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The Perfect Cookbook

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In previous conversations with others in the Baking Forum, you've mentioned some of the problems you've had with having your books published--limitations due to space, etc. In a perfect world, what would your ideal baking book include? Have you ever had so many problems with a publisher or editor that you've wanted to pull out of a project? And what helpful advice would you give a wanna-be cookbook writer (I'm not one, but I'm just curious about the business-side of such things) for dealing with publishers and editors (aside from plying them with samples of your baked goods :biggrin: )?

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Just to clarify, Prasantrin, I think when I was talking about needing to limit the length of a book, it was in relation to the costs of including three kinds of measurements -- volume, weight and metric.

I have never been on the business end of publishing, so I'm not at all savvy about costs, but I do know a little from being on the editorial side -- and both sides are closely tied together and the primary tie that binds is money. When a publishing house accepts an author's proposal, they figure out, at the start, how long the book will be (based on the proposal and whether or not it will have photographs) and what it will cost. Lots of cost projections are made based on this, so it's not easy to decide mid-project that you need more space for anything, from measures and weights to sidebars, anecdotes and more recipes.

As for projects that I've wanted to pull out of -- I've been lucky in that there haven't been any. Some projects have been more easy-going than others, but I've never wanted to call it quits on any. That said, Baking, From My Home to Yours, which I did with a new publisher, Houghton Mifflin, and a new editor, Rux Martin, was the smoothest going, most enjoyable book project I've ever worked on. Of course, I loved writing the book, but the editing and the production process were so caringly and professionally handled that it made the hard parts (like editing) easy to do. This is my ninth book -- maybe nine is the charm!

It's not easy to give pithy advice to would-be cookbook writers, but here are just a couple of pointers:

Choose a topic that you're absolutely passionate about -- liking something isn't good enough. You'll do your best work -- and editors will be most interested in you -- if you're writing about what you know and care about most.

Know what else is out there -- when you submit your proposal, you should know what else has been published in the area you're interested in and you should be able to explain why what you are proposing will stand out (and above) what is now in the field.

Write a really complete proposal. Include information about what else is in the field, why your book is different and why you're the person to write the book. Include a good case for why your book is important and give as much sample material as possible, including a table of contents, of course, and as complete a recipe list as you can put together. A good proposal will not only show editors what you can do and want to do, but it will help you write the book -- you'll have done a lot of the tough "think work" ahead of time.

And, prasantrin, while you may have added "plying them with samples" to be funny -- it's always a great idea! Not surprisingly, people who work on cookbooks love food!

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