Writing a cookbook was only a dream, until it became a reality.

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to write a cookbook

I remember as a little girl, I would sit with my mom looking through Redbook and Better Homes & Gardens, ripping out recipes I liked the looks of and then carefully cutting out the photo and instructions and gluing them on index cards I kept organized in a little recipe box. 

As a young wife years ago, I collected all my husband's family's favorite recipes and put them together in a booklet that I gifted everyone with the following Christmas.

I've taken cooking classes at various local restaurants and of course binge watch The Food Network with the best of them. 

I've even shared a few of my favorite recipes here on my blog. 

The Dream of Writing a Cookbook

But actually writing a bona fide cookbook? That was nothing more than a pipe dream or unreachable bucket list item. 

Nothing that I thought would ever really come to fruition in a million years.  But it was nice to dream about.

So I guess the story I am about to tell you must be a fairy tale then, because I have a cookbook coming out on February 15th! Yup, for real! And not just any cookbook. My cookbook is being published by Harper Horizon, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers!

How I Got a Cookbook Deal with HarperCollins

Through the years, as I wrote book after book on raising backyard chickens, the thought of becoming a cookbook author was always there in the back of my head. 

As I perused my own fairly extensive personal cookbook collection or flipped through new cookbooks at Barnes & Noble... as I binge-watched Girl Meets Farm or Top Chef on the Food Network...

But I shoved the thought aside as I continued to write about raising chickens on my blog and on social media and continued to write books about raising backyard poultry.

The Dream of Getting a Cookbook Deal

But after answering questions about chickens all day and locking my flock up at night, often as I fell asleep, I pictured what the cookbook I would write would look like, the kinds of recipes I would include, and then visualized my appearances on all the talk shows to promote it! Imagine cooking something for Rachael Ray, Kelly Clarkson or on the Today Show!

However, I was realistic in the light of day. With no formal training, it was never really anything I believed would ever happen. I knew that breaking into one of the most competitive niches would be tough. But I couldn't shake the idea....

Cookbook Dreams Die Hard

I knew that if I was going to do this, I wanted it to be the best cookbook I could possibly write.  I didn't want to self-publish. I wanted the validation from a publishing house that the world needed a cookbook written by me. And that was going to be a challenge. 

Fast forward to about 3 years ago. I realized that despite being a successful poultry author by any measure, with 6 books under my belt that were consistently some of the top-selling titles on Amazon in the homesteading category, and selling more than 100,000 copies, my real passion did honestly lay in cooking.  Specifically cooking and baking with eggs. 

It was time to pursue the idea of writing a cookbook for once and for all.  

The Reality of Getting a Cookbook Deal 

My previous books had all been with two small to mid-sized publishers. I had received modest 4 -figure advances for the last few, which had all sold very well considering the fairly small market of backyard chicken keepers.  

But my current publisher was happy with book sales and had in fact started to talk with me about some ideas for my next book.

(And in fact when Covid hit, they practically begged me to fast track a beginning chicken keeping book since my first book was by then almost 10 years old.)

The Groundwork

September 2019

So I needed to start there. I had a contract with them that gave them first right of refusal on any new book proposal I pitched. I had brought up the idea of a cookbook with my editor a couple of times in the past when I was pitching book ideas to him, but he hadn't bitten, and we always ended up settling on another "chicken" book.  

Since I was finished up work on my latest book , DIY Chicken Keeping, with them, the time was right to start talking about my next book. So we had a heart to heart and my editor promised to pitch a cookbook for me. He made good on his promise and I did get a tentative green light from them to write a cookbook, but ultimately we couldn't agree on terms. 

I knew exactly what I wanted if I was going to commit the time and effort into writing a cookbook. My cookbook needed to be hardcover. 100 or more egg recipes with beautiful full color photographs. The works. Not just another softcover book in my series of chicken keeping books.  I needed to pitch to the bigger publishing houses. I wasn't willing to compromise on my dream.

So we parted ways amicably, my editor gave me his blessing and wished me luck in my cookbook endeavor, and they graciously let me out of my contract with them.

He did leave the door open for me to write another chicken keeping book in the future. But I don't see that happening, I don't feel that I have anything more to say about raising chickens that I haven't already said - but you never know...never say never.

The Agent

October 2019

So that left me as a free agent, so to speak.  And speaking of agents, I didn't have one. I had pitched my previous books directly to the publisher. I didn't see the need to hand over 15% of my already paltry royalties to an agent when I had a publishers basically begging me to write more books!

But I knew I was going to need an agent - and a good one - to even get my cookbook proposal in from of any of the big publishing houses.  Most don't accept unsolicited works and only deal with authors through their agents. 

So, I started flipping through some of the cookbooks in my library and reading the acknowledgements because usually an author will thank their agent. I made a list of agent names I found and started seeking out their contact info.  I soon had a list of 4 potential agents and set up calls with them all.

Interviewing agents was new to me. I wasn't really sure what I was looking for. But I figured I would know when I knew. And that's exactly what happened. I immediately discounted three of the four. After lengthy phone calls with each, describing my vision for a cookbook, I just didn't feel that they shared that vision. 

The fourth however, I immediately clicked with. We shared several animated phone calls and I was very happy with what I heard from her as far as her thoughts on finessing a proposal and pitched a cookbook. However, it was not meant to be.

December 2019

After several weeks of being promised a contract, I finally realized that she wasn't going to work out. My email would go unanswered for days. Phone calls the same. With the holidays right around the corner, I figured nothing would happen anyway until after the new year, so I set a deadline of mid-January and if I didn't have a contract in hand,  I would start over with my agent search.

In the meantime while I had been searching for an agent, I got started on pulling together some favorite recipes. Writing them up, taking photos  (more for my own purposes to get an idea of how the cookbook might eventually look,  since I figured if I got a deal,  I would be working with a professional photographer).

I tested and retested all kinds of recipes, trying to decide which might work for a cookbook. I figured I should use the holiday down time to get as much done as I could, because I had a good feeling about all of this, despite not having an agent, a publisher or a book deal.

February 2020

After connecting with several more agents I found in the front of cookbooks and not really connecting, I finally reached out to my friend Jill Winger. She had written a cookbook for Flatiron Books  the previous year, and I'm not sure why I didn't think of her sooner!

She willingly shared her agent's contact info with me, assuring me that she was very happy with him, but wasn't sure he was taking on new clients.  So it was with some trepidation that I reached out to John Maas at Park & Fine with fingers crossed. 

But I had a good feeling about this, although after some Googling I discovered that the New York-based literary agency represents such authors as Rocco DiSpirito, Emily Giffin, Debbie Macomber, Nicholas Sparks, and Rachel Ray, so it did seem like a bit of a long shot...

March 2020

John and I set up a phone call and within 5 minutes I knew I wanted him to represent me. His enthusiasm was infectious as he laid out a clear path for me getting a cookbook deal with one of the major publishing houses. Apparently he felt the same way about me, because within a few weeks we had a signed contract and I officially had an agent. 

Remember, an agent doesn't get paid unless the author does, so they aren't going to waste their time one a book they don't think will 1) get published and 2) sell well. So I was starting to get really excited about the prospect of working with Park and Fine.

The Proposal

April - May 2020

Over the course of the next few weeks, I put together my proposal for John, laying out what my thoughts and ideas were for my cookbook. He took my very rough proposal and turned it, like magic, into a 40+ page formal proposal - polished and professional - ready to pitch to the publishing houses. 

The proposal included a table of contents, sample recipes with photos, my bio and some comparable titles. In my case since I had already written several books, it also included my previous book sales. And of course my social media following was there as well - because, fair or not, publishers know that a built-in social media following likely means sales.

We did talk at length about the stumbling blocks and challenges. Namely my lack of formal culinary training, and the fiercely competitive cookbook arena. But felt that my strengths - namely my name-recognition and huge social media following of hundreds of thousands of people (namely chicken keepers) who have more eggs than they know what to do with! - outweighed the cons.

The other thing in my favor was my track record selling books. My previous six books had sold well - more than 100,000 copies in total - which, considering I've read that the average book sells about 3,000 copies in its lifetime, is pretty impressive. 

Another positive was the fact that I have appeared on TV a lot promoting my other books and also hosted a TV show on NBC here in Maine that actually did include a cooking segment, so John was pretty optimistic overall at my chances of securing a cookbook deal.

Covid Chickens

Ironically, Covid had hit hard several months previously. My former editor reached out asking once again if I would be interested in writing another chicken keeping book - this time a very basic beginners book - since it seemed everyone who didn't already have chickens was getting baby chicks. 

It would be a bit of a rush job to try and get it to market as soon as possible to beat the flood of other chicken keeping books coming to market, which wouldn't have been a problem since I could write one at this point with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back, but ultimately I declined.

I realized that the recent influx of new chicken keepers would also potentially be future egg cookbook buyers! So I needed to stay focused on my dream of a cookbook.

The Pitch

June 2020 

With the proposal done, my agent set about sending out pitches to various publishing houses who specialized in publishing cookbooks. I don't know all the behind the scenes on that, but what I do know is that before I knew it, four publishers had shown interest and John had set me up to have calls with them one day in early June. 

Four calls, one after another, in a sort of "quick fire" round, during which I would have the opportunity to sell not only my idea of a cookbook, but also myself and my ability to sell books. John coached me on how to answer various common questions during these type conversations such as "Why this book?", "Why now?"  and "Why are you the right person to write it?" as well as "How do you envision promoting the book?".

If I tell you it was nerve-wracking, that would be an understatement. John assured me that if none of the calls resulted in an offer, he would pitch to a new round of publishing houses, but still... he went for the top-tier, gold standard right out of the gate.  

So the pressure was on. I felt like I was interviewing for my first job! I no sooner finished one conference call with several members of a publisher's acquisition team, when it was time for the next call.  

I had no idea how the calls were going. I tried to explain my vision as clearly and concisely as possible, convey my belief in the project, and answer any and all questions to the best of my ability. 

By the end of the day, I was exhausted. Completely drained. John promised me he would call me as soon as he heard anything. Either way.

The Deal

After a night of nail-biting, John called the next day. Three of the four publishing houses had made offers! And there was a bit of a bidding war going on, apparently. After some back and forth over the next few days, final offers were made, and I accepted an offer from the Harper Horizon imprint of HarperCollins Publishers! 

It not only was the best offer of the three, but they were the house I had my heart set on initially anyway - and even more so after the phone call with them. I feel like I just clicked with the team and they completely understood my vision and had already thought out some marketing and promotion concepts.

I'm not at liberty to share all the details of the deal, but suffice it to say that it was good deal. In addition to an advance, I was also offered a bonus after the first year if sales reached a certain level, plus dedicated marketing support and a generous travel package. My agent was invaluable at this point as far as reading the contract over and making sure it was a fair deal for me.

August 2020

So, with my agent's blessing, I happily accepted the initial deal and a couple of weeks later, I had signed an official contract.  And just l like that,  I had a cookbook deal with the HarperCollins.

Harper Horizon is a new imprint of HarperCollins that seeks books that "evoke a spirit of strong community and diverse voices-where readers are inspired to make the world a better place." I loved the idea of writing for a boutique division under the umbrella of one of the largest, one of the Big Five, publishing houses in the world. 

It was official! With the book contract finally signed by all parties,  The Fresh Eggs Daily Cookbook was set to come out in February 2022. I was going to be a cookbook author.

And now the hard work was about to begin....

Part II | Writing a Cookbook for HarperCollins

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