Sunday, September 21, 2008

Platform Building Tips from PW's Next Generation of Cookbook Stars

The 9/15/2008 issue of Publishers Weekly included a feature story called, "Rapid Rise," by Lynn Andriani profiling the next generation of cookbook stars--"10 cookbook authors who aren't quite household names—but, with a little luck, might be soon."

Each profile includes the author name and book title, age, "Reminds us of," bio, and "Why he's/she's got it." It is an interesting article. I zeroed in on the bio and "Why She's Got It" to see if we can identify any trends for emerging cookbook authors. The article includes a quote from Rux Martin, executive editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who says, “Until recently it was all Food Network, Food Network, Food Network. Now you don't have to have a TV show to be hot. It's personality, personality, personality that sells.”

Hmmm. Really?

Eight of the ten authors featured in the PW article have their own TV show or are developing a show, including Houghton Miflin's own Michelle Bernstein who has a show on PBS. We hear a lot about authors needing a "platform," so here are a few ideas I gleaned from these ten not-yet stars:
  • open a restaurant or three;
  • get nominated, be a finalist, or win a James Beard award;
  • develop a line of cookware, tableware, or food products;
  • get mediagenic;
  • if you can't host a show on PBS, The Food Network, or Home Shopping Network, then sell crack, go to prison, publish a memoir and get it made into a movie, and then get a TV show;
  • make friends with Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, Bobby Flay;
  • go on a national tour hosting women's events or teaching cooking classes at Sur la Table;
  • publish two cookbooks before you turn 18 and go to culinary school.

    Following are excerpts from the article:

    Michelle Bernstein, Cuisine à Latina: Fresh Tastes and a World of Flavors from Michy's Miami Kitchen (Houghton Mifflin, Nov.)
    Why she's got it: Bernstein's mix of Latin, Italian and Jewish makes her unusual. She says, “I don't dream that big,” yet her list of things to do—open a Spanish tapas restaurant and an Italian noodle shop; get chefs in south Florida to use sustainable foods and come together for monthly late-night dinners—is hardly small.
    Bio: Chef-owner of Michy's in Miami, Bernstein has twice been nominated for Best Chef of the Southeast by the Beard Foundation. She has a line of pots and tableware debuting on the Home Shopping Network next year and hosts the six-month-old PBS program Check, Please.

    Jeff Henderson, aka Chef Jeff, Chef Jeff Cooks: In the Kitchen with America's Inspirational New Culinary Star (Scribner, Oct.)
    Bio: Henderson, who served 10 years for crack dealing, learned to cook in prison. His memoir, Cooked (Morrow, 2007), is being made into a movie by the team behind The Pursuit of Happyness; Will Smith will star.
    Why he's got it: Henderson's mix of food and feel-good inspiration is unique: his docu-reality series, The Chef Jeff Project, debuts on the Food Network in October and features Henderson hiring six at-risk young adults to help him launch a catering company.

    Liz Edmunds, aka the Food Nanny, The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner: Easy Family Meals for Every Day of the Week (Palmer/Pletsch, Sept.)
    Bio: Edmunds and her husband raised seven children; she now teaches cooking classes at Sur la Table and consults with families about meal planning. For this, her first book, she landed an interview at
    Why she's got it: Edmunds's recipes are for everyday food with a focus on hearty, nutritious meals. “I want to get my message out there and get people excited about how easy this is to do. Cooking for your family on a consistent basis will make your life so great.”

    Marilynn Brass and Sheila Brass, aka the Brass Sisters, Heirloom Cooking with the Brass Sisters: Recipes You Remember & Love (Black Dog & Leventhal, Oct.)
    Bio: The sisters have been collecting handwritten recipes for more than 20 years and compiled them into a book, Heirloom Baking, which was a James Beard Award finalist in 2007. They host a PBS special on Boston's WGBH, Brass Sisters, Queens of Comfort Food.
    Why they've got it: They tour nationwide, meeting people and getting recipes, and want to continue their series with Heirloom Celebrations. “It's really a labor of love,” says Marilynn, and Sheila concurs, “Ditto!”

    Shakara Bridgers, Jeniece Isley and Joan A. Davis, aka the Get 'Em Girls, The Get 'Em Girls' Guide to the Power of Cuisine: Perfect Recipes for Spicing Up Your Life (Fireside, Sept.)
    Bio: The authors—former businesswomen and avid home cooks—self-published The Get 'Em Girls' Guide to the Power of Cuisine last year and have a two-book deal with S&S; the next book, on entertaining, pubs in May '09. They host Girls' Bite Out, a “culinary lifestyle event” in multiple cities featuring food, drink and lifestyle suggestions for “women of color.”
    Why they've got it: They're working on a reality show, The Delicious Life, and want to write more books (they've begun work on GEGG to Losing Weight and Eating Great). Watch for them on the Today show September 18.

    Christina Avaness, Living Beyond Organic: Nutritional Knowledge Redefined (Tiara Publishing, Jan.)
    Bio: Avaness helped her husband recover from a heart attack at age 48 through natural healing. He lowered his LDL cholesterol through healthy eating, and Avaness learned so much about the process she wrote a book about it. This will be the first volume of a series.
    Why she's got it: Avaness is outgoing and mediagenic; she'll begin filming a TV show, The Food Alchemist, in spring '09, teaches cooking classes in the L.A. area, and has launched, which sells specialty foods recommended in the book.

    Johnny Iuzzini, Dessert Fourplay: Sweet Quartets from a Four-Star Pastry Chef (Clarkson Potter, Dec.)
    Bio: Iuzzini grew up in the Catskills, attended culinary school and has worked for heavy hitters Daniel Boulud and François Payard. He won a 2006 Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year and has appeared in segments for the Food Network, Martha Stewart, Top Chef and other shows.
    Why he's got it: Iuzzini thinks differently: he's shooting a food-and-technology–themed TV pilot and wants to open a cocktail bar that “brings the cocktail up to date” using vacuum technology. Paula Deen and Martha Stewart are huge fans.

    Jose Garces, Latin Evolution (Lake Isle, Sept.)
    Bio: Born and raised in Chicago by Ecuadoran parents, Garces attended culinary school, worked in top New York kitchens and eventually opened three restaurants in Philadelphia. He was recently profiled in Philadelphia Style and last month, he beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America.
    Why he's got it: Lake Isle is the small press that “discovered” Rachael Ray. Like Ray, Garces has guy-next-door charm: “TV sounds good,” he says, “but I just want it to be able to be real, not a 'produced' me.

    Katie Brown, Katie Brown Celebrates: Simple and Spectacular Parties All Year Round (Little, Brown, Nov.)
    Bio: Brown hosts The Katie Brown Workshop on PBS; writes a New York Times syndicated column, “Domestic Dilemmas”; and just teamed up with superstore chain Meijer for a line of products that will come out in 2010.
    Why she's got it: Brown eschews highbrow recipes and ingredients for simple, approachable ones. She filmed the first three seasons of her show in the Hamptons, but is about to begin filming her fourth season at a lower-key apple orchard in the Berkshires.

    Sam Stern, Sam Stern's Get Cooking (Candlewick, Nov.)
    Age: 18
    Bio: Stern, who was raised in Yorkshire and lives in England, has published two books in the U.S., Cooking Up a Storm (Candlewick, 2006) and Real Food, Real Fast (Candlewick, Jan. 2008). He just released a new one in the U.K. for college students.
    Why he's got it: He wants “to inspire other teens to cook”; his site ( features recipes, a blog and more. He'll attend university in fall 2009, but this year he's attending culinary school in Ireland—which could lead to more cooking opportunities.


Jorj said...

The subject matter in this post is one that I have gone round and round about since I first got interested in the cookbook publishing world. Yes, you draw the obvious conclusion that the highly marketable cookbooks have "up and coming" authors that have food television shows, products and/or restaurants. But I think a further observation can be made. The publishing companies (Workman, Little Brown, Clarkson Potter, Simon and Schuster, Harper Collins, Lake Isle Press) for these “up and comer’s” are predominantly from the New York/Boston arena. Therefore, they have access to the Food Network TV productions as those studios are in New York. They can arrange appearances on the national network morning shows as these studios are in New York and producers contact the NY houses for guests. The authors can have blurbs written about them in magazines (Publishers Weekly) and newspapers because these are based in New York. These authors are represented by agents and public relation handlers that operate within this New York publishing network.

I have worked for years to break into this network and it is difficult. And, as you put it in a previous post, how much is an appearance on the Today show worth in book sales? I work constantly to get mentions in print such as the one I have in this week’s Woman’s World. I auditioned and was runner-up to Michele Berstein for the PBS show “Check Please” produced in Miami. By the way, the producer wanted me but was over-ruled by the original “Check Please” producers in Chicago as hers was a more known name than mine.
My goal is to be the best cookbook author that I can be and produce a product that is neither tied to a television show or a line of products. I think there is value in this goal and I know that you agree. It’s a tough market out there, but there is a place for quality and I think that Cumberland represents that.

When you come up with a way to break into the New York publishing Good Old Boys network – let me know and I’ll put on my Sara Palin face and push open the door….

Paul Mikos said...

Thanks Jorj.

Everyone, check out Jorj's site at

I suppose proximity can be a factor, but let's face it, in this culture, money talks and celebrity sells. The issue for publishers is similar to the one facing independent booksellers vs. chains. It is up to independent publishers and booksellers to find ways to be competitive with their corporate counterparts, be it through service, selection, quality, whatever. We can't compete with the money they have to put toward advances or the clout they have with the media, but we know who we are.

At CHP we give a lot of attention to establishing our distinctives:
- Acquiring and publishing in our core categories
- Thorough research and smart publishing plans
- Business partnerships and honest communication with our authors
- Best in class design, packaging, and sales presentations

We're not likely to acquire the next Martha Stewart book, but the market will be richer because of the books we do publish, just as independent booksellers enrich their communities beyond anything you could get at Wal-Mart.