Thoughts on How to Sell a Cookbook

Recently, someone asked me for advice on how to get their cookbook published. On rereading my response, I thought that others might find it helpful, so here goes:

Above all else, publishing is a business and, like any business, publishers are intereste3d in selling enough product to cover their expenses and generate a profit. Thing is, in publishing, as in movies and other industries, all the costs have to be paid before the first sale, which heightens risk. And, like Hollywood, most books don’t make much, if any, money for publishers, so they’re dependent on blockbusters or well-known quantities like Peter Reinhart, Ina Garten, Yotam Ottolenghi, etc.  Obvious? Of course, but also something  prospective authors tend to forget.
So with that in mind, here are my thoughts on getting yourself published by appealing to a publisher’s business/profitability concerns:

Subject matter: Propose something that no one has done before (e.g., my book The Rye Baker, which no one in the US had written about), OR a subject on which you are an undisputed and widely recognized expert OR a book that adds significant new information or novel approach to an existing topic; For me, the perfect book is one that will make it onto Costco’s book tables.

Branding: Publishers are looking for name recognition in the marketplace, so the piece about celebrity chef, TV program, blogger, etc, is accurate, but it’s also not the only way, especially if your subject matter is compelling enough. I was fortunate enough to have some street cred because of Inside the Jewish Bakery, which was published by a tiny nickel-and-dime publisher, but which won an IACP cookbook award in 2012. Since then, I’ve used The Rye Baker and my expertise in rye to teach classes, give workshops and get myself invited to present at a variety of conferences. I’ve also become active in the BBGA, to the point where I’ve just taken over the chairmanship from Jeff Yankellow — which again will only expand my name recognition.

Promotion: Publishers these days have limited promotion budgets (except for giant tell-all guaranteed blockbusters like Michelle Obama and James Comey). They want to see not only a willingness to go out and promote your book, but some idea of how you propose to do it: blog? personal appearance? web page? email? media? Remember, publishers want sales and need to know that you’re gonna reach out to your market.

Deliverability: Your book needs to be readable and entertaining, and if it’s a cookbook, the recipes need to be clear and accessible. Here’s where the proposal is critical, because it’s going to show not only whether you’re a good writer with a unique voice, but also your knowledge of your target market, competing titles, and your ability to organize and present your information. Your proposal will also give the publisher an idea of both cost (length in words, typically 50,000-70,000, number of photographs and drawings) and time frame (how much time from signing your contract you’ll need to deliver your manuscript). There are a bunch of decent proposal templates on the web; you might start with a Google search.

The Payoff: Most authors don’t make a lot of money from their books, but a well-written and engaging book that presents new information or old information packaged in a new way, can help to raise your profile and the profile of your business, and establish you as an authority on your subject matter. For me, The Rye Baker produced both PR benefits and business benefits by increasing the rye sales of my flour business ( and also established my bona fides as America’s rye authority, which in turn has enabled me to put together and lead rye bakery tours to Europe.

The key to all of this is to recognize that not only is your publisher a business, but that you are as well, and that every piece of what you do should be related to every other with one single goal: increase your sales and your profits.

Carrot-Potato Tarts/Sklandrauši (Latvia)

Rye %: 100%
Stages: Straight dough
Leaven: None
Start to Finish: 1 hour
Hands-on Time: 40 minutes
Yield: About 1½ dozen three-inch tarts

During my first full day in Riga, I had lunch with Ieva, who helped me plan the 2018 Baltic Rye Tour. We met at a traditional Latvian restaurant nestled by a cobblestoned street and surrounded by 18th century buildings in the Old City. As we discussed the itinerary, which centered on Riga and southeastern Latvia, she said, “You should really go to Kurzeme (Latvia’s western province). They make these wonderful rye tarts filled with carrots.” I sipped my beer and filed the thought away for further consideration. Keep Reading

Finnish Malt Bread/Mallas Leipää

Rye %: 51%
Stages: Scald, Final dough
Leaven: Instant yeast
Start to Finish: 4-4½ hours
Hands-on Time: 30 minutes
Yield: Three 1¾ lb/800 g loaves

One of the breads I discovered on Baltic Rye Tour 2018 was this simple and lovely Finnish malt bread. I first tasted it at the Wi-Box Bakery in Raseborg, on Finland’s southwestern coast, where Swedish influence is very strong. It was an immediate hit, not just with me, but with all 18 members of our jolly band of bread nerds. Keep Reading

Reflections: Baltic Rye Tour 2018

It’s been a couple of weeks since my return from The Rye Baker Baltic Rye Tour 2018 – enough time for the impressions and memories to mellow and integrate and for me to gain some perspective on a whirlwind of sights, sounds, tastes and human interactions. In all, we were 18; most of us dedicated bread nerds, both professionals and home bakers, united in our desire to experience rye on its home turf and hungry to expand our knowledge of the unruly grain. Keep Reading

Experience Baltic Rye at its Source

On September 25, 2018, I’ll be leading a group of up to 20 bakers and bread enthusiasts on a 12-day bakers’ tour of coastal Finland and Latvia. We’ll explore the cities and countryside, visit farms and mills, meet with national bakers’ associations. And, most important, we’ll learn from the bakers who produce some of the world’s finest rye breads. For details, visit the tour website. Keep Reading

Palanga Rye/Ruginė Duona iš Palangos (Lithuania)

Rye %: 90%
Stages: Sourdough sponge, Scald, Scald-sponge (Opara), Yeast sponge, Final dough
Leaven: Rye sour culture, Instant yeast
Start to Finish: 24-30 hours
Hands-on Time: 45-50 minutes
Yield: One 3¼ lb/1.46 kg loaf

My weakness for Baltic rye breads took over when I found this recipe in a Polish blog. Just to set the scene, Palanga is a coastal resort in western Lithuania, on the shores of the Baltic whose white sand beaches attract tourists from all over Europe, especially Poles and Germans. I suspect that this bread, which is lighter in both color and flavor that the other Baltic ryes I’ve encountered, is intended to appeal to the tastes of the town’s economically important summer visitors. Instead of the wholegrain rye flour that’s commonly used in Baltic breads, this one uses Type 1150, a much lighter blend that can be approximated by mixing 2/3 medium rye and 1/3 white rye. Keep Reading

Sourdough Danish Rye/Rugbrød på surdej (Denmark)

Rye %: 84%
Stages: Stage 1 sponge, Stage 2 sponge, Final dough
Leaven: Rye sour culture
Start to Finish: 26-30 hours
Hands-on Time: 35-45 minutes
Yield: Two 2¾ lb./1.25 kg loaves

The Danes are known for their rye breads, of which there are dozens of variations, all of which are called “Rugbrød.” Most are sweet and dense, loaded with seeds and coarse rye meal to provide both richness and a satisfyingly rustic coarse mouth feel.

This one is a different. Keep Reading

Guest Post: Why Am I Marketing Baltic Rye Bread?

by John Melngailis – Partner, Black Rooster Food, LLC

I first met John Melngailis at Bread Furst, James Beard winner Mark Furstenburg’s Washington DC bakery. Mark had been kind enough to arrange for me to appear at the bakery to publicize
The Rye Baker, and invited John, whose love of his native Latvian rye breads prompted him to found Black Rooster Food and start baking them commercially. Needless to say, John and I hit it off immediately, spending a good part of the morning talking about the marvels of Baltic rye. He was also kind enough to bring me a loaf of each of his breads — dense, sweet-sour rupjmaize, and a triangular loaf of his fruit-and-nut holiday bread, both of which were extraordinary. So when John sent me this essay on his relationship with the bread he loves, I simply had to share; it’s a fascinating read. Keep Reading

Vitebsk Rye/Vitebskiy Chleb (Belarus)

Rye %: 100%
Stages: Sponge, Scald, Scald-sponge, Final dough
Leaven: Rye sour culture
Start to Finish: 11 hours
Hands-on Time: 40-50 minutes
Yield: One 2¼ lb/1.0 kg loaf

I’d been meaning to make Vitebsk Rye for some time – ever since I found it in Mike Zhuravel’s magnificent Russian-language bread blog, O Khlebye. The result made me wonder why I’d waited so long: this is a truly splendid Belarusian rye bread.

Keep Reading