Recently, PastryScoop.com had a conversation with Jennifer Josephy, executive editor for cookbooks at Broadway Books, part of Doubleday Broadway and a division of Random House. Josephy has been a book editor for more than twenty years, and in 2000 she began specializing in cookbooks at Broadway Books. She has edited popular books, including Desserts By Pierre Hermé, Paris Sweets, and Simply Sensational Desserts. Most recently, one of Josephy’s books Local Flavors by Deborah Madison won the 2003 James Beard Award in the General/Cooking for Every day category. We asked her to share some insights about the cookbook publishing industry and on writing a cookbook.
Q: Jennifer, congratulations on your 2003 James Beard Award for Local Flavors! You’ve been a past recipient of many James Beard and IACP awards. How are you able to keep your pulse on so many important areas in the food and wine industry?
A: I try to read all the food magazines, eat at the new restaurants in New York City, arguably the food capital of the world, and I try to travel as much as I can. Also, organizations like the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) put you in touch with so many people in the food industry. Even if you’re a busy chef and don’t have time to read every food magazine, experiment by reading different magazines and see what you like. Magazines like Food Arts keep you on top of the professional pastry and culinary world.
Q: Successful chefs are often asked to write a cookbook at some point in their career. How does the process work?
A: Often [literary] agents are on the lookout for new talent and cookbook editors find out about new projects from these agents. Sometimes the editors go to the chefs and other times, the chefs go to the editors. It’s important that chefs have something new to say. If you’re a well-known chef at a well-regarded restaurant, a food columnist or writer, or have a presence on television, that helps too. Writing a cookbook comes after you’ve achieved a certain level of success, so it’s something to aspire to. When you are ready, find an agent. Literary Market Place is a good place to start. (Editor’s note: Literary Market Place, LMP, is a book publishing directory with over 30,000 listings of American and Canadian publishers, literary agents, book producers, periodicals, awards, and events. The International Literary Market Place, ILMP, provides similar listings for over 180 countries. Information about both sources as well as LMP’s subscription based Web site can be found at www.literarymarketplace.com).
Q: What should a person look for in a literary agent and what exactly do they do for you?
A: Look in the acknowledgement [section] of cookbooks to get a sense of the some of the agents that are available. You’ll want to work with someone you’re comfortable with, someone you have chemistry with, and someone you’ll feel happy working with. Ask agents who they represent and how many chefs they’ve worked with before. The agent’s job is to represent you and to ensure that the publisher is doing a good job publishing your book and taking care of you. The agent is your advocate and negotiates your publishing advance and keeps the editor [v.] author relationship off the subject of money. Typically, the agent gets paid 10 to 15 percent of the book advance and royalties.
Q: How do busy chefs run their restaurant and write their cookbooks at the same time?
A: Many executive chefs have senior staff to help them at the restaurant when they’re writing the book. It’s definitely not something you want to do when you’re opening a new restaurant. And the time it takes to write a book will vary from person to person, from six months to two years. Does the writer have all the recipes in hand? Do we need to convert or develop recipes for the home cook? Does the chef know what he/she wants to write about? Editors are always looking for something new and different, a new style of cooking, or a new category of cooking that hasn’t been done before.
Q: What are some culinary trends that you’re seeing right now?
A: That’s a complicated question because there’s so much happening, but one of the trends I see is that chefs are being incredibly inventive in the restaurant. They go beyond what people envision they can cook at home-using lots of hard to find ingredients. Food in American restaurants is getting better as a result and chefs in the business are being challenged to do more inventive things. At the other end of the spectrum, we also see a return to simpler things, like comfort food, but prepared very well.
Q: Can you give us a sense of who the cookbook consumer is?
A: There are some people who buy cookbooks and read them like a book, put them on their bedside table, with no thought of going into the kitchen. Then there are a large number of those who like to buy books by a recognized chef. Hobbyists are another group, and of course, you have the professionals who want to keep up with what’s going on in the industry.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
A: I love working with different people, chefs, authors, writers, and being a part of the creative process. I love turning a manuscript that’s in rough shape into a beautiful book.
Q: So tell us, what’s your favorite dessert?
A: I love anything chocolate-especially a good chocolate cake.