This episode is sponsored by Clariti.
Welcome to episode 375 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack from Muy Bueno in Part Two of our From Blogger to Cookbook Author series.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Adrianna Adarme from A Cozy Kitchen in Part One of our From Blogger to Cookbook Author series. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
From Blogger to Cookbook Author
Welcome back to our From Blogger to Cookbook Author series! In this two-part series, we’re interviewing a few bloggers who have landed cookbook deals to learn more about how the cookbook writing process works.
And in this final installment of this series, we’re chatting with Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack! In addition to running her blog, Muy Bueno, she has also written two cookbooks, and she’s currently working on a third. Suffice it to say she knows a thing or two about the cookbook process!
In this episode, you’ll hear how she wrote her cookbook proposals, what it was like writing a cookbook with a co-author, and her best tips for creators who want to write a cookbook one day. We hope you enjoy this episode!
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why Yvette decided to launch her food blog
- How she wrote her first cookbook proposal
- Why she decided to do the graphic design for her first cookbook
- What lessons she learned from writing her first cookbook
- What she did differently with her second cookbook
- What it was like writing a cookbook with a co-author
- How she found her literary agent
- How she’s approaching writing her third cookbook
- Her best tips for those who want to write a cookbook
- Muy Bueno
- Muy Bueno: Three Generations of Authentic Mexican Flavor
- Latin Twist: Traditional and Modern Cocktails
- Hippocrene Books
- Sweet Life
- Sally Ekus – The Ekus Group
- Yvette’s Emmy award-winning video: Celebrate Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) with a sugar skull decorating party
- Follow Yvette on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube
- 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 Clariti 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
- And more!
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 podcast is sponsored by Clariti, that is clariti.com. And Clariti is really the hub for you if you are a blogger or a publisher, if you have a website, it’s really the hub for you, the place for you that allows you to better organize your portfolio of content and it’s all in one place.
Bjork Ostrom: So maybe you’ve been manually keeping track of your blog post in a spreadsheet or a project management tool, or maybe you’re not sure if the optimizations you’re making, so you make changes, but you’re not sure if those are actually moving the needle or potentially, I know this is true for us in our team.
Bjork Ostrom: You’re spending hours manually organizing what to update or keeping track of it in this massive spreadsheet and it’s just kind of overwhelming, or maybe you’re just too overwhelmed to start. That’s why we built Clariti. We wanted to have a tool that brought all of the most important things about publishing and blogging into one place.
Bjork Ostrom: And right now that includes WordPress data, Google Analytics data and Google Search Console data. And what we do is we bring that data in and we centralize it. So you can look at a specific piece of content and you can see all of the different components, traffic. You can see information about keywords and then you can see the information about that post itself.
Bjork Ostrom: And there’s really two areas of Clariti, there’s the ability to filter and kind of understand your content. We call that area Explore. So it’s a place for you to look holistically at your content and say, “What does it look like?” You can easily slice and dice and get a better understanding of it.
Bjork Ostrom: And from there you can create projects to improve your content. And sometimes people say, “What do I do when I get in? What is the first thing that I should focus on?” And it’s a really powerful tool, but sometimes it’s helpful to give some simple examples.
Bjork Ostrom: And I have actually five here and I’ll talk through each one of these and for anybody who does sign up for Clariti, you can try these out as your first ways to filter and create projects. So number one, inbound links. Meaning, are you having links to new pieces of content that you’re publishing from other old pieces of content?
Bjork Ostrom: This is an area for Pinch of Yum that we could improve on. We just published a bunch of really awesome how to articles and we need to go through old posts that reference those, or that could reference those and include links that point to that new piece of content. Because right now we’re not linking to that new piece of content anywhere.
Bjork Ostrom: And Clariti really quickly surfaces any pieces of content that don’t have inbound links from other places. Number two, broken links. So sometimes we publish a piece of content and five years pass, and there’s a link within that piece of content that’s now broken.
Bjork Ostrom: It could be an internal link on your own site pointing somewhere that maybe you’ve changed the URL or removed a post or it could be somewhere else, it could be an external link. You can easily look through broken links within Clariti and create projects to fix those up. Number three, labeling your content.
Bjork Ostrom: Now within WordPress, you can create a category and categories are usually going to be public places within your site that somebody can go and look through the different pieces of content in that category, but sometimes it’s helpful internally to label content.
Bjork Ostrom: An example for Pinch of Yum is we’re labeling every piece of content that has step-by-step tutorials in it. You could also label sponsor content versus editorial content. So you could quickly go back and see, great, in this last year, how many pieces of sponsored content did I do? Or how many sponsored content articles do I have in general?
Bjork Ostrom: Number four, find a post that has missing meta description. So the meta description is an important piece to include because it’s a suggestion to Google for what they should show, or what it should show when somebody searches for a keyword and it shows a result. Now Google doesn’t always show that meta description, but it’s best practice to fill that out and sometimes we forget to do that.
Bjork Ostrom: So you can look through all of your content and see any pieces of content that are missing in meta description. And number five, find any content that has more than one H1 and H1 is a header. And best practice for H1s is you generally just want one of those, but sometimes we forget about that.
Bjork Ostrom: We’re editing a project or editing a post, and we add an H1 and technically it should be an H2 or an H3. So with Clariti you can quickly filter to see and then say, “Hey, show me anything that has more than one like two plus H1s.” And you can create a project to say, “Go into these pieces of content and change those H1s to H2s or H3s.”
Bjork Ostrom: So those are just five examples of ways that you can quickly use Clariti and see value from it. If you’re interested in signing up and becoming a user, Clariti is offering podcast listeners 50% off their first month by going to clariti.com/food, that’s clariti.com/food to receive 50% off your first month of Clariti.
Bjork Ostrom: Thank you to the Clariti team for sponsoring this podcast. Hello. Hello. This is the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. And for those of you who might be tuning in for the first time or maybe you listen to a couple episodes or just getting familiar with who we are and what we’re all about, we exist to help creators, people who are creating content online do that better.
Bjork Ostrom: And whether that be building a business or having an impact, because you want to share maybe a missional type thing that you’re working on, you really believe in a certain way of eating that’s helped you and you want to share other people about that, or you just want to share a story.
Bjork Ostrom: Or in the case of today’s interview, maybe you’re getting started because you want to document the story of your family and your family recipes and that leads you to build a business and to build a following online. That’s the story of Yvette Marquez.
Bjork Ostrom: And she’s going to be talking about what it was like for her to get started way back in 2010 with Muy Bueno. She’s going to talk about the story behind that name and how it started as a cookbook, but as she started to talk about that cookbook realized that people were interested in purchasing it.
Bjork Ostrom: And that kind of led her into the idea of publishing content online. And she’s going to be sharing her story of starting and also the things that she learned along the way, really focusing in on the cookbook aspect.
Bjork Ostrom: Because this series, it’s a little two-part series that we’re doing called From Blogger to Cookbook Author is all about how people can take the momentum that they have online and fold that into a product, specifically a product that is a cookbook. And Yvette has done that three different times now. She’s in the process of working on her third cookbook.
Bjork Ostrom: And she’s going to be talking about what she’s learned along the way and each step, how she’s kind of iterated with each cookbook and the different parts of the process, the different people that were involved and how she’s really parlayed that into not only a successful following online, but also a really successful book deal here for her third time around.
Bjork Ostrom: So if you’re interested in potentially writing a cookbook, publishing a cookbook, Yvette story is going to have a lot of insightful information for you. So let’s go ahead and jump in. Yvette, welcome to the podcast.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. This is part two of a short series we’re doing all about going from being a food blogger to a cookbook author. And I know you’ve done the cookbook thing two times and soon to be three times, which we’re going to talk about that.
Bjork Ostrom: So how soon into your food blogging career did you do the cookbook thing, because it seems like it was relatively early on, or was it even before you had been publishing? Tell us a little bit about that story.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Yeah. So what’s funny is I think I was completely opposite. I didn’t even know what a blog was at the time. I just knew that I wanted to write a cookbook and it was my daughter who was eight years old at the time who, my mom was visiting and making lots of food.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And I was working full time as a graphic designer and in marketing. And my mom was just making all the home-cooked meals that I loved growing up. And I’m originally from El Paso, Texas. So her food is very Mexican, Northern Mexico from Chihuahua and El Paso style.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So I was craving all these dishes. And my daughter was the one who was like, “You should really put together a book so that when I go to college, I can have this book.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s a cute idea.” And like I said, I was a graphic designer.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So I was like, “I’ll design a cute little Shutterfly book and have it for my family and whoever wants to wants a copy.” So I just kind of thought of it in that way. And it was a friend of mine who was seeing all these photos that I was posting on Facebook and saying, “Oh, I’m going to write a Cookbook.”
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And she’s like, “Where do I get a copy?” And I was like, “You want to buy my cookbook?” She’s like, “Yeah. You should start a blog.” And I was like, “What is a blog?” I literally had to Google what is a blog?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And I was like, “Okay, I’m a graphic designer. I could design a cute little logo and acute little free website. And that way I can share recipes for my family who already are asking for the recipes and that’s how it started.”
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So I kind of had the idea of just wanting to write a cookbook. I just wanted something tangible in my hands and I didn’t know how I was going to do it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. The boss that, or founder, he wasn’t somebody that I worked for directly, but of the non-profit that I used to work at did that with his mom.
Bjork Ostrom: And she had all these Italian recipes that he wanted to have somewhere archived essentially, not on little scraps of paper, but to really have this kind of album of recipes that then you’d be able to pass down through generations.
Bjork Ostrom: And it sounds like it was similar for you where the heart behind it was like, my mom has these incredible recipes. I want to preserve them in some way. And you having the skills to do that said, “Great, I can put this together on Shutterfly or something like that.”
Bjork Ostrom: So in that first version of it, is that really what it was, or when you started to think about publishing recipes on a blog, did you start to think, “Hey, maybe I can actually publish this in a way where more than family and friends are going to be purchasing it.”
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Yeah, it definitely grew. And just like you said, your friend with an Italian mom, Italian grandma, a lot of the recipes that I grew up with were never written down. So I literally had to follow my mom with a measuring spoon before she threw it to make that-
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Right. Because she’s not going to be measuring it. She knows what it feels like-
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Yeah, it’s all a pinch of this and little-
Bjork Ostrom: … to hold it in her hand and then put it in. Yeah.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Yeah, exactly. It’s all about feeling and touch and flavor as you go. So yeah, so that was a really hard part, but so I initially was just going to do a family little cookbook, but then as I started the blog, right away I started getting comments from people.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And it’s funny too, I look back at my blog now and to think everything that you’re taught not to do is what I did. It was all about storytelling. A lot of stories, everything is based on a memory. And when I had that dish and what makes it special for me and very personally, what my kids love.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So it’s just very storytelling. And a lot of people actually loved that. They fell in love with those same recipes, that there’s so many cultural Mexican recipes that if your grandma doesn’t share them with you how to make it, you don’t really know how to make it right.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And so many people were reaching out to me saying, “Oh my gosh, I made your capirotada,” which is a Mexican bread pudding. “And it just reminded me of my grandma’s home as it was baking. And you said you’re writing a book, where can I buy this book?” And I was like, “You want my family cookbook?” That’s when I just realized, wow, so many people-
Bjork Ostrom: There’s something here.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: People have these same stories and people have these same memories and these same dishes. They might be a little bit of a different type of recipe because region to region in Mexico or El Paso, every family makes it a little different, but I thought, okay, maybe I can turn this into something.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And I’m so happy, looking back now, because I was so naive thinking maybe I could write a real cookbook. Maybe I could really have it published. Initially I looked into the self-publishing route and thinking that’s just a big investment.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: I don’t want a thousand books in my garage. I don’t want to have to deal with shipping. And I don’t really think at the time there was really a lot of on-demand publishing options.
Bjork Ostrom: Options, yeah.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: It was definitely more, you had to fork out the money to have it printed and ship and figure out how are you going to get it into stores. And I was like, “No, I don’t want to do that. So maybe I can just reach out to some publishers.”
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And at the time I didn’t have a huge following. I mean, all I had was Facebook and my blog. And so I started researching and learned that you had to write a proposal. So I bought this book.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: It was like recipe, I don’t even know if it’s still published or out there anymore, but it was like recipes, how did it go? How to Write a Cookbook Proposal, but it was in a recipe template format.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, sure.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: I was like, I could literally do a piece of this. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah. This is fitting. Right. Right.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: I was like, that’s-
Bjork Ostrom: It’s like a recipe, but a proposal for a cookbook.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Exactly. So I was like, okay, that was very specific. And I used it as a little Bible and it’s like, okay, write your introduction and write your competition. And then I started looking at competition and thinking, who’s my competition?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: I mean, I wanted a Mexican home-style cookbook, but there wasn’t even a lot of Mexican cookbook out there. And if they were, they were huge celebrity chefs. Rick Bayless, Diana Kennedy, Marcela Valladolid. So these huge, very popular Mexican chefs.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And I was like, “Oh gosh, I’m not a chef. Who’s going to really want to publish this book?” But I found all those books and every book that I loved, I just would set them out and literally write down what I loved about it, what I didn’t love about it.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And I think having that edge of having that graphic design skill really helped me. I’m a super visual, like I love to know what catches my eye.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And so I finally finished writing my proposal then I started thinking, okay, I didn’t even know at the time that I think that you have to get a literary agent. I just went straight to the publishers. And this was-
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Well, it’s one of those things where you don’t know until you know, and the only way is by going through the process. Like the best way to learn is to, there there’s the research side, but you could research forever.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: And sometimes you’re at an advantage if you don’t know and you just get after it. Like for myself, I found the quickest way to make a lot of traction in a short amount of time is just to start moving forward and seeing where you hit walls, seeing where you bounce off a little bit, refining from there and that’s the best type of education.
Bjork Ostrom: So you go through process, you’re learning. It sounds like the steps that you went through, it was first step was idea phase where, “Hey, we want to do this. And I want to do this to capture these recipes that are meaningful to me and my family.”
Bjork Ostrom: And then the second phase was, as you started talking about that, some people started to say, “Hey, I’d be interested in it. How can I purchase it?” And somebody was like, “You should create a blog where people can learn about this cookbook and you can promote it.”
Bjork Ostrom: So then you started to learn a little bit about the promotion side of it through a blog, and then learn how to do a proposal from this book and then started to shop that to publishers. Is that right?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And this was 2010. So at the time publishers wanted a printed, mailed copy of a proposal. They didn’t even allow a email, which is kind of crazy to think about it. But I was like, “Well, I’ll just start small. I won’t go to the huge publishing places.”
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So I started looking at smaller books and I found this one publisher that was at a New York, Hippocrene Books. And they published a cookbook by another author out of El Paso.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And I was like, “Wow, that’s great. This publishing house, it’s a big place specializing in ethnic and international type of travel or cultural books. Maybe I can reach out to them.” So I initially just did an introduction email. And what was crazy is they had already heard about me.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: They had already seen my blog and we’re even thinking about reaching out to me. So I was like, “Okay, this is definitely meant to be.” I was either, do I continue reaching out to other publishers or just go with them? And I figured I loved that it was an automatic connection and that they were small, but they were still big.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: But at the time they had only published, I mean, they published hundreds and hundreds of books, but not what I was visualizing. I wanted beautiful paper, glossy pages, all color, hard cover and-
Bjork Ostrom: Stylistically, there wasn’t anything that you could look at that they had done and could say, I want to replicate in look and feel that content, this thing. And that wasn’t there.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Yeah. But I they’re like, “Well, you know what? If you have that vision, we want to work with you.” And it was a very collaborative opportunity where it was like, I literally got to fill it and paper. And as a graphic designer, I had already started designing the book because initially I was going to just do my own or just self-publish.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And I was like, “I already have it kind of laid out. Can I still do the design?” And they’re like, “Yeah, if you want.” So once the whole advance and all that was written up, they had the photography budget, the graphic design budget.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And it was nice to still be able to really have a hold of that because it was like my baby, it was literally my family recipes that I wasn’t ready to give up to somebody else to design it.
Bjork Ostrom: So in that case it sounds like within the kind of deal structure of the Cookbook, they said, “Hey, we have this amount for graphic design,” but you just didn’t hire a graphic designer. You yourself went through the graphic design process.
Bjork Ostrom: So you hear about that a lot, most often with photography, where somebody would just say, “Hey, I’m going to do photography on my own to save the cost of hiring somebody.” And if you’re good at it and you like doing it, makes a lot of sense to do that.
Bjork Ostrom: What did you learn in the process of going through that first cookbook? And can you talk a little bit about what that was, was your original vision for it what it ended up being?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Yeah. I mean, I feel like initially when I first started it was just going to be me and then my mom’s like, “I want to help.” So I said, “Okay, let’s write this together.” And then my sister’s like, “Hey, I want to be a part of this.” She’s always wanted to write a Cookbook.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: I was like, “Okay, it’ll be from the three of us.” So it’s three generations of Mexican recipes. So recipes from my grandma, recipes from my mom and recipes from my sister and myself. So it was fun to just collaborate and really see the evolution of Mexican food of the classics. And to the other-
Bjork Ostrom: And those would be your grandma, the classics?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Yes. And then to the kind of everyday Mexican dishes to more of the entertaining style appetizers type of thing. So it was fun to-
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And that same order would be grandma, mom, and then you and your sister.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Right. Right. Yeah. And my grandma had already passed away, but I mean, it was the recipes that we all know and love that my mom knew how to make. So thankfully she’s the one who helped us develop those recipes and literally write them down.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s really cool. And so original idea was kind of preserved in what the cookbook ended up being. What did you learn going through the process start to finish?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: I learned it’s a lot of work. It’s just so much work. And at the time I didn’t experienced with writing. It was kind of therapeutic. It was definitely, you dive in and it’s more for me a storytelling moment and the way we organized it is by author.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And so I designed these little silhouettes of each of us so that you know who’s telling the story in the cookbook. So even though maybe we didn’t develop that recipe, it’s what that recipe means to us. So it’s really cute because some people have just told me that they read the book cover to cover because of the stories.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And so that’s what I love to hear is that not only is it beautiful and the recipes are delicious, but it’s graphically beautiful and it’s just more than just a cookbook. There’s a lot of storytelling.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. We hear that a lot, it’s a lot of work. And kind of as a through line, with anybody to talk about, who does a cookbook. And I think people who listen to this podcast know creating is a lot of work, but it almost feels like from what I can see from the outside a cookbook is a level above that.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s a lot, a lot of work, but you ended up doing it again. So talk about what that second time and now coming up, you’ll do it a third time, how did you do things differently the second time? And what was your hope in doing the second cookbook?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Well, what’s funny is I always compare it to having a baby. That just that whole pregnancy phase, it’s tiring. It’s just emotional draining. It’s just like, you’re just done, you just really want this baby out in the world. And so then with the second cookbook, I wasn’t even planning on it. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do or that I even thought of doing.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: The second book is a cocktail book. And it was a friend of mine who’s also a food blogger, her name is Vianney and her blog is Sweet Life. And she wanted to write a book about, or I was actually encouraging her to write a book about margaritas because I call her the margarita queen. She loves making margaritas.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s a good friend to have.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And so then I was like, “You really need to write a margarita cookbook.” And so she’s like, “Yeah, I’ve thought about it.” And so then after we talked about it, I said, “You know what, why we co-author a book together and maybe pitch it with a publisher that I already worked with and see if they’d be interested in.” And so that’s how that one came together.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: It was a fun book. I mean, it’s cocktails. So it’s all cocktails from Latin America and Spain, because I didn’t want to take away her margarita future book if she ever decides to do one. So we did it by chapter of Latin America and Spain and all these just fun exotic cocktails.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So that one was a little easier just because it wasn’t food, but still it’s a process and still takes a lot of time. And that one, I decided I’m not going to do the design for it because that part on my first book was just too personal. It was too hard to make a decision and do I like this font?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And do I like this color? And do I like this chapter opening? It was just too overwhelming that I didn’t want to get so involved with those little details. And so it was actually fun to have somebody else. It was Heidi with FoodieCrush who actually designed our cocktail book. And so they hired her and she did the design for our book.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It seems like one of those things where even if you have the skills and the ability to do it it doesn’t mean that it’s not work. And I’ve heard that again with photographers who are really capable skilled photographers do a cookbook and they’re like, you know what?
Bjork Ostrom: The decisions that I have to make around the recipes, around everything else, the deadlines, like to add in another layer of consideration and that consideration being photography, or in your case graphic design, it just doesn’t make sense.
Bjork Ostrom: And I think there comes a time whether within a mini project, like a cookbook or kind of the greater business, day-to-day business considerations, where we have to make a decision around having somebody else do the thing that we’re good at. And it maybe feels weird to do that, but you can’t do everything.
Bjork Ostrom: And the best things to pass off are the things that you don’t like to do or you aren’t good at, but eventually it might come to a point where you have to pass off the things that you are good at and you do enjoy doing just in service of your own sanity and time and all the above.
Bjork Ostrom: So with that second cookbook, did you work with the same publisher for that or did you go to a different publisher or self-publish?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So for the second book, yes, it was still again with Hippocrene Books out of New York. And again, I loved working with that team. I was already familiar with them and we just had a great synergy, great process of how to turn things in. And it was still a lot of work.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: We had the same photographer for the first book and the second book and everything was shot in my home. So that’s a mess in itself. It’s a lot of cooking, a lot of cleaning, a lot of styling, a lot of buying decor and props.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So yeah, it’s a lot of work, but I love that creative side of it. That’s what was natural to me is trying to learn how to make things look pretty on a plate.
Bjork Ostrom: And what about working with a co-author? It feels like you’d have to have two very unique people in order to pull that off and for that to work both with your first one, with your family, but also with the second cookbook, working with a friend or an acquaintance in the food publishing world.
Bjork Ostrom: Anything that you learned in that process that you would want to communicate to people who are thinking of maybe writing something together?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: I think when it comes to a niche book like that, it works perfectly. Obviously the first one is very family-oriented and very personal. So I don’t think I would just get any author to coauthor it with me. And it was special because it was my mom and my sister.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: The second one was because she’s a cocktail expert. I love making cocktails and learning about cocktails. So I think it was fun and works well for a niche type of book. But yeah, I mean, for this new cookbook that I’m writing it’s completely solo, which in itself is a whole other level of crazy, but in a good way.
Bjork Ostrom: Let’s talk about that. So first the name of the first cookbook in the second cookbook, what are the names of those?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So the first cookbook is Muy Bueno, which is what my blog is. It’s Muy Bueno. And then my second cookbook or the cocktail book is called Latin Twist. Because anytime we would make something it’s like, “Oh, and we’re going to do it with a Latin twist.” So it was, all that just always kept coming up.
Bjork Ostrom: And can you talk about the meaning behind Muy Bueno?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Yeah. So Muy Bueno, the way it started was I remember one day my mom and I, this is when we had this idea of writing this cookbook, I said, “Well, what are we going to call it?” And again, this is before I even had the blog and I said, “Well, think about a name and call me if you come up with an idea.”
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So I was at work and just thinking and thinking about it and she called me and I was calling her at the exact same time. And so finally I was like, okay, I let her call me. And she’s like, “I have the name.” I was like, “No, I have the name.” And she’s like, “Okay.” I was like, “Let’s say it on the count of three.”
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, that’s awesome.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And so we both said Muy Bueno.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, that’s awesome and so great.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And so the only reason we said we Muy Bueno was because my grandma would always welcome people in her house that way, she’s like, “ [foreign language 00:28:47],” which means sit down and eat. It’s very good. So I just thought that was something that was just so natural and something that reminded me of my grandma. And I definitely wanted to honor her in that way.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. So this third cookbook, you’ve been through it twice. You have some experience. And I feel like the third time around with a big project like this, you’ve really developed some opinions, you know what the process is like.
Bjork Ostrom: And I know it was a few years ago that you published these other cookbooks, but you’re coming back around to it now. Tell us about what that was like, this third time around. Did you work with the same publisher or did you use a literary agent? What was your game plan for this one?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So with this one, I definitely wanted it just written by myself and I’ve had this idea as soon as we wrote the first cookbook. Everybody’s always asking, “What is your favorite dish?” And for me it always changed depending on the time of year. And that’s the way we eat. It’s all seasonal. It’s all about the holidays.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So I know that I wanted to write a cookbook surrounded with the holidays in mind. And I had talked to our original publisher and they loved the idea and they were excited. They would’ve published it, but the budget wasn’t there. I really wanted it big.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: I wanted to really have money to go all out with a great photographer. I wanted to be compensated for myself enough to really dive into it. So they just couldn’t meet the advance that I was hoping for. And so then I said, “Well, you know what, maybe it’s time for me to really try and figure out how to find another publisher.”
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So I started researching how to get a literary agent and that in itself is a big thing. The proposal itself for this new cookbook took me close to a year to write. So that in itself was writing a book. It was just a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of heartache. Thinking, is it worth it?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Is somebody going to love it as much as I am going to love it? And so it was just that in itself was super emotional. And then that was right before the pandemic. So I was like, “What am I doing? Do I really want to keep doing this?”
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And so during that time what’s great, now that I think of it, what a blessing 2020 was, because I think it’s made you step back and do completely different things that maybe I wasn’t doing.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And one of them was listening to podcasts. And so I started listening to podcasts and hearing about other people’s journey writing a cookbook and finding literary agents. And one of the agents that really kept standing out was Sally Ekus with The Ekus Group and had seen her name floating around.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And I was like a stalker. I started stalking her, I started listening to every podcast that she was in, googling every interview that she was in and trying to figure out what is it that she’s looking for and what can I do to make her notice me?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And at the time I had already gotten a couple other rejects from some other agents. Right away they would say, “No, your numbers aren’t high enough, or your other books didn’t do amazingly well.” So it was very about the numbers and very discouraging.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So when I finally reached out to Sally Ekus, I had my proposal. And she said, “Your intro letter was the best intro letter I’ve ever received.” It was very personal, very in sync to what she’s looking for. And so she she’s like, “I definitely want to work with you.” So that just made me-
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I was going to say, I feel like that comes from, and worth pointing out, you had done, you called it stalking. I would call it research, but you had done a lot of work leading up to that point to get to the point where you’re essentially pitching her.
Bjork Ostrom: And my guess is that you had developed some opinions based on the podcast that you heard, the interviews that you read around how to do that. And it reminds me a little bit of when I was, this is different but the same, when I was in college, one of the things I would always do is before a paper would be due, I’d try and finish it a week ahead of time.
Bjork Ostrom: And then I would email it to the professor and say like, “Hey, I finished this paper. Could you take a look through and let me know any changes you’d like to see with it or things that should be different?” And then they’d essentially grade it and then send it back to me. And then I would do the updates and then send it in, like submit it.
Bjork Ostrom: And they’d be like, “Oh my gosh, this is great.” You get a A or whatever it was, not always, but essentially what you’re doing in that phase, I would guess is you’re listening to her, say what’s important to her. Say how to frame up a story around a book. And then you encapsulate all of that in the letter.
Bjork Ostrom: And she looks at it and she’s like, “Oh my gosh, this is great,” but it comes from doing the work ahead of time. And I think sometimes what can happen is people can get so rushed. They can be like, “I’m just going to send off this thing.” It’s not personal. It’s not aimed at somebody.
Bjork Ostrom: And it’s a weak pitch because there’s no personalization to it. There’s no story and you’re not aligning it to that person. So I think worth pointing out how important that research phase was for you in order to set you up to have a successful interaction with her.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: For sure. And I think it’s like internet is today, you have that one few moment make a good impression. Is it going to be a good one? Is it going to be a memorable one? Is it going to be like, “Who is this person?” Or are they going to be like, “Next.”
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So I just really, really knew in my heart that if I make it personal, at least she’ll read it. I didn’t care if she would say no, I just knew that I just wanted her to know that I geared it towards her. And she saw that and she loved it and it just worked out in my favor.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And so she read the proposal. I already had it completely done. And they gave me great feedback of what ideas to change or how to frame it differently or what to include that maybe I didn’t include. So we tweaked it a bit more. And then from there they pitched it to different publishers.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Can you talk about the role of a literary agent? It feels like there’s so many different people involved in the cookbook process and I’d be curious to know, when do you involve somebody? Essentially, what would your advice be for somebody who wants to write a cookbook?
Bjork Ostrom: Now that you’ve been through it three times, now that you’ve gotten to a point where you were able to get that advance that you wanted to get, what would your advice be for somebody who’s like, “I want to write a cookbook.” What do you do? And what are the first steps that you take?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: I always say, start writing the proposal because so many people don’t really understand the whole proposal process. You have to write in the proposal your biography. It’s your marketing plan. It’s your business plan.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: How are you going to pitch this? How are you going to sell it? How are you going to promote it? What are your numbers on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, all your social medias? What awards have you won?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: All these things that you have to write in there because if you’re grandma may, next door, yell your recipes might be amazing and your little community, your church community might love them, but who are you to the everyday other world and how are you going to compete in this book plan?
Bjork Ostrom: And would you write a proposal and then use that to have a conversation with the literary agent? Or it sounded like when you were working with your literary agent she, and maybe what you’re saying is she revised the draft that you had created, is that what it was?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Yeah. I mean, my proposal was pretty much complete. There was just other little tweaks that they recommended me add in. But for the most part, if you’re going to start even looking for a literary agent, you need to have a proposal.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Unless they’re going to really fall in love with you because you have these amazing numbers that they could say, “Oh yeah, that sounds great. Now work on your proposal.” But for the most part, a literary agency isn’t going to take you seriously until you at least have that first part done.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: That makes sense.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So get working on the proposal right away. It sounded like for you, it was a long process of making sure that you had it right. And it’s almost like, I can imagine working along, set your proposal kind of in the lab while you’re doing the forward-looking things like your blog and your social and continuing to build that.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: Then working on this proposal, making sure that’s tweaked and adjusted to the point where you feel good about it. At what point then would you say, hey, it makes sense to reach out? And where do you find information for these people?
Bjork Ostrom: You talked about podcasts, but where are the other places that you can find a literary agent or an agency or publishers? Is there a database that exists for that? Where do you go?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Yeah, I definitely Googled a lot. Just literary agents, cookbook literary agents. I talked to other bloggers that I knew and asked who their agents were and if they liked them. And so then I would reached out to a couple of those and those were the ones who were like, “Nope, your numbers aren’t big enough.”
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So yeah, there’s definitely lots of places to look. It’s just a matter of researching. And if there’s, what I did, it would just look at their roster of other books that they’ve published or that they’ve partnered with.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And to see if, sometimes agents will be, “No, we’re already working with a cookbook that’s similar to yours. So no.” So you never know why somebody might not want to work with you, but I mean, there’s so many agents out there.
Bjork Ostrom: Well, and the interesting thing is you talk about numbers not being good enough or whatever, but you’ve built a business that, and I think about this a lot, like other professions. It’s like the salary of a medical professional, like a doctor.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s like you have this really successful business and you can… I think number one, it’s just important to remember that for us as creators, sometimes we have these markers and then you’ll hear those interactions from people and be like, Oh, the numbers aren’t good enough.”
Bjork Ostrom: It’s like, oh, actually it’s really impressive what you’ve built, what we’ve all built. I’m curious to know what it was like for you to push through that. When you hear somebody come back to you and be like, “Oh, your numbers aren’t good enough,” be like, “Oh shoot, that doesn’t feel great.” Did you remind yourself of the good work that you’ve done, or what did that look like for you?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: I mean, it’s definitely discouraging and definitely makes you second guess it. And do you even want to do this because maybe it won’t be successful? And that does get into and play in your head, but then just like you said, it’s like, okay, I’m working with brands.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: I have a great audience. My business is growing and it’s successful. I mean, just to think how much… I mean, this is a really cool thing to share, that it’s so funny to share it is that I want an Emmy on a video.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I saw that. Yeah.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And never would I have ever thought that in this world that I’d be producing a short format video and it win an Emmy. So I was like, “Okay, I might not have the millions of followers on Instagram, but there’s certain things that have really been noticed in this business journey that I knew that I had something.”
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: And I love the feedback just from people who are following me and resonating with my story. And I knew that there wasn’t a lot of Latina authors who are writing books, writing about their culture, writing about their history, writing about their journey and their family and their recipes.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: So I definitely want it… I kept reminding myself of that, that those are the things that are important and our voices need to be heard.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s awesome. And a great note to wrap up on. Yvette, before we go, actually one more question. If you were to go back in time, 2010, you’re just starting out. You’re kind of thinking about this potential of a cookbook or the potential of a blog. What advice would you give yourself?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: It’s the same advice I give to other people is just do it. Just like you were saying, don’t think about it, or even though you might be naive in the beginning, just put yourself out there and you’re going to learn from your mistakes and then you’re going to keep growing from them.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. And where can people get in touch with you, Yvette? If they want to reach out, if they want to maybe shoot you DM, are your DMS open? Can people DM you? What’s the best way to get in touch with you and also follow along with what you’re up to?
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Yes. So my blog is muybuenocookbook.com and Instagram, muybuenocooking. I totally respond to every single message on Instagram. I’m obsessed with my Instagram family. And yeah, you could shoot me an email, send me a DM. I’m totally open for that.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Yvette, thanks so much for coming on. Really appreciate it.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack: Thank you.
Leslie Jeon: Hello. Hello. Leslie here from the Food Blogger Pro team. We really hope that you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Before you sign off, I wanted to mention one of the most robust features of a Food Blogger Pro membership and that’s our courses.
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