- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Maybe you have an attic full of grandma’s heirloom recipes or a slew of slaws or the formula for perfect pies. Whatever the reason, you want to write a cookbook.

Well, you’re not alone. Thousands of people each year try to get their recipe ideas published, but according to industry experts, landing a cookbook deal is not as easy as pie.

“To get your cookbook published with one of the major publishers, you need to have a strong public platform, like a great big hit TV show, major restaurant or syndicated column,” says Jennifer Josephy, executive cookbook editor at Broadway Books.

Leslie Stoker, president of Stewart, Tabori & Chang, agrees. “It is very difficult for first-time authors to get published,” she says. “We are thrilled to be publishing ‘Talk With Your Mouth Full: The Hearty Boys Cookbook,’ but probably wouldn’t have been interested in the project before these first-time authors, Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, won the ‘Next Food Network Star’ contest and were given their own show on the Food Network.”

“Talk With Your Mouth Full” is filled with witty tips on entertaining and features hip recipes such as shaved ham on cheddar shortbread with apple jam.

Publishers increasingly are turning to authors who have a TV or other media following because those authors simply sell more books. While non-celebrity cookbooks sell thousands, sales of cookbooks by TV personalities such as Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray and Giada De Laurentiis number in the millions.

Another platform for up-and-coming cookbook authors is the Web, which is creating its own celebrities. A successful food blog can find publishing success, as evidenced by the briskly selling food memoir “Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Kitchen” (Little, Brown and Co.) sparked by Julie Powell’s 2004 blog, Julie/Julia Project.

“I’m pleased that the blogosphere is producing its own stars and that a talented writer can succeed without television credentials,” says Broadway Books’ Miss Josephy, who is editor of the recently published “Chocolate and Zucchini” by Clotilde Dusoulier, a book that evolved from a popular Web site by the same name. “Chocolate and Zucchini” traces the day-to-day marketing and cooking experiences of a young Frenchwoman living in Paris and contains simple-to-prepare but delicious recipes.

Until a few years ago, more than 300 new cookbook titles were published annually. Now fewer and fewer appear as publishers recognize that the market can no longer support as many. Until recently, Broadway Books published 15 cookbooks per year. That is down to eight to 10.

Literary agents, too, are more selective. Alice Fried Martell of the Martell Agency, who placed such books as the New York Times best-seller “The Volumetrics Eating Plan” (William Morrow), says: “Agents are submitting far fewer proposals now than five years ago. In the past, I might have represented 10 cookbook authors, but now I take on only two or three in a year. Looking back over titles my agency placed, I realize that many of those books would not have a shot now. Unless the author is a household name, no matter how terrific the concept and recipes are, it is difficult to get a cookbook placed with a major publisher.”

Faced with these obstacles, many would-be cookbook authors are going another route to realize their dream of seeing their recipes in print.

Ammini Ramachandran, a former Wall Street financial analyst, spent seven years trying to get her Indian cookbook published. “I read how-to books, attended literary conferences, joined food groups and even searched the acknowledgments section in cookbooks at Barnes & Noble to find an agent who might be interested in my project,” she says. After several rewrites, five agents and countless rejections, Miss Ramachandran decided to publish it herself. Her book, “Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts,” was published through IUniverse in March for a fee of several thousand dollars.

One problem for would-be authors is that major publishers are avoiding niche topics, such as Miss Ramachandran’s book on southern Indian vegetarian cuisine. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for selective titles. Self-published books are garnering not only market share, but attention from mainstream food critics. “Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts” received a glowing review from the New York Times shortly after its release.

Miss Ramachandran is pleased with her self-publishing experience. “IUniverse took the mystery out of getting my book to the market by making it available through barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com and over 25,000 retailers worldwide,” she says.

Amelia Saltsman, a former cooking school director and food stylist, decided to self-publish even before trying to approach an agent or publisher. “My subject is regional, and although I believe it has universal appeal, I knew it would be hard to sell to a New York- or San Francisco-centric audience,” she explains.

Miss Saltsman is delighted with the end result, “The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook,” which she estimates cost her between $30,000 and $50,000 to produce. “Writing and self-publishing is not for the faint of heart,” Miss Saltsman says, “but the satisfaction and rewards are great.” Her book is filled with recipes such as farfalle with five herbs and cherry tomatoes; and persimmon, pomegranate and pecan salad. Both recipes use local Santa Monica Farmers’ Market ingredients.

Self-publishing is not the future for most cookbooks, says Miss Josephy, “because publishers need to publish new books every year, and we are always interested in really clever, totally unique ideas.”

One example of a unique concept is the “Cake Mix Doctor” by Anne Byrn, a former newspaper food critic. More than 1.6 million copies are in print. Miss Byrn and her publisher, Workman, have followed it with four more books of a similar genre, including “The Dinner Doctor,” “Chocolate From the Cake Mix Doctor,” “Cupcakes From the Cake Mix Doctor” and the newest, “What Can I Bring? Cookbook,” to be published this year.

Literary consultant Harriet Bell (www.bellbookandhandle.com) offers this advice to would-be cookbook authors:

• Write a top-notch proposal, which you carefully proofread. Be sure it has no spelling or grammatical errors.

• Create a great title that is memorable and a subtitle that explains the title.

• Do your homework. Research other books that are similar to yours.

• Come up with your own marketing plan. Explain to an agent or publisher how you can help sell your book.

• You have only one shot to impress. Agents read 100 proposals or more per week, so try to make yours stand out. For example, send a box of cookies along with your dessert cookbook proposal or a thermos of chowder along with your soup cookbook proposal.

Should all else fail, “Get a TV show. Or get someone who has a TV show to put you on their show, agree to appear at your book signings and give you a rave blurb for the book’s jacket,” says literary agent Alice Fried Martell. She is only half-joking. “A public platform or a truly creative, fresh idea is key,” she says.

Farfalle with five herbs and cherry tomatoes

This recipe is from “The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook” by Amelia Saltsman.

1 pound farfalle, fusilli or other pasta shape that will trap the herbs

Salt

Water

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, slivered

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or ½ jalapeno chili, minced

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 pint small, ripe red cherry tomatoes, stemmed

½ cup lightly packed fresh Italian parsley leaves

½ cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves

½ cup lightly packed fresh spearmint leaves

3 tablespoons snipped wild fennel fronds or 2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill

1/3 cup snipped fresh chives

Cook pasta in a generous amount of boiling salted water until just al dente. When pasta is about half-cooked, heat oil in a small pot over medium-low heat for a minute or two until hot but not so hot that ingredients sizzle when they are added to it.

Remove from heat, stir in garlic, pepper flakes or chili, and 1 teaspoon salt and let stand 5 minutes.

When pasta is ready, drain and place in a warmed serving bowl with tomatoes and parsley, basil, spearmint, fennel or dill, and chives. Pour warm oil mixture over all, toss well and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Shaved ham on cheddar shortbread with apple jam

This recipe was adapted from “Talk With Your Mouth Full: The Hearty Boys Cookbook.”

2 cups all-purpose flour

1½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1½ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon baking powder

Pinch cayenne

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled

Sour cream

½pound good quality ham, thinly sliced and torn in 1-by-2-inch pieces

Apple jam (recipe follows)

Flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Put flour, cheddar cheese, salt, pepper, sugar, baking powder and cayenne into bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Cut butter into small bits and add to flour all at once. Pulse just until dough begins to come together.

Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead until all butter is combined. Divide dough in half and roll each piece into a log roughly 1 inch to 2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Slice each log into 1/4-inch rounds. Place rounds on a baking sheet and bake in top half of preheated 350-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and let cool 10 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

To assemble, put a small dollop of sour cream on each shortbread. Fold a piece of ham and place it on top of sour cream. Top with apple jam and garnish with a parsley leaf. Makes 24 appetizers.

APPLE JAM:

½ cup apple cider vinegar

½ cup sugar

1 Granny Smith apple, cored, peeled and cut in ½-inch dice

1/4 teaspoon allspice

Pinch salt

Put vinegar and sugar in medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir to dissolve sugar, then add apple, allspice and salt. Cook until consistency of jelly, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and refrigerate until ready to use. Makes 1 cup.

White chocolate risotto

This recipe was adapted from “Talk With Your Mouth Full: The Hearty Boys Cookbook.” It’s funny that when we think of rice pudding we always think of long-grain white rice — right? Arborio is higher in starch than white rice, so it’s naturally creamier, which makes it a no-brainer for rice pudding. This is a recipe you can make your own with the addition of different dried fruits or even flavoring agents such as rose water or almond extract.

6 cups whole milk, plus additional if needed

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Peel of 1 orange

½ cup dried tart red cherries

½ cup brandy

Water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups Arborio rice

8 ounces good-quality white chocolate, chopped

Orange ganache (recipe follows)

1 can mandarin orange segments, drained, for garnish

White chocolate shavings for garnish

Pour 6 cups milk into a large saucepan and add sugar, nutmeg and orange peel. Set pan over high heat and bring milk to a simmer before reducing heat to low. Keep warm. Put cherries into a small saucepan with brandy and 1/4 cup water and simmer until cherries plump up, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add rice and stir well to coat. Add 1 cup hot milk to rice and stir constantly until most of liquid has been absorbed. Continue to add milk by the cupful, stirring constantly, until rice is still firm but not crunchy to the bite. This will take 15 to 20 minutes. (If rice is still crunchy after that, heat more milk and add it by the half-cupfuls.)

Stir in white chocolate and cherries and continue to cook until chocolate has melted completely. Remove pan from heat and set aside. When cool, chill it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.

For a dramatic presentation, serve risotto in martini glasses, using an ice-cream scoop to distribute. Drizzle with orange ganache and garnish with mandarin orange segments and white chocolate shavings. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

ORANGE GANACHE:

8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons Triple Sec or other orange liqueur

This is the cheater’s way of making ganache. Place chocolate and cream in a glass or plastic bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute, then remove and stir. If necessary, return ganache to microwave for 30 seconds.

As you stir, chocolate should incorporate into the cream, creating a smooth texture. Add Triple Sec or other liqueur and stir well until combined. Serve immediately.

Francine Segan is the author of “Shakespeare’s Kitchen,” “The Philosopher’s Kitchen” and “Movie Menus.”

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