Vocation: Behind the Jacket: The Collaborative Process behind Publishing a Cookbook



Kim O'Donnel (moderator)
Cheryl Sternman Rule
Lisa Fain
Paulette Phlipot


Cheryl and Paulette worked together on Ripe
Lisa is the author of The Homesick Texan

Paulette: Photographer specializing in food, travel and lifestyle. Not a writer, but loves working on cookbooks. None of the cookbooks she got to work on were about her passion -- photographing fruits and vegetables. Rather than waiting to be asked to photograph someone's fruit and vegetable book, she asked Cheryl to join forces with her on the book she's always wanted to work on. Wanted the book to be photo-heavy, but needed content, text, recipes. Wouldn't have been able to do it without teaming up with and collaborating with Cheryl.

Cheryl: Cheryl and Paulette met at IACP in the lobby in 2008. iPhones were new, but Paulette had one and used it to show Cheryl her portfolio. She had wanted to write about school food (and agents told her nobody would care), and had never imagined a produce book being her first. She was open to the serendipity of meeting Paulette at IACP, and that's how the book came to be.

Lisa: started food blogging in 2006, and agents started to contact her a year or two later. Wasn't until 2010 that she found an agent she really "clicked" with and was comfortable with. Need to work with an agent that you really like, trust, and has the same work in mind for you. Many agents approached her to write a memoir, but she held out until she found one who wanted her to write a cookbook (which is what she wanted to do)

Kim: Difference between working on a book v. weekly magazine editor?

Lisa: Time frames and deadlines are different. For magazines, editor is more specific. When working with book publishers, it is more collaborative, there is a team of editors that help shape your book. It is intense, but there is more author input and work -- you make the changes requested, take their advice, make the cuts -- you get to see what is essentially the final before it is published. With a magazine, you turn your piece in and they may ask you to make a few edits, but more often than not, you don't see how the piece really turned out until it is published.

Kim: Collaboration is for a better goal. It isn't about ego, it is about the end result.

Cheryl: You are giving some things up when you collaborate. Control, royalties, advance, etc. But the benefits you get on the flip side can be greater than the sum of its parts.

Kim: What Paulette and Cheryl have done is very different than how many cookbooks go. Publisher may choose photographer or finding photographer can be author responsibility.

Lisa: I photographed my book myself. I'm very independent, and therefore not the best person to collaborate with. I had to step back and learn to let go. But there was some collaboration at the beginning with the art department on types of images, etc.

Paulette: Wanted full-page photos of produce images. Wanted a photo for every recipe. I am very visually driven and had a very strong concept in mind, which can be challenging for some publishers who want to have more control. It went smoothly and turned out fine.

Cheryl: Benefit of working as a team is that you can "good cop, bad cop" it. Paulette would deal with editor and designer on issues related to images. If problems arose, Cheryl could step in and say "I know this isn't my area of expertise, but I think we need to do this to meet Paulette's vision"and vice versa with the writing. The other person helps take the heat.

Lisa: Literary agents can help take the heat off you and help you with negotiations when you aren't happy with how things are going.

Question from Audience: How does the writer-photographer relationship traditionally work?

Paulette: Writer has been working with editor on text for awhile, and when they are largely done, they bring in the photographer. Can be difficult to catch up, and photographer has a relationship more with editor/publisher than the writer. What was great about Ripe was that she was involved from the very beginning.

Follow-Up from Audience: What about photos that don't correspond to the recipe?

Cheryl: I think a lot of it has to do with the budget and time constraints. Photographers typically work for hire and are only pulled in for a certain number of days or certain number of photos.

Paulette: I got royalties on Ripe, but that isn't typical. We faced a lot more costs up-front

Cheryl: I could never have afforded PP in a traditional arrangement -- the book would have been $50 because of all the art. I took a hit in sharing royalties, but it is worth it for getting such a beautiful book that I am proud of. It is a better book than I could have made in a traditional arrangement.

Comment from Audience: Publisher may want you to take your own photos to make it look more authentic, and to save costs.

Kim: Collaboration takes all forms -- with photographers, editors, copy editor, production manager, agent, publicist, etc. This is true for traditional and non-traditional routes of publishing. Can we talk about pros and cons of collaboration?

Lisa: You do have to give up control. You have to realize there are things that other people are better at than you are -- and this can also be a pro. It helps make your product better and stronger. Way more positives than negatives unless you end up in a bad collaboration. Be assertive about what you need, but also be pleasant and gracious. Don't say "no" immediately

Cheryl: Pros: Somebody to help you make decisions. Somebody to help keep you honest. You can each focus energies on what it is you are good at. A project can move forward even if you aren't actively working on it because the other person is still doing their part. When we got the first pass back, we went through the book page-by-page and found things that needed to be fixed that the other person might have missed on their own. Cons: Have the advance on royalties (though this is very unusual for anything other than co-authors). Accurately portraying to the media what the nature of the partnership was -- it isn't just Cheryl's book, it is Cheryl and Paulette's book.

Question from Audience: Do you get extra royalties for taking photos yourself?

Lisa: No. Either the author pays for it (and therefore saves money by doing it themselves) or the publisher pays an outside photographer.

Cheryl: This is why you need an agent.

Lisa: I don't think doing the photography myself made my advance any larger. But I did save myself money by doing it myself instead of paying a photographer out of my own pocket.

Question from Audience: It is all relative, and digital has made it that way. I am a photographer and only get a byline if I agree to take a lower payment. Publishers are sometimes paying people less to do their own photography because it cuts out a prop stylist, food stylist, etc.

Audience: Bruce Shaw, Harvard Common Press. We do things differently by covering half the costs of the photography, and paying for the other half out of the author's royalty account.

Audience: Editor. Recommend having an agent, though I think you can self-publish or approach editor without an agent. Be very forthright in asking questions of editor and publisher. You don't know what you don't know, so be aware of that. Don't be a pest, but ask forthright questions from your editor and agent. Just don't ask multiple times.

Kim: For my first book, there were so many things I thought I knew or thought we had agreed on, but hadn't. That's when I brought my agent in. There are a lot of nuts and bolts and technicalities that the author doesn't know about because it happens in the agent's office.

Audience: Decided to self-publish, and everyone told her to get an agent. The before and after was amazingly different, and she definitely recommends getting an agent.

Lisa: My editor retired. An agent is consistent and will move with you from (publishing) house-to-house-to-house.

Question from Audience: Pros/cons of doing blog-to-book.

Cheryl: I already had a blog before the book, and there is a bit of a branding issue -- they aren't necessarily related. Advantage of blog-to-cookbook is solid branding (though there may be a brand-to-name translation issue). You don't have to be tied to doing a book based on your blog.

Question from Audience: Can you talk about self-publishing and apps?

Kim: Self-published a book in 2007 as an experiment on blurb.com. A lot has changed in 5 years -- the books you can produce through self-publishing are very impressive now. I was really clear on why I wanted to do it -- I wanted to use it as a calling card, to see what the response would be to this itty-bitty book. I knew I was going to have to market the hell out of it all by myself. I used it when I proposed a book -- showed that I had gone through the steps of publishing a book, know the work involved, etc. Was recently approached by two people who want to collaborate and weren't sure whether to do self-publishing or not. Self-publishing: you'd have to raise the money ($20,000 or so). Traditional publishing: get an advance, etc. Know why you are publishing the book.

Lisa: Have heard Amanda Hesser talk about the Food52 holiday app. When it comes to publishing books and digital products, the publishing company would bring publicity. Self-publishing, you cover the costs + the publicity, etc.

Cheryl: Decide how much you want to do -- do you want to take on all the roles: publicist, editor, etc. You can hire someone to do these pieces, but you will have to pay them yourself.

Audience: I published my own app, and like it over an ebook because it is more interactive. Hired a developer, and it was expensive. Luckily the app developer wanted to break into food and cooking apps and gave them a discount, but it was still a significant amount of money. How do I do the PR for it? Do I hire somebody?

Cheryl: yes. That is what they specialize in, they know what they are doing.

Audience: How much of a platform/audience do you need? To publishers take that into consideration?

Lisa: Yes. They hope you are going to promote your book to your audience. It depends on the publicist -- some may send out a bunch of review copies, while others may have you do media training, etc.

Cheryl: Publicist has different set of contacts than you do personally, and they take care of shipping the books as well. I recommend that you use your publicist, but that you are also the point-person with your personal media contacts.

Kim: The publishing industry are more likely to be reactive than proactive. In my experience, it has helped me to be the proactive author and has helped my book do well. The publicist has been assigned at least a half dozen other titles at the same time as your's -- you are not the only one on your desk, so you need to be proactive and creative.

Lisa: No one is going to love your book as much as you do.

Audience: Last year, I self-published a book through Book Baby. Do I want to include a copy of the book when I propose it to publishers?

Lisa: I would get an agent and ask -- they would know and can help you. The book can be your calling card.

Cheryl: Agent also knows how different publishers like to receive your proposals, who to contact, etc.

Bruce Shaw: There are two great groups on Facebook that address many of these issues. Cookbook Friends and Food Blogger Friends. They are extremely active, highly intelligent, not self-promotional groups.

Kim: MagPlus is the new service that is out that is doing iPad apps.

Question from Audience: How do you find an agent?

Lisa: Agents are very specific. Read books like the one you want write, look at the dedication for the editors and agents. Approach agents who do what you want to do. Use Literary Marketplace/ Writer's Market. Talk to other authors you know and you may get an introduction, address or the like.

Kim: Call agents and ask the same questions of all of them. Go with who you feel the most comfortable with.

Cheryl: Get a personal introduction and find out if that person is right for you.

Audience: What about finding a publicist? Some are very expensive.

Kim: I haven't had to, but again, ask people you know who they have used, etc. Use the Cookbook Friends Facebook group, etc.

Audience: There are a lot of business schools with students looking for practice. Hire a student as an intern for cheap to help yourself and to give them some experience.


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