Workshop - Write a Cookbook Proposal



Sally Ekus
Literary Agent
The Lisa Ekus Group

Corinne Fay

Sally: Welcome to "How to Write a Cookbook Proposal and Snag an Agent." I hope you guys brought some ideas so we can give you some feedback. So, who here wants to write a cookbook? Who here has an agent? Who knows what a literary agent is? I'm going to give the nuts and bolts on how to write a cookbook and what an agent does. Corinne handles all our social media and marketing.

Corinne: Sally and I both started at Lisa Ekus Group in 2009, Sally represents a huge range of authors from first time authors to seasoned chefs.
She takes great pride in guiding authors from start to finish. Sally has been to Vietnam twice, where she developed her love of Pho.
As a child Sally shared a dinner table with Julia Child.

Sally: So this is exactly what a literary agent does. Agents are gatekeepers, we are the go-between your publisher and your book. There's different kind of agents. I'm a literary agent, there's spokesperson agents and talent agents. The commission goes off the top of all projects, and that includes advance and royalties.

So, why agents and publishers love bloggers. I want to talk about audience voice and platforms. You guys all have a unique voice. Limiting your voice to pages of a book, and editing your voice can be a challenge. The audience you guys have is a really engaged audience. An engaged audience is essential. Are your readers making comments, are you engaging with them? Ultimately you want your readers to read your book. Platform is no longer preferred, it is required.

Corrine: Does anyone have any questions so far?

Audience Member: What was the three types of agents again?
Answer: Literary, spokesperson and talent.

Sally: Platform is about numbers in many ways. Platform is social media numbers. It's about audience and hits per month. They are going to ask for unique hits. 20,000 twitter followers is no longer translating to 20,000 book sales. You want to be mindful about the editorial calendar for your blog, you have to continue to write content for your blog while you're continuing with the calendar for your manuscript.

Do you have time to write a cookbook? You want to think of the book as an extension of your blog, it's not the end all. People are writing because they want to be heard, not because they want a book deal.

Here's what we hear all the time. "Everyone thinks I should write a book." I'm sure they do, it's a long road to get there. You need to write a book if you have something to say, and you have a strong voice. There are unique ideas left, your approach to writing the book is going to be what's different, not the subject. You are going to have to champion getting this book out there. Your publisher will support you and get it out there, but only for about 3 months and then they have to focus on the next

A few things you SHOULD say. I'm going to talk about P.O.D. (point of differentiation.) Having a POD is essential. Publishers and agents can hear why you want to write a book, all agents are different. If you're ready to collaborate we want to hear what you are going to do and why.

Do you need an agent and do you know what an agent does? While every agency is different, there's some general information we all do. Before pitching we're going to go over the pitch with you, we're going to go over the creative plan and timeline. We'll advise you on how to develop your career and how the cookbook will align with your goals. Feedback is my nicer word for rejections. We get a lot of feedback.

All of the topics include:
Advance, payout, rights, style, format, promotion and publicity.

This tells you what an agent will help you with, and what it all comes down to is finding the right fit. You're going to be working with your agent and editor for months. There's very elaborate ways of communicating and each author has their own style. Finding the right people to write a book with is essential. You have to find the right fit. I cannot stress that enough. A good agent is going to support you for a long time to come.

Audience Member: I'm just wondering if all publishing companies only work with agents, or do some make direct proposals?
Answer: Most publishers work directly with agents. There are some exceptions, you can submit a proposal directly, For the most part publishers look for proposals written by an agent because they're more polished.

Sally: In the past 4 years that I've been working I've booked 35 book deals and most of those are with bloggers. We put a tremendous amount of book deals with first time authors.

Corrine: So the Lisa Ekus Group is a full service culinary agency. It was founded 31 years ago, it started as a PR agency focusing on cookbooks.
Lisa works with everyone from Gordon Ramsey to people that just want to tweak their YouTube skills. As you know, we also do Literary Representation. We work mostly with
culinary non-fiction.

Sally: How to snag an agent, you can look in the acknowledgement section of your favorite books, ask someone you know that may have written a book. Present a query letter with who you are and what you're about. A less traditional approach is our agents held a twitter contest, we did an open call for concepts. The winner won one representation from our agency. Also just keep in mind that there's a fine line between passion and aggressive follow up.

We typically say 4-6 weeks but we try to respond sooner because we know you're waiting. If there's a particular agent you want to work with, you can let them know you're submitting exclusively because that is meaningful. It shows them you want to work with them.

Audience Member: In terms of submitting the query letter and proposal, is it better to send snail mail?
Answer: It's important to look at the guidelines, but the contest is what's more important. Sometimes an email is acceptable.

Audience Member: How long should a query letter be?
Answer: About a paragraph.

Sally: What is a proposal? It's a word document. Don't try to complicate it. An agent might change it to a pdf. When a proposal is ready, you're going to come up with a list of publishers you want to work with. Then the proposal will go from your agent to the editor. Then it will be passed through the editorial department in-house and also gets emailed to sales and marketing. They will look to see if it's sellable. You want the
whole house excited about your proposal.

Everything that should be included in your proposal should be -
Title page, proposal TOC (with page numbers), Concept/Overview, Author Biography, Markets for the Book (POD), Promo Plan, Competition, TOC for the book, chapter summaries, Complete Sample Chapter (with recipes - that work!)

All of this information is on our site,

I turn to the competition section first when I read a proposal to see if this person has done their homework. At the end of the competition section, list why you're different. The table of contents is the skeleton of the book. You're going to build the whole book around that. I think writing a proposal can be the hardest part of the book writing process.

The complete sample chapter is where you are going to show your recipes, your voice. Make sure all the recipes in this chapter are tested. The agents and sales people may test your recipes so we want to be sure they work. Recipe testing in and of itself is like a whole other job. It's a very specific process, you want to pick a solid amount of people. Send them specific forms to fill out.

Corrine: Something to keep in mind, recipes work differently in various parts of the country, so make sure your testers aren't only in one region.

Sally: Also if you have a specific vision for your book, include that. The proposal should include the design for the book within the proposal if that's what your vision is.

Audience Member: A lot of bloggers are self taught, photography, writing etc. Is that something we want to include.
Answer: Sometimes authors will name books they want theirs to be similar to aesthetically. For the most part it would be an extension of what your blog looks like. If you want to provide your own photography and you want to include that. Say that. If you have a photographer you want to work with, say that in your proposal.

Audience member: An extension of the photography question, it's not someone I want to work with, it's my husband. Is that something to present as a package deal?
Answer: That's something you want to list in your proposal, the publisher pays the advance to the author and they pay the photographer, some publishers pay the photographer separately. Photography is an important part of your proposal. Some publishers make the author responsible for finding the photographer. Then the author has to work back that money. It's tough.

Audience Member: On average how long is this proposal?
Answer: Ideally if you can keep it short, that's great. On average, 10 pages. If you have 2 pages of kick-ass marketing material, I love that!

Audience Member: I heard that some publishers that work with bloggers they expect you to provide your own photography.
Answer: if you can position your photography as book quality, then yes publishers love that. A blogger that takes their own pictures is different than a blogger who's going
to provide their own photos.

Sally: The best deal I negotiated, can turn into the worst and what I learned from it. Most of the time publishers want to see 98% new content for the book. The publisher is not going to be interested if you have no new content. The numbers, the platform, the concept was all there. But the blogger wasn't willing to recycle new content.

Audience Member: Did it come down to lack of time for this person?
Answer: No, from the beginning I explained you are going to have to create new content for the book. They knew this going into this. It came down to how many fan favorites they wanted to include.

Sally: You really only want to include about 10% recycled content. So all of this is going over why you want to do a book. It's an extension of your brand.

Advances range from $5,000-50,000 and there are the six figures. Having realistic expectations is a big deal. A book deal is not a retirement plan, it's a career extension. There are amazing agents out there, we have a list of recommended agents. Editors come and go, publishers sometimes come and go. But your agent will be there for years to come.

I'd love to open this up to a pitch session. If you have a proposal ready, you can email me. When you pitch, make it two minutes or less, and I will cut you off. It's our opinion on the industry right now.

Here's a list of resources that you may find useful while writing both your proposal and your book.

We're going to ask people who have ideas for a pitch to come up.

Audience Member: Hi, my idea is with Craft beer, and cooking with it. Cooking with the beer yourself. I guess the POD would be, my boyfriend and I, our relationship has built around Craft Beer. Cooking and baking with it.
Answer: So, when you pitch always say who you are and what your blog is. Drink books themselves are a tough sell. Baking books sell like wildfire. If you could hone that pitch a little tighter, map out what the recipes would be like. Are you a craft beer person? Do you have an audience that's interested in that subject?

Audience Member: Hi, I'm Gayle Squires, my blog is kosherpandabear. I'm thinking more of a food memoir. I'd like to share my story and my travels and what brought me to kosher. I also have a medical degree and I'm not practicing.
Answer: I would say you have a really fascinating story, I'd love to read more. I think it's a niche audience and maybe you're interested in a food narrative. It goes over
the story of the food and how you got there, and also where you're going.

Audience Member: Hi I'm Jean, my idea I call it a dinner party cookella. It's like a novela, creative non-fiction story with 5 dishes.
Answer: If you're in the initial stages of figuring this out, you probably want to continue to figure it out. Is this something that can translate to a book. A great idea on the blog most of the time doesn't translate to a book.

Audience Member: My concept is a blog that shows men how to cook meals for their loved ones. It's called cook this, get laid. It's a racy title.
Answer: If the content support the quirkiness of the title, who is the target audience. Is it men, or women buying the book for the men? I would hone in on the marketing section of the proposal. I'd say really take a look at your competition, so just make sure yours is unique. Also, have a descriptive subtitle for search.

Audience Member: Hi, I'm Puerto Rican and by accident by putting a lot of Puerto Rican recipes on my site I've found interest. I'd be interested in putting authentic recipes and focusing on the second generation that have a grandma that makes the traditional recipes and they didn't learn how to cook but want to. Also some recipes that are based on those and developed from them. I've found most Latin cookbooks are Mexican based and not Caribbean.
Answer: I agree, I've found there's not much Caribbean style books, it's an effective pitch and a good idea. I think that would be a stand out, I can tell there's a story there and I'm intrigued.

Audience Member: I write a blog mostly focused on plant based and vegetarian. My concept is badass Asian sushi recipes. Making it vegan plant based sushi recipes.
Answer: I'm intrigued, it's not an idea that a publisher is going to say OMG I have to make that, but it's very focused and there's an audience for that.


In order to comment on, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.