By: Rachel Mount Hofstetter
When I was an editor at O, the Oprah Magazine, I loved meeting and talking with up-and-coming food entrepreneurs. I wrote a story about some of the most inspiring ones I met — and readers loved it! I wished I could write a similar story, month after month. Instead, I was able to turn the buzz about my story into a book deal, and Cooking Up a Business comes out December 3rd. Here’s how I did it — and how you can, too.
1. Write about something you like — and a topic you think is up and coming.
And pick something that not everyone is writing about, or make sure you have a unique take on the subject. When I wrote my article, no one was talking about food entrepreneurs in mainstream media, but the trade shows I went to and the desksides I did made me realize that this was a big, big area, and tons of people wanted to get into food. Plus, we were just coming out of a recession and more people were thinking of trying a new career. Who doesn’t have a secret spaghetti sauce or cookie recipe they’ve dreamed of selling? (And make sure you like the topic — by the end, you are going to have essentially earned a PhD in it.)
2. Google “how to write a book proposal.” Seriously, that’s it.
Then carve out three (preferably consecutive) Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. You’ll finish it in that amount of time (trust me) and remember: good enough is better than not done! I wrote my proposal after the article came out, which was double bang for the buck: I had already learned that it was a buzzy topic, and I was able to include some stats like the number of reader letters we’d received at the magazine.
3. Look for an agent you already know.
Wait wait, aren’t you supposed to research the perfect literary agent and send them a cold pitch?! Yes…and no. If you’re already a magazine editor or writing for one, you’ve probably worked with writers and authors. You might have even worked with agents directly, booking their writers or negotiating payment terms. Take advantage of that network. First, I simply asked every author I worked with who their agent was and if I could have an introduction.
But my lucky break ended up coming from an agent I was talking to about a story in my magazine. She introduced me her colleague and it was agent love at first sight. (Key word here: ASK!) (P.S. Yes, you need an agent. They’re great friends with the book editors, will help you turn your yuck proposal into something gorgeous, and they will pound the streets getting you the best deal for you book. And then they will be your #1 fan for the whole entire book writing, editing, and selling process.)
4. Research and pitch to agents.
If your personal network doesn’t pan out, no worries! Find books that are similar to yours in content, audience, style, etc. Then flip to the acknowledgements. Usually the agent is credited right at the top — and you already know that your topic would be a fit. Mention the book you found them in when you reach out, so they know you’re not blind emailing hundreds of agents. You want them, which might make them want you.
5. Give your agent something awesome to sell your book with.
Your content and ideas matter, but book publishers want to know that you’ll be equally adept at selling the book as you are writing it. Again, that network thing. Do you go to Ed2010 events and have magazine editor friends? Mention that! Do you write a blog for WebsiteY? Mention that, because WebsiteY will probably let you do something book-related. In your proposal, you should sound like the most influential, kick-butt version of yourself.
6. Sell! Sign the deal! Go forth and write!
Congratulations! And approximately 12-18 months later, get ready to see your book on shelves and on your Kindle screen. And then you get to tell the world why they need your book (like you need this one!).
Rachel’s Timeline to Publishing Cooking Up a Business
December 2010: Pitch story to magazine; write story about food entrepreneurs
April 2011: Story comes out in magazine
May 2011: Google “how to write a book proposal”; Write first draft of a book proposal (20 pages)
June 2011: Find an agent; she agrees to take on book.
Fall 2011: Re-work book proposal; add in sample chapters.
January 2012: Put book on the market; talk to editors; meet with editors. Sell book!
Spring, Summer, Fall 2012: Write book
December 1 2012: Turn in book manuscript
February 2013: Do book edits
May 2013: Do copyedits
July 2013: Final pass edits; meet with publicist
November 2013: Get copies of book
Dec 3rd, 2013: Book goes on sale!
Cooking Up a Business is on sale December 3rd! Get it on amazon.com.