authors: Think Twice Before Paying to Exhibit at Book Expo (BEA) (Jane Friedman): In summary: “BEA is a quality industry event, and it is a legitimate marketing and promotion opportunity. But for the majority of indie authors, it does not make sense to invest what are likely your limited resources in BEA.”

3 Keys to Finishing Your Book Once and For All (Chad Allen on Goins, Writer): Chad always has great posts with practical, compassionate advice for authors–here’s another great one on setting up a 3-step process that will help you finally get your book done.


What We’re Eating This Week

Home, sweet home. Let’s cook!

Monday: Very unfussy, no-recipe stuffed peppers, which I did not even cover in cheese. That was my Willpower Accomplishment of the week. And it gave me full permission to spend the entire meal telling Jarrett how much better the stuffed peppers would have been with cheese.

Tuesday: Pork ramen with stock made from our giant Virginia country ham. As Dorothy Parker said, “Eternity is a ham and two people.” Welcome to eternity.

Wednesday: Italian chopped salad, with extra salami. Life motto: It’s not a salad without salami.

Thursday: Root vegetable and sausage pie from Victuals. Mmm.

Friday: This cacio e pepe recipe, because my deep adoration of cacio e pepe was rekindled when we ate at The Shack in Staunton, VA. (Jarrett and I split a plate of the cacio e pepe during our main course, then I ordered another plate for myself as dessert. YOLO?)

Cheers!

Subscribe to have publishing advice, platform-building tips, and free printables sent to your inbox!