I have a lot of ideas. How do I publish a cookbook?
– Mixologist/Beverage Consultant, New York, NY
One of the most appealing features you can use to excite a publisher about your book is a platform—cookbook publishers are obsessed with them, especially for first-time authors. A platform is any sort of pre-developed fan base that can assure a publisher that you are a known entity, something that makes marketing your book to the public much easier for them. Platforms may come in the form of television shows, weekly newspaper columns, or in the case of restaurants, an established customer base. Since you work with multiple restaurants, each of which sees hundreds of guests each day, publishers will be thrilled to hear about the potential to promote and sell your book through your clients’ operations.
The next question is whether you will try to court a traditional publisher or self-publish. Traditional publishers have distribution networks, dedicated public relations and marketing staffs, good contacts for design and production, and, of course, experience in the field. The downside is that author royalties are generally low. Ten or twelve percent of net is not unusual.
Self-publishing used to be a quirky crutch for those authors who couldn’t land a contract with a “real” publisher. These days, though, self-publishing (sometimes called vanity publishing or custom publishing), whether print, electronic or both, has largely lost its stigma and can be much more lucrative than traditional publishing. The challenge, of course, is that all of the production and marketing services a traditional publisher provides are your responsibility. Book packagers and marketers will take this work on for a fee or a percentage of royalties.
Finally, consider getting an agent to help you navigate this world. The argument for or against an agent is similar to one you would use for selling real estate—yes, without an agent you keep the full amount, but you might be able to get a much better deal with one. A good agent will also allow you to focus on your day job.