Listen to this episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast using the player above or check it out on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.
This episode is sponsored by Clariti.
Welcome to episode 391 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Sally Ekus from The Ekus Group about what the cookbook publishing process looks like.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Karishma Pradhan from Home Cooking Collective about how she overcame burnout and built a successful career as a food creator. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Behind the Scenes of the Cookbook Publishing Process
As food bloggers and food creators, many of us dream about writing our own cookbooks one day. But what does it take to get a cookbook deal, and what does the cookbook publishing process actually look like?
That’s what we’re chatting about in this interview with Sally Ekus! She’s a literary agent at The Ekus Group and has brokered over 300 book deals with top publishers across the country.
In this episode, you’ll learn what she does as a literary agent, what steps are involved in the cookbook publishing process, how to set yourself up for success to potentially write a cookbook in the future, and more.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How Sally became a literary agent
- What she does at The Ekus Group
- Why cookbook proposals are so important
- How to set yourself up for success to potentially write a cookbook
- Why the topic for a first cookbook is so important
- How advances and royalties work for cookbooks
- What the differences are between frontlist and backlist titles
- What cookbook marketing and publicity look like
- What steps are involved in the cookbook publishing process
- How long it typically takes to write a cookbook
- What she teaches in her How to Write a Cookbook course
- Why writing a cookbook can lead to many other opportunities
- The Ekus Group
- How to Write a Cookbook course — The Ekus Group
- How to Be a Cookbook Author Facebook Group
- Everything Cookbooks Podcast
- Publishers Marketplace
- Follow Sally on Instagram and Facebook
- Connect with Sally via email
- Join the Food Blogger Pro Podcast Facebook Group
About This Week’s Sponsor
We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our sister site, Clariti!
With Clariti, you can easily organize your blog content for maximum growth. Create campaigns to add alt text to your posts, fix broken images, remove any broken links, and more, all within the Clariti app.
Sign up for the Clariti waitlist today to receive:
- Access to their limited-time $45 Forever pricing
- 50% off your first month
- Optimization ideas for your site content
- An invitation to join their exclusive Slack community
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If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Transcript (click to expand):
Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Clariti, C-L-A-R-I-T-I. And I kid you not, I was going to record this half an hour ago, but I was in Clariti and realized there’s an opportunity for Pinch of Yum that is a project we should move forward with. So I create, created a video, communicated it with the Pinch of Yum team, and said, “Hey, we should move forward on this and really get to work cleaning this up.” In our case, what I had done is I said, “Hey, show me all of the posts in the past year on Pinch of Yum.” And then I sort ordered that in reverse order by page use. So I was looking at pages that on Pinch of Yum in the last year, got zero-page use, and I realized we have a lot of really thin not valuable content and it’s important to clean that up.
In our case, we’re going to delete a lot of that content and we should have done that a long time ago, but we just didn’t get around to it. And it wasn’t until I was using Clariti that I realized that that was something that we should have done. I was able to see that it’s a lot of old giveaway posts and things like that. So we’re going to move forward with that and clean up Pinch of Yum and that’s what Clariti is for. It’s to help you discover that actionable information to create a project around it and either you can follow the project or you can assign it to somebody within your team and then track the impact that that has by making notes or seeing when you made those changes over time.
We bring all the information in from WordPress, Google Search Console, and Google Analytics. You hook it all up and then you can sort order and use Clariti, kind of like a Swiss Army knife for your content. So if you’re interested in checking it out, go to clariti.com/food C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food and that will get you 50% off your first month. Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this episode.
Hey there, this is Bjork. You are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Today we’re going to be talking about all things book, specifically cookbook publishing. We’re going to be talking to Sally Ekus, who has years and years of experience in the publishing world, and we’re going to be talking about everything from advances specific numbers. We’re going to be talking about increasing your likelihood of getting a cookbook deal, if that’s something you’re interested in doing, some of the reasons why you might want to do that, some of the motivations with it, how it’ll impact your career potentially as you think about publishing, along with traditional publishing along with the publishing that we talk a lot about, which would be content publishing on social media or on your blog and how that all fits together and can potentially be part of your business strategy as you think about growing your following and your audience online.
So it’s a great interview. I learned a lot from it, and I think you will as well. Let’s go ahead and jump in. Oh, before we do the Facebook group, we have a Facebook group for podcast listeners, which you can check out by going to foodbloggerpro.com/facebook that will redirect you to this group. And it’s a place for us to have conversations and connect with anybody who is a listener and would love for you to join and be a part of that if you’re interested. Now, let’s actually jump into the interview with Sally Ekus. Sally, welcome to the podcast.
Sally Ekus: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: So for people listening, they won’t be able to see this, but for people watching, they’ll be able to see behind you there’s a bunch of books when I mentioned that on the call before we pressed record, you’re like, it’s just a drop in the bucket. So have books always been a thing for you?
Sally Ekus: Yeah, but I like to say I’ve been informally training for this career my whole life because I grew up around tons of books, lots of cookbooks. Also shared a childhood dinner table with Julia Child and this has been a part of my life before it was professionally a choice that I made. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: When you say shared a childhood table with Julia Child, what do you mean by that?
Sally Ekus: She came to dinner at my house. So the story goes, I was upstairs, supposed to be in bed, and snuck downstairs and wanted to be a part of the action, and so I just pulled up a chair right next to her at the dinner table while my parents were-
Bjork Ostrom: Oh my gosh.
Sally Ekus: …entertaining her. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. And how did your parents know her?
Sally Ekus: So my parents, Lisa, who started our agency 40 years ago, was at the time married to my dad and they were working in culinary publicity. So I don’t exactly remember why she was at the table that time. She’d been here a handful of times. So potentially it was either a book project they were working on or media training of some sort of just like the opportunity, because we also, our agency is near Smith College, which is her alma mater. They just dedicated a building to her, actually. So maybe in town for something one of the books… Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Say it again.
Sally Ekus: I used that terminology, but I was a kid at the time locally there was an event called Books and Cooks and it was bringing together cookbook authors and chefs, and I believe that’s why she was in town.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. And so this was part of your growing up? It was a family business that you’ve then taken over, is that right?
Sally Ekus: Well, so growing up it was my mom and dad, and then they separated, and my dad went off for his professional trajectory and Lisa continued the agency forward and it wasn’t supposed to be a family business. I was never sort of encouraged to even know more than what I would say. My mom worked in food or publishing or something, and I went to college and was on the trajectory for social work. And really looking back, I was trained and I went to school for active listening, negotiation, and crisis counseling, which is applicable to working with cookbook authors because I’m actively listening to what the market is doing and what their desires are as authors, negotiating book deals, and crisis counseling covers that people don’t like on a regular basis.
So I deferred from a grad program, moved home, started helping out at the agency, this is now 14, 15 years ago, and realized I’d been informally training for this my whole life. And then just a few years in decided this is really a passion of mine. I loved it. The authors were responding really well to my work. So Lisa and I started talking about this being the formal succession plan of the agency and now this past April of 2022, we celebrated 40 years in business, and this coming spring on our 41st anniversary, Lisa, we’ll be formally retiring.
Bjork Ostrom: Wow, that’s incredible. So when you talk about what you’ve talked about, the behind-the-scenes, what it is that you do, how you’ve gotten here, but explain what it is for people. What is the actual business, and what is your day-to-day look like?
Sally Ekus: Sure. So the agency is now called The Ekus Group. It started as Lisa Ekus Public Relations, and it started as a publicity firm. Back when publishers were sending authors out on multi-city book tours, we would be… Lisa essentially created the category of culinary publicity. So we were sending authors out on tour that then became a desire and need that we were sending these authors out, but they didn’t really know how to cook and talk on television. So Lisa co-founded the first culinary media training program, which is still a fee-based service that people can come to the agency to get trained for.
How do you break down a recipe for three minutes essentially? Then out of that, we realized we were sending out these spokespeople, and so we started our, what is now billed as our talent representation. So if people are approach, if food bloggers are approached for influencer campaigns or sponsored blog posts, we negotiate those opportunities and then sort of fast forward to where we are today, the talent representation is still a key aspect of what we do at the agency and the capacity in which we’re mostly talking about is also our literary representation. So I’m a literary agent, which means that I work with authors, I represent the author to the publisher, so people pitch me their book proposals or they pitch me a query, and we can talk through all of that today, but my job is to be an advocate for the author and represent a book project and find the best publishing agreements out there.
Bjork Ostrom: So at what point, if, let’s say somebody’s been building a following online and they’re kind of thinking about doing this, at what point do people usually reach out to you, or ideally, would somebody reach out to you?
Sally Ekus: Yeah, two very different timelines, points in their timeline. So there’s the big question of platform, and how big should you be, and how big should your following before you’re sort of ready for a cookbook deal? And it really depends on what somebody’s goals are, but for us as an agency, we get sort of the two ends of the queries, not much in between. We get the, I really want to do a book and I don’t know where to begin. I’m just starting out, this has always been a dream and we’ve created resources for people who are in that camp and then people who are saying, I think my platform is ready.
I’m looking for literary representation, here’s my query. And they follow it up with a book proposal and the time in which somebody’s ready for agent representation really runs the gamut. And all agents work in different ways. Our agency has crafted a sweet spot of representing people that have very big platforms and also people that have up-and-coming platforms. So we look for longevity in an author relationship in a long-term career. So we’re with you for your first book. Yes. But ideally for your second or your third in this whole authorship journey.
Bjork Ostrom: In those situations, are you assessing on talent? You’re looking at the ability for somebody to was really early on to say, is there some raw talent there that we can totally capture and work with long term?
Sally Ekus: When I first started at the agency, we weren’t actively scouting at the rate we are now. So people would be pitching us for representation, which is great, and we still receive queries. But now, and for many years at this point, I’ve been saying, “Hey, I love what this person’s doing. They’ve got a book in them. Let me help teach them how to get it out and cultivate it.” And there’s no one size fits all for when you’re ready for an agent or what your readership should be. But in terms of the food blogging-specific community, I entered this whole industry right at the time when the blog-to-book craze was just starting to happen.
Bjork Ostrom: When would you say that was?
Sally Ekus: 13 years ago. 13, 14 years ago. Would you agree?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, you know better than I would, but kind of like 2010-ish. 2009, 2010, publishers started to become a thing,
Sally Ekus: You’re a food blogger. Oh my gosh, what’s your readership? We have to publish your book. And then some of those books did well and others, most of them, it was a lot more than, oh, what other questions can we ask besides, what is your readership? Because yeah, that needs to be there.
Bjork Ostrom: And in some ways what I could see happening in those early stages is you say, what is readership? But it’s confused for what is page views and page views might be you have one really popular post where 80% of your traffic comes from, so it looks like, oh my gosh, you have all of these people coming to your site, but it’s because you have this one recipe that’s popular on search or social, but that doesn’t translate into being able to sell a cookbook.
Sally Ekus: Exactly, exactly. And even now, the sort of requirement or guiding principle of a hundred thousand followers on, let’s call it Instagram, even that if somebody has that many followers but they don’t know how to engage and capture the one to 3% of those followers that actually convert to book sales, historically speaking or statistically speaking, then it doesn’t really matter how many followers they have, right? So they’re deeper, more specific industry questions or curiosities that I have as an agent that when I’m scouting or having initial calls with someone, we’re talking about those nuances and you don’t necessarily have to answer those questions or know how to answer them though, to work successfully as an author being open to that process and figuring that out is, I think going to yield better results for sales and for just the promotion and success of your book.
Bjork Ostrom: So what are those things like when you look at somebody and you say at this point you have a pretty good read on it based on multiple exposures, I think you said have done multiple hundreds, 300 in book deals at this point? Is that right?
Sally Ekus: Yeah, our agency has done well over 500, and personally, I’m definitely in hundreds. I don’t know exactly how many. I lost count at some point, which is nice.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And so at this point, you’re probably able to distill down some variables that are important in the success of a book. Well, in some degree, I would imagine there’s also those moments where you’re just like, oh my gosh, this did amazing. Why was that? Or, this should have done amazing and it didn’t, not really knowing, but my guess is you have some idea of some kind of quantifiable things that you’d be able to pinpoint and say, here’s some important variables and success outcomes.
Sally Ekus: Yeah. I mean there’s the science and the art of the publishing process and you can learn the science and there’s some great resources out there to learn it. And then there’s also, I think with the sort of successful or breakout titles or just those books that hit the right mark, there’s the art to it too. There’s an author that is willing to work so hard, first and foremost, it’s never like, am I done yet or I’ve already. It’s yes. More. How can I help? Right? Yeah. Then there’s the time and place in the industry and the larger social context of whatever could be going on.
So maybe there’s something happening socially or politically or historically that meets your topic just by chance. Then maybe there’s a movement of social change that happens to intersect with your book, or you have a great relationship with the indie book market or your readers grab onto… There’s just kind of that something special too that can happen, but it’s easier to learn the science. So in order to do that, it starts with a book proposal and so much can be told on how a deal will go, and then also how successful book will be based on how somebody’s willing to work on a book proposal. That’s the barometer, in my opinion, for everything.
Bjork Ostrom: And the reason for that is it kind of this idea of how you do anything is how you do everything. And if you see somebody who does a really good book proposal that’s a good indicator of them being somebody who’s going to do a really good job with a book. Is that what you’re getting at? Yeah.
Sally Ekus: Yeah. Because it’s the business plan for your book, so you’ve got to be willing to work on it. And I don’t have any two clients that work on their proposal exactly the same way, however, everyone’s doing that work. So I might have an exploratory call with someone that I think I want to work with, and then I give them homework to see how they do it because that’s checkpoint number one. It has to be a good fit both ways too. So I want to make sure they like my working style, I’m a little bit of a chameleon, but there’s also certain things that are just non-negotiables for me and my style, and if it doesn’t work for you, totally fine. There’s a bunch of other great cookbook agents out there and it’s got to work for them too. So their style, which is probably less flexible, needs to be something that blends together well.
Bjork Ostrom: So the book proposal piece makes sense. One other question on that, are you working… You’re working with somebody to do that together or are they bringing that to you?
Sally Ekus: Both. So if I’m scouting someone, they may not have ever put a word onto a page other than their blog or social media, but generally speaking, they’ve got something started, and sometimes people are coming to us pitching us with a query and then following up with a book proposal. There are book proposal coaches out there, so sometimes people invest in working with one of those first to present something polished, which frankly a lot of the proposals coming my way from coaches, they’re beautiful and they’re very comprehensive.
They’re never fully finished to my standards, but sometimes then I’m like, okay, I love what you’ve done except I don’t love the idea and it feels like maybe this would be the idea I would pick for you, or that I’d be curious if this was on brand for you and you’d be willing to work on it. So now they know what goes into making a book proposal, but I kind of wish we were at the beginning in terms of the topic together. However, it is never a waste of time or energy, or resources to go through the proposal process whether or not that’s the book that gets published. Because in my opinion, if you want to publish a book, going through a proposal process is invaluable no matter what happens with that actual content.
Bjork Ostrom: Interesting. You had mentioned that idea of a hundred thousand followers and people using that as kind of this number, and I think people really like having, you got to get to here and there really is no magic to that because there’s so many variables that go into it. But if somebody’s thinking about, how do I do this thing well, this thing potentially being like, get a book deal and have a book that does well, what are the things that people should be concerned with? Where are the areas they should be focusing and trying to optimize in preparation of maybe two years from now starting that process?
Sally Ekus: Yeah. Yeah. Think about just starting by thinking about it that way is ideal. If you now want to publish a book, start thinking about how to set you up for success now is a great plan. Things to do would be to work on your social following. That certainly helps people pay attention faster let’s say. Also getting a byline here and there or getting quoted in a couple really high-profile articles, having your name out there positioned as a thought leader or an expert in the genre that you want to write about is key. If you don’t have that, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to get a book deal. It means maybe you’re not ready or it’s just not the right time yet.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I’ve heard people talk about the choice that you have for your first book in terms of focus and that being really important because you want your foot first book to do well, it’s kind of like a CD or an album you want your first album to do well because it’s going to make it easier for the second one. And a lot of times I think what will happen with publishers is that they might be approached to do a really niche book and it’s almost like a publisher wanting content in a certain category.
Sally Ekus: Absolutely.
Bjork Ostrom: As opposed to the brand that the author represents. Can you help distinguish between those kind of books and how we as creators should think about that?
Sally Ekus: Absolutely. Because this is one of the number one emails we get from food bloggers. I’ve been approached by so-and-so to write a book on X, what do I do? We have many guiding principles here that are helpful and in this particular case, I would encourage you when you’re met with those scenarios, to say and ask the question or reflection just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. Okay. So yes, a publisher’s job is to create a publishing program and a brand and maybe publish in very specific single subject categories or publish based on trends or fill in the blank. And that may be the right decision for you as a content creator or food blogger to say yes to that. It may not and that’s okay too. You never have a second chance to write your first book.
So think about where is your brand now. What are your goals and does that align or is it close and is it worth a conversation? Most likely if that publisher really wants to work with you because you are the right person for this topic, they would be willing to have a conversation about the book that you really want to write. Because the more invested an author is in the success of their book, the better the book will do. I have never once worked with someone who was half-in on a book topic and had that book be wildly successful because it is ultimately that author’s baby, and it is a long, hard process, even if it’s very single subject or niche based. It’s a lot to do. It’s a lot of work. So you got to be all in.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that you talked about in the onboarding or some background information, you talked about different book deals and there’s 12,000; 60,000; 25,000; 250,000; 500,000. I think whenever you have a range, one of the things I’m always curious about is tell me more about the top end of that range. What are the commonalities for somebody who’s getting a book deal for half a million dollars?
Sally Ekus: So I always get the question, what do you think I could expect for an advance? I don’t care, but I’m just wondering. Valid question. Everyone wants the six-figure advance. There is no science. Right? There’s some art in there too. But I will say there is science and art in that answer. And I will say that generally speaking, the better the book proposal, the better the book deal, and the more robust somebody’s entrenched in a conversation about a topic, really positioning themselves as the expert, the better the book deal.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you have an example of that?
Sally Ekus: If you are the number one science writer for tomatoes, then you are the person who needs to write the big book of scientific tomato recipes. Not a real book deal I’ve done, but you know what I mean? So you can dress up a big platform and fit it into a couple different topics and get a very good book deal. However, if you are really truly the expert, you’ve been working in this field for 15 years and this is your breakout title and you’re finally publishing a book because you’ve spent the time to do all of those other things as part of your career, and now it’s time for that big beautiful business card and calling card, yeah, you’re going to get a better book deal.
Versus there are also very big deals for people who are just starting out and they get this big social traction right out of the gate. Yeah. They also oftentimes do get those six-figure deals and do they earn out? Do they earn any additional money? Does that matter to the author? Does that matter to the publisher? How do those sell? It depends on the topic and the publisher behind you and the support that you get from a marketing and publicity standpoint, which is all over the place depending on your deal and the publisher too.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about that? So the two things that I’d be interested to hear talk more about, one was earn out. Can you talk about what that is and maybe how often that happens? And then the marketing piece. What does that look like, and how often are publishers actually helping? So both of those things would be curious to hear.
Sally Ekus: Sure. So when in traditional cookbook publishing or non-fiction publishing you’re offered in advance, which is some sort of upfront payment on an elongated timeline, which we can talk about to write the book. Then you have to earn back that amount of money in order to earn additional monies. And the formula that is for earning that amount back is calculated through a royalty structure that’s outlined at the deal point of your negotiation and then also in your contract. So you might earn 72 cents per book sold for the first 10,000 copies of your book, and then that ticks back up to earn out that $60,000 advance, for example. And then you can earn additional royalties. I have heard it said many, many times that most cookbooks do not earn back their advance. The advance is the only guaranteed money though. So many authors want the highest advance possible. Some might take a slightly lower advance to get published versus not get published and it really depends on what are your hard costs. Do you have to pay for photography? Are you the photographer?
Having an agent to help navigate the payment structure of that advance is also important because if you have to pay collaborators as part of the delivery of your material, that needs to come out of the earlier part of your advance. So there’s many nuances to an advance and royalty schedule that are important to consider as an author. Yeah. The nuances of that, my brain’s like, well, I could go on, but that’s kind of like 2.0, not your job, don’t have to worry about it. But important to educate yourself on finding an agent who understands those nuances. Because cookbook publishing in particular is a nuanced type of deal in that there’s usually a visual component and that needs to be addressed.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Meaning the branding of the book is a variable in how successful it is?
Sally Ekus: It can be, but also there’s just a practical component. So in your contract, you might have to deliver 75 recipes and 75 photos. But if you are not the one actually taking those photographs, then your advance needs to cover the cost of hiring that person. And depending on the publisher that you work with, will determine how that advance is paid out. And they’re usually paid in either often at this point, like thirds or fourths. Ideally, there’s some flexibility there and it’s negotiated in your best interest. But really, I once had a client say they should stop calling it an advance because their last payment is post-publication, let’s just say.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah. After the book is out, that’s when-
Sally Ekus: So is that really in advance at that point?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah. And, so would it be safe to say that when you’re negotiating this, it’s best to assume that the advance is going to be what your total payment will be majority of the time?
Sally Ekus: I think an important question is if I was only ever paid this advance to create this book, can I say yes to that deal?
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Sally Ekus: That being said, many of the books we represent do earn royalties. So it really depends. My answer to everything in publishing is it depends because there’s the science of how it works and the art of the unique scenario for that author, that book, that publisher, that payment schedule.
Bjork Ostrom: And also the timing of it. Like you said, it seems like if I were to guess the books that do best, they catch some macro wave, whatever that wave is. And as an individual, they’re working extremely hard and they’re extremely talented at what they do and if those three things align a macro wave meaning something culturally that’s happening, a trend or a change, so you catch that wave, you are working really hard and you’re extremely talented and capable in the area that you’re focused in, those would be probably the kind of breakout successes. Does that feel accurate?
Sally Ekus: It does. I will also add that sometimes that macro wave can happen two years after your book has been published. So depends on the publishing partner, but how responsive are they? And this goes into the marketing and publicity question, are you working with someone who is going to, in addition to working on their active publication list, also reply to your emails to say, “Hey, there’s this thing happening socially and I want to make sure my book is available, or I want to do X, Y, Z thing will you support me? I actually think that we are living in a time where we see a lot of backlist titles supporting the consistent publishing programs that are out there. And certain publishers keeps their books in print longer than others. And there’s pros and cons to that. There’s a million little, it depends conversations to have around how long your book should or should not be in print based on the threshold of sales. The bottom line, thinking about the backless potential of your topic is an important thing to think about as an author.
Bjork Ostrom: Backless potential, meaning the potential for it to be continually be published and available for purchase.
Sally Ekus: So backless is essentially outside of the new publication window, so let’s call it a year, but really it depends on the publisher, but keeping a book, if your book is a couple years old, it’s more on the backlist of a publishing program than a front list. The front list title is the books that are being published in that season. And there are certain publishers right now, particularly because of supply chain and inventory costs and pure human power to operate an inventory are saying, “Hey, it costs more for us to operate this inventory than books are selling. So we’re going to put this book out of print, even though it came out two years ago.” I don’t know if you’re experiencing anything like I’ve experienced in the past two years. It’s kind of been in an exacerbated time. So let’s see how things shake out maybe this topic will be something you want to have available to the public in a couple years.
Bjork Ostrom: And is that something that’s negotiated in a part of a contract?
Sally Ekus: It is, yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. And then how about on the marketing side? My understanding from a distance has always been there’s been this shift in the world of publishing where it’s kind of on the shoulders of the author to market their book. Is that true or-
Sally Ekus: I would say-
Bjork Ostrom: …would it be safe to say publishers can help? Okay.
Sally Ekus: It’s safe to say that publishers can help.
Bjork Ostrom: But will they? Yeah.
Sally Ekus: Depends. Right? I like to set the bar real, real low with my clients so that they can be pleasantly surprised and feel like they’re getting supported and that there’s a little bit off their shoulders when it comes time for marketing and publicity. Generally speaking, the more you’re prepared to do on behalf of your book, the better the book will do.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Sally Ekus: We can elongate that expectation or condense it and the big publishers are going to throw more support around than some of the smaller ones. Although that being said, some of the independent publishers we work with are really author-focused and they’re super collaborative because they are relying on the books that they published a couple years ago to continue to carry them forward. So when an author shows up with a new idea or a new request, if they can support it, you bet they want to because they want those books to do well too. A publisher’s job, a marketing person, or a publicists’ job is not to be like, no, I don’t want to help these authors or book, but they do have the current published titles in front of them. So that’s going to take the priority. So the more you’re prepared to do for the longevity of your book, the better the book will perform.
Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. And as one of the variables in the success of the book is the marketing. In so much any type of business transaction marketing is important, but especially in this world where if you have a following, if you have the ability to email people and post about it, the more exposure it gets and the better you are crafting a message, a compelling message, when you are giving it exposure, the better it’s going to do.
Sally Ekus: Right. And then I go back to the proposal. So what’s in your marketing and promotion section? What are your ideas? Who are your connections? What do you imagine doing with and for them? If you can’t fill that out in the most detailed and robust way, that’s fine. It just tells me you’re not ready to write a book.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. And that’s why it makes sense when you say the proposal is so important in what you had said, the proposal being the business plan is such a great comparison because if you have a business idea and you put a weak business plan in front of somebody, they’re going to be like, wait, this isn’t super compelling and I don’t want to partner with you on this. But if you put together one where it’s like, not only is it a great idea, not only does it fit with things that are happening, maybe you have a following in that area, but then you also have these really specific examples of how you’ll help it do well. Suddenly that gives confidence to somebody to put money behind that as an investment to say, “Hey, we think that there could be something here.”
Sally Ekus: Exactly. You’re giving them the roadmap for how you’re going to get to the successful benchmarks and then first agents and then publishers are saying, oh yeah, they get it. Right. They have a plan and with my expertise, we can go even further. So it’s like I don’t expect an author to come to the table knowing all of this. I am looking for people who A, want to learn it and B, want to work really hard to execute it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So can you walk me through just high level what the steps are? So somebody hasn’t done anything related to a book and they want to move forward with it. How do you do that?
Sally Ekus: I would say start by doing your research and just consuming the educational content that’s out there. There are great resources out there. I am a big fan of another podcast as well called the Everything Cookbooks Podcast. And I love that podcast because it’s hosted by four authors. So they’re using their shared experiences as four authors rather than one author’s one experience with one publisher. I think this podcast is a great resource too. I mean, you did an entire book publishing series and consume the content that’s available to you.
There’s courses out there, I created one, there’s other coaches and things, but the first step in conjunction with doing research and just being a sponge is to start on a book proposal. Because if that is just the cursor on a blank page for five weeks, cool. You’re not ready. Great. Now you know keep doing what you’re doing. It really goes work on a book proposal, come up with a query pitch agent, sign with an agent, fine-tune your book proposal, have that agent pitch publishers, ideally have more than one offer. Negotiate your deal, write the book, deliver the book. The book gets published, promote the book, sell the book, have great sales, do another book.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, sure.
Sally Ekus: And other places to research just because I really value being there’s tons of great content out there. It’s not that hard to figure out how to do this. Publishers’ marketplace is a great place to do some industry research and you can subscribe for just one day. So you can look and see who’s done certain deals in this category. That’s all part of the market analysis and competition research that’s essentially part of the proposal process and network. So look in the acknowledgment sections of cookbooks that you know and love and maybe your colleagues that are food blogging and have previously done cookbooks, see who they thank and sort of work within the network of the industry and you will be off to the races.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. A normal timeline, let’s say from the process. When somebody comes to you, let’s say they have a proposal, but it’s not polished to when a book publishes, would you have a range for how long that usually is?
Sally Ekus: On average in traditional publishing, if it’s not a trend-based book, it’s about a two-year process. So if your book proposal was ready today, I signed you tomorrow and I sold it the next day, which is a very fast timeline, you’d have about nine to 12 months to deliver your material and it would go through about another year of production. That includes editing, copy editing, layout, design, printing, shipping, and distribution. So in traditional publishing, an average timeline is about two years. And the proposal process in and of itself completely runs the gamut. I have a client right now that I signed just a few months ago, and we’re about to take her project out on submission. That’s a pretty fast turnaround time and I have another client who I’ve been working with for years just kind of like, I know we’re going to get there and one day we will.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. So part of it depends on like you said, a trend. If it’s a trend, it’s going to be-
Sally Ekus: If it’s a trend, it’s a much faster timeline.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. But then it also depends on the author and how much they’re interested in hustling and getting things done. But also probably is there any life to the idea? Is there anything with the proposal? Because my guess is sometimes you’d have a proposal, you’d bring it out, you’d chop it, and nothing comes from it. Is that common or?
Sally Ekus: Every now and then. I mean, I don’t sign anybody or project I don’t think I can sell. Sure. Though I once heard another agent say if they sold 100% of the projects that they took on, they wouldn’t be taking enough risks and I really like that perspective too. But every now and then I’ll pitch a proposal and we’ll either get all the same type of feedback from editors, so then we go back and revise it and re-pitch it, or we get a bunch of no’s and we’re like, huh, let’s hit pause.
Let’s retire it or let’s really reimagine how we’re presenting it. And then there was a project years ago that I didn’t successfully sell, and then all of a sudden something was going on and it was more of a single subject and it just sort of found its interest in general culture and society. And so a publisher came back and was like, “Hey, did you ever sell that proposal that was on this topic?” And I said, no, it’s still available. Sent it, sold it. Now it’s coming out and its second edition or anniversary edition soon. So it really depends.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Interesting. So you had mentioned the course that you have. I want to make sure to be able to shine a light on that. What is that about and who would that be a good fit for?
Sally Ekus: So we get the same questions over and over again and I love talking about this because I’m really passionate about answering people’s publishing questions and being transparent because there’s this big, what does an agent do? How does this work? How do I break into it? So my project was answering these questions over and over again. So I created a course called How to Write a Cookbook, and it walks people through the primer on the industry, but also really specific details on deals I’ve done without identifiers, obviously. So you can make the decision, does this financially make sense for me right now? It walks you through every single component of a book proposal and it goes deeper into the questions that people ask about each of those components. It walks the people through the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Because that’s a question I get a lot and it’s essentially two and a half hours with me at your own pace.
And also I moderate a community that is welcome to anybody listening to this podcast or looking for information called How to Be a Cookbook Author. And so it’s really an educational resource for people who are asking themselves, is now the right time? Should I or shouldn’t I? How much money can I make? How do collaborations work? Do I need an agent? What does an agent do? It’s those questions that go through our heads or author’s heads over and over again. And it’s a way for me too, I can’t represent everybody, but it’s a way for me to offer insight and transparency on the industry for people curious about writing a cookbook.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk a little bit about that Facebook group? Is that free for anybody to join?
Sally Ekus: It is, yeah. You just have to request access because it really is a place where just right now somebody’s asking about putting together a custom ebook and looking for digital resources so other people that have been down that path will chime in. So it’s a place for people to get recommendations, ask questions. There’s complete newbies in there and there are very, very seasoned cookbook authors in there and everyone in between.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s awesome. One of the things you talked about was in, and we’ve hit on a couple times is this idea of, hey, what is the earning potential for this? But I also think there’s lots of other benefits that come with publishing a cookbook. Can you talk about what some of those are to fill the picture in a little bit? Think about and analyze if they would do that or not.
Sally Ekus: So I really do believe that a book is a big beautiful business card, and very rarely is it a retirement plan. Even those hundred thousand dollars deals I’ve done paid out over two, three, four years, that goes fast, right? So a book can be a wonderful new shiny thing that you can offer to open up all kinds of new doors for you. So it positions you as an expert on a topic and all of a sudden you can get paid speaking engagements to speak on X, Y, Z topic. You can use it as a new shiny thing to offer media that you’ve been trying to crack open. So, hey, I have a new thing to pitch. Have me on your show, have me on as an expert. Let me do this demo.
It can be that calling card that you need to open the door so that you stand out versus all the other people pitching the same topic, the same idea. They want something new and fresh. The book can open those doors and it can also generate revenue in other aspects of your business. So if the book is going on this free PR tour, but it drives people to your site where you earn revenue from clicks or you have a whole affiliate store of your favorite high-end cookware and that’s where you make your money, but a book is driving new eyes to your site, that’s great, right?
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. Yeah.
Sally Ekus: Brand partnerships I mean really I actually think that the advances is one very specific small earning potential component and it can open up all these other opportunities for income generating opportunities.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It kind of reminds me a little bit of this one time that Lindsay and I were invited onto a small local TV network. This was years ago, but it was all of our family followed up after and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, awesome. Yeah, you were on TV.” And there’s something about traditional media, like physical books, TV, that’s valid in the eyes of people in a way that a site with a million visitors in a month isn’t. And I think a book is like you said, it becomes a multiplier on all those other areas that exist because there’s a lot of authority that comes with real and or perceived. Part of it is it actually is authority because somebody has said, yes, I believe in you enough to go through this publishing process, but also there’s just something about traditional media that’s a little bit carries more weight I think, than digital media. So you see that happening and we’ve seen echoes of that in little ways here and there.
Sally Ekus: And I specifically for the food blogging community too, there you have this incredible community of readers. I mean hundreds of thousands of people sometimes. And there’s more, right? There are other forms of exposure and media out there. And so it can be really exciting to step away from your computer or step out of your kitchen and into a different forum and the book can be a mechanism to accomplish that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. My guess is, Sally, that there’s going to be a few people who have been listening and they’ll think, I would love to have a conversation with Sally and reach out and connect. What does that look like for you to connect with people? Do people go through a formal process of saying, here’s my information? What would it look like to work together? Can you talk a little bit about that?
Sally Ekus: So I’m a fairly accessible literary agent and one that is pretty transparent and easy to get in touch with sometimes to the demise of my own inbox. But there are a couple different ways to connect, certainly through social media, that is a great way to stay connected and understand more about our agency brand and ethos, and client roster. Also, I welcome anyone listening to join the How To Be a Cookbook Author Facebook community. It’s a great place to contact me, but it’s also even more valuable to connect with other people, peers, and people who’ve been through it or are just starting out.
And then it’s also pretty easy to get in contact with me via email, which I’m happy to give out because honestly if you’re ready for an agent, I’d be interested in talking with you. And if you’re not, keep it on file because this is our agency’s longevity and the career of myself and also some other fabulous cookbook agents out there. I love to connect the right people for the right type of representation and match. So you can reach me at [email protected] and I hope that people listening don’t abuse the privilege of the email and connect first via social media and get a taste of how we offer content and resources. There’s just some great ways to engage with us virtually and via the email inbox.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. And the site then is ekusgroup.com.
Sally Ekus: Ekusgroup.com. The Facebook group is How To Be a Cookbook author, and we host our course on Podia, and that’s easy to access through the Facebook group or other emails that you’ll get from us over time.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Sally, it was really fun to talk to you. Thanks for coming on.
Sally Ekus: Thank you so much for having me. This has been a delightful conversation. I appreciate the opportunity.
Alexa Peduzzi: Hey there. Alexa here from the Food Blogger Pro team. Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. I wanted to take a quick second to make sure you are aware of the Food Blogger Pro membership. So the Food Blogger Pro membership, Food Blogger Pro in general was started when Bjork and Lindsay Ostrom. Lindsay is the content creator over at Pinch of Yum when they started getting a ton of questions about starting and growing and monetizing food blogs. So people would come to them and say, “Hey, I see what you’re doing. I love what you’re doing. How can I do the same thing?” So they just started Food Blogger Pro to be the place where food bloggers, food content creators can go to learn how to start, grow, and monetize their own food blogs. So we have different courses, we have different events, we have different tools and deals for our community.
We have a community forum where members can connect, collaborate, and troubleshoot with industry experts and their fellow food blogger pro members. And it’s just a really active place. I always like to say that your Food Blogger Pro membership won’t look the same the next week after you join because we’re constantly adding new content, new value to your membership. I wanted to read this testimonial from Food Blogger Pro member Alistair from the Pesky Vegan, and he says, “Starting a food blog can feel pretty daunting. More often than not, it’s probably something you’re trying to do on your own without much prior experience. Signing up to Food Blogger Pro was one of the single best things I could have done as it removed a lot of the worries I had and provided me with a supportive community and a wealth of invaluable information. When I think about the journey I’ve been on, I simply can’t imagine getting to where I am without this membership.”
Thank you. It’s so cool to see so many different experiences with Food Blogger Pro. We have tons of testimonials on our site. If you’re interested in learning more, and if you’re interested in learning more about the membership, what that looks like, what you get when you sign up as a member, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/join. You get access to everything we have the moment you sign up, so no content is dripped. You can kind of just create your own journey through our content and access what is most meaningful and beneficial for you. So again, that URL is foodbloggerpro.com/join if you’re interested in learning more. Otherwise, we’ll see you here on the podcast next week and until then, make it a great week.
Thank you so much for the chance to chat cookbook publishing!
It was such a great episode — thanks so much for coming on the show, Sally!