As the Paris Cookbook Fair gets underway next month, cookbook publishers are getting ready to do some shopping—and not just the sort that involves stocking up on Dijon mustard and bonbons from Fauchon. "Foreign rights have always been a major activity for big fiction books," says Edouard Cointreau, president of the fair. "Now they are becoming a key to the business of smaller publishers and authors.... [They may] be small deals, but you cannot ignore the total income they generate. Small streams make big rivers."
Yet even if an American cookbook features international recipes—which many of this spring's titles do, from Marja Vongerichten's The Kimchi Chronicles to The Sweets of Araby by Leila Salloum Elias and Muna Salloum—"American" can be a tough sell in foreign markets, agents and publishers agree. "Publishers tend to be more interested in authors who have a local platform," explains Nicole Bond, associate director, foreign rights at Grand Central Publishing. Still, Cointreau notes, U.S. publishers have successfully brought cookbooks by unknown authors into international markets, and vice versa—you just have to follow the recipe for success.
An American Cookbook Author Abroad
First, cookbooks covering international cuisines obviously have a greater potential for foreign sales. Despite their popularity in the U.S., American classics like pot roast and mac-and-cheese don't have much crossover appeal.
"Many of our U.S.-based authors are developing amazing recipes with an international flair—which we know increases their sales potential overseas, regardless of whether we sell rights to a foreign publisher or distribute the book internationally ourselves," says Lissa Warren, v-p, senior director of publicity at Da Capo Press and Da Capo Lifelong Books.
Warren points to Viva Vegan!: 200 Authentic and Fabulous Recipes for Latin Food Lovers by Venezuelan-American cookbook author Terry Hope Romero, which Da Capo published last year. It sold well in the U.S., says Warren, but also in the U.K., where Da Capo's British arm, Perseus UK, distributed it. Da Capo is starting to see similar success overseas with another newly published vegan cookbook, Appetite for Reduction: 125 Fast & Filling Low-Fat Vegan Recipes by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, VegNews magazine's 2010 "favorite cookbook author," as well as with the popular backlist title Veganomicon, coauthored by Romero and Moskowitz.
Packing up and moving abroad can also give American cookbook authors the street cred that can translate into big international sales. One of Morrow's bestselling cookbook authors, Patricia Wells, divides her time between Paris and Provence. Her book Patricia Wells at Home in Provence (1996) won the James Beard Award for Best International Cookbook. In April, Morrow will publish Salad as a Meal, and in November, Simply Truffles. Wells's books have been translated into Dutch, French, German, Portuguese, and Swedish. (See Wells's "Why I Write.")
Expat status has also been a boon to Pamela Sheldon Johns, a Californian who has lived full- or part-time in Italy for 19 years. She has published cookbooks with Andrews McMeel, teaches cooking classes, has a B&B in Tuscany, and even her own line of olive oil. In August, Andrews McMeel will publish Johns's Cucina Povera. Along the same lines, in March, the Little Bookroom will release Italy Dish by Dish by Monica Sartoni Cesare, which was translated by Susan Simon, another American cookbook author who has lived in Italy.
|How It Happens: Agate's Gamble on 'Plancha' |
Aside from strolling the aisles of the Paris Cookbook Fair, how does a small publisher outside of New York, where most international cookbook deals happen, find possible titles to import? For Doug Seibold, president of Chicago's Agate Publishing, a book actually found him. Now, five years later, it will attempt to find U.S. readers.
In 2006, Sophie Picon, who'd moved to Chicago from France, contacted Seibold because she was pursuing rights opportunities for a Bordeaux press, Editions Sud Ouest. Seibold was new to food publishing and liked Sud Ouest's books—he calls them "colorful and practical guides to different cuisines"—though he didn't have any idea how to publish them in the U.S. But early last year, an Agate intern, Danielle McCumber, who is half-French and a native bilingual French/English speaker, saw some of Picon's Sud Ouest books, which Seibold had kept in his office. One of them, Plancha, about a Spanish grilling technique that uses a special metal plate to cook the food, seemed viable in the U.S., especially once Agate's head of sales, Eileen Johnson, started investigating the availability of plancha grills in the U.S. and found that a couple of retailers—including Williams-Sonoma—were starting to carry them. Seibold and Picon made a foreign rights deal, and McCumber translated the book. In June, Agate's Surrey Books imprint will release Plancha: 150 Great Recipes for Spanish-Style Grilling by Liliane Otal. "We thought that the time might be right to take a flyer on something like this book," says Seibold. "There's nothing else like it in U.S. bookstores."
Special diet cookbooks are another topic that can spark interest in foreign territories. In many places outside the U.S., there's a lack of information concerning special diet needs, so some American publishers have done well publishing or selling the foreign rights to books focusing on gluten-free, diabetic, and vegan diets. Andrews McMeel is optimistic that Quick-Fix Gluten Free by Robert Landolphi, which comes out in August, will find a market abroad. And Chicago-based Agate has done very well with three gluten-free books written or co-written by Annalise G. Roberts, most notably Gluten-Free Baking Classics, which Agate's Surrey Books imprint first published in 2006 (an expanded second edition pubbed in 2008). That book has found an international audience online, helped in part by nearly 200 reader reviews on Amazon. "For a book like this—one that is actively sought out by a very interested customer base, eager if not desperate for guidance about how to bake gluten-free—digital word of mouth is of inestimable value," says Agate president Doug Seibold.
Another book that has used word-of-mouth to snag a foreign rights deal is the U.S. bestseller Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François, which Thomas Dunne published in the States in 2007. Literary agent Laura Abramo of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management has sold the book to a few foreign territories so far, including the U.K., China, and Taiwan, and although it has only just come out in those markets, Abramo says it's already garnering attention in the U.K. "It's really hard to place cookbooks internationally because cookbook publishing in the U.S. is so platform-driven," Abramo says. "Most of our biggest celebrity chefs don't have the same celebrity abroad." Artisan Bread is largely a word-of-mouth phenomenon; however, the practically fail-proof method for baking bread has been talked about by so many people, especially online, that foreign publishers have begun to show real interest. "Unlike books that are driven by a celebrity platform," Abramo says, "this is driven by people believing [the method] works."