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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.

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

Rye Flour Classification: Untangling the Mess


Rye flours and meals
Rye flours (top row, left to right): white , light, medium, wholegrain, dark
Rye meal (bottom row, left to right): rye kernels, coarse, medium, fine

Note: This article first appeared in the Fall, 2017 issue of Bread Lines, the quarterly newsletter of the Bread Baker’s Guild of America.

When I buy a bag of wheat flour, I pretty much know what I’m getting. We’re a wheat-eating nation, and although there are no formal standards for wheat flour grading, the milling industry has reached a marketing consensus that puts everyone on the same page. So no matter who milled it, I can be confident that my bag of bread flour will contain 12-13% protein and 0.50-0.53%ash, my H&R/AP flour will come in at10.5-12% protein and 0.52-0.53% ash, my soft wheat cake flour will measure at 8.0-9.5 percent protein and 0.42-0.45% ash, and so on down the line for any other flour I might need. There are few, if any, surprises.

Rye is another matter entirely. Keep Reading

On Retarding Rye Doughs

For the first time since I began baking rye breads eight or nine years ago, I recently — like yesterday — learned of bakers whose rye bread recipes call for retardation — Andrew Whitley (Bread Matters) and Charel Scheele (Old World Breads).  That surprised me, because no traditional recipe I’ve ever come across — and I’ve seen upwards of 200 — calls for refrigerating the dough, especially in high-percentage ryes. Keep Reading

Why Rye Bread?



I grew up eating rye bread — or at least what I thought of as rye bread — as the grandchild of eastern European Jewish immigrants. However, I didn’t start baking with rye until I began exploring my culinary roots, an exploration that ultimately came to fruition in Inside the Jewish Bakery.

During my research, I encountered the dense, dark rye breads that my grandparents’ generation subsisted on, but which had already disappeared from the Jewish bakeries of my childhood. I was hooked: My quest led me to the rye breads of northern, central and eastern Europe — largely unknown in the U.S. — where I found flavors, textures and baking challenges I never imagined existed. Keep Reading