Stirring the Sales Pot
Robert Dahlin -- 7/24/00
As chefs become increasingly visible and the art of cooking grows
in popularity, the publishing dough rises
Rarely has a revolution been so gently ignited. "Cooking is not a particularly difficult art," began the call, "and the more you cook and learn about cooking, the more sense it makes. But like any art it requires practice and experience. The most important ingredient you can bring to it is love of cooking for its own sake." That tasteful rallying cry is from the foreword to Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle and Julia Child, published by Knopf in October 1961. Nearly four decades later, love of cooking for its own sake is firmly established in American kitchens, as is evident in the almost desperately competitive cookbook marketplace. And four decades later, Julia Child, who became our own culinary Che Guevara, is still holding the banner high with Julia's Kitchen Wisdom: Lessons from a Lifetime of Cooking (Knopf, Nov.).
"Cooking is not merely something to do anymore," says Ellen Rose, owner of Cook's Library in Los Angeles. "It's something that is enjoyable. People want to try new things."
"A lot of people like the physical act of cooking," notes Gayle Novacek, book buyer for Sur la Table, the 15-store chain of gourmet ware with stores existing or planned from Seattle to Manhasset, N.Y. "Cooking takes people out of themselves."
"People have more money today," says Jennifer Pearce, v-p, content development, Time-Life Books. "They eat out and appreciate better food more often, and they want to replicate it at home."
Eating out is certainly a factor, and so are the seemingly unending number of chefs who prepare the food, women and men who have become mega-celebrities at the stove and on TV. It's a given that public television and the Food Network have played a significant part in turning up the heat on Americans' desire for good food--food that pays off big time. On Forbes magazine's latest Celebrity 100 list, restaurateurs Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Charlie Palmer and Nobuyuki Matsuhisa were all among the highest money earners in the country.
"Chef books play into today's serious audience for food," remarks Kirsty Melville, publisher of Ten Speed Press, who publishes a full measure of chefs and whose fall list includes A Chef for All Seasons by London's Gordon Ramsay, and Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home. "Before, people got a 'wow' factor from professional chefs. 'How can they do that?' Now it's, 'Maybe I can do that too.'"
"The thing that's interesting," says Rose, "is that chefs are publishing not just one book, but two or three or more. Look at Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mario Batali. Charlie Trotter just never stops."
At Borders, cookbook buyer Julie Armstrong concurs. "Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Charlie Trotter and Tom Colicchio have books coming out this fall, and we expect them to do well. However, we're seeing an influx of international celebrity chef books this year. DK, for example, is importing a line of books already available in the U.K., which includes titles by Gary Rhodes and Delia Smith." Armstrong also cites Kobayashi, a TV chef from Japan whose Quick and Easy Japanese Cookbook is coming from Kodansha, and England's Jamie Oliver, whose The Naked Chef is on Hyperion's list.
"I've got three chef books on the spring 2001 list," says Harriet Bell, editorial director for William Morrow Cookbooks, "books by Biba Caggiano [whose Biba restaurant in Sacramento has earned many awards], Charlie Palmer [chef-owner of Manhattan's Aureole] and Tom Douglas [chef-owner of three Seattle restaurants]. We get calls from a half-dozen chefs a week who want us to print their recipes." (Bell represents something of a recent seismic shift within the ranks of notable cookbook editors. She moved from Broadway to Morrow in February. Formerly at Morrow, Pam H nig is now executive editor at Harvard Common Press. Jennifer Josephy, formerly at Little, Brown, is now executive editor, cookbooks, at Broadway, where cookbooks once published as Doubleday titles are being folded into the Broadway imprint.)
"Chef books remain strong primarily because it's the whole package," says Lisa Ekus of Lisa Ekus Public Relations Company. "What chefs do is market themselves, promote their vision in their restaurants, on television and in books. Some regional cookbooks, however, don't play outside their own areas. Just because you have a good restaurant d sn't mean you should do a cookbook. On the other hand, with something like Not Afraid of Flavor by Ben and Karen Barker [Univ. of North Carolina Press, Nov.], we're trying to break out the fame of their Magnolia Grill in Durham to a national level."
"Not every chef has something new to say," warns Clarkson Potter executive editor Pam Krauss. "In our November book, Think Like a Chef, Tom Colicchio [of New York's Gramercy Tavern] takes an original approach by showing you the inner workings of a chef's mind. He tells how to put together a triumvirate of flavors, how to perfect techniques, how to approach the marketplace. The book has an interactive feel."
"There's a groundswell coming in cookbooks that happens every so often," suggests James Connolly, president and publisher of Bay Books, which has on its backlist a five-volume video set: Jacques Pepin's Cooking Techniques. "I can feel it. There's a return to the roots of cooking, to why people get involved in cooking in the first place. We're going into a new cycle of re-interest in discovering how someone can put the pieces together to learn how to cook. It's about implements, kitchenware, ingredients. What's the best?"
"There seems to be a return to general techniques that a home cook can use," says Sumi Hahn, cookbook editor at Amazon.com, who cites the backlist stalwart, How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman (formerly Macmillan, now IDG Books). "Maybe it's a return to cooking that d sn't start with a recipe, but with a way of thinking."
The seriousness with which an increasing number of American cooks turn to exacting recipes today is answered on a similarly serious level by John Wiley. Pam Chirls, senior editor, culinary books, says: "We're unique in the cookbook business because we provide professionals, culinary students and serious food enthusiasts with educational and inspirational books for every stage of their careers and interests. Places like Williams-Sonoma and Sur la Table and Kitchen Arts and Letters in New York sell our books. The New Professional Chef [ed. by Mary Deirdre Donovan] has traveled beyond professional chefs and students, and Becoming a Chef [by Andrew Dornenberg and Karen Page] has provided inspiration to serious home chefs because of the interest in what chefs are doing around the country." This fall, Wiley publishes a newly revised edition of Splendid Soups by James Peterson, which was originally a Bantam title. "Jim's Sauces was named cookbook of the year in 1992, and it's still one of our topselling cookbooks," says Chirls. "Although, because it's so specialized we originally didn't expect it to have such a great commercial success. Chocolate Passion [by Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty], which we published last fall, has many recipes for cakes, cookies and brownies that are quite accessible to home cooks, but it also contains recipes that are far more ambitious."
Publishers frequently note that dessert cookbooks are perennially popular, but Chirls takes the fact even further: "A subject where we've seen growing interest is pastries. Culinary schools are developing separate pastry courses, and we've been responding to that by working on books in several different pastry areas. This is a subject that will explode for us starting next fall."
|Still, there is a great deal of life in cookbooks beyond those bubbling up from ideas hatched in chef or culinary school kitchens. And in truth, say booksellers, despite the undeniable appetite for such advanced books, many of them are more likely to be read or dreamt over than cooked from. "For all the press attention given to media-savvy chefs," says Little, Brown senior editor Deborah Baker, "there is an equally strong appreciation for bible-like books." She's referring to LB's October opus from Christopher Kimball, The Dessert Bible, in which the Cook's Illustrated editor outlines in characteristic detail the steps for making over 300 desserts. "I just signed David Rosengarten [a famous face on the Food Network and author of Random House's Dean & Deluca Cookbook] for a cookbook on all-American food," adds Baker, "a big-tent idea on what American food is all about."|
Spreading Joy Around
In October, the classic Joy of Cooking becomes the progenitor of the Joy of Cooking All About series...
Click here for more!
Regional and Ethnic Considerations
American food is indeed a big-tent concept, with almost countless regional settings and ethnic influences, which raises the question: Where do sales of regionally tied cookbooks cross geographical boundaries? "Titles specific to New York City can sell nationwide," says Armstrong at Borders. "San Francisco is becoming more and more well known for its restaurant scene and is selling in all major markets across the country and, in some cases, the not-so-major markets. This is likely due to the success of The French Laundry Cookbook [by Thomas Keller, Artisan] last year. Chicago also d s well in most major markets, and New England is a very hot region for the whole company right now."
"There's always a sales spike in the region that the cookbook covers," says Time-Life's Pearce. "But we found that California [by Janet Fletcher] and The South [by Ray Overton], two spring books in the New American Cooking series we do with Williams-Sonoma, sold all across the country."
As far as ethnic influences go, world cuisines can easily be placed on anyone's kitchen counter. "Probably number one for us is Chinese," says Amazon.com's Sumi Hahn. "Vietnamese cooking is also a current vogue." Clarkson Potter's Krauss agrees. "Asian is back in a big way," she says. "One reason is that all the ingredients are available either in grocery stores or through online services like Adriana's Caravan. I think Latino's time is now, and I think that Indian is peaking. One problem with ethnic cookbooks, though, is that there is one that everyone focuses on, and everything else is an also-ran."
"An area that's been overlooked is South America," says Cook's Library owner Rose, "although that situation is getting better." Tim Fischer, the store's manager, adds, "Moroccan is growing in popularity. People come in and ask for books on Morocco."
"We've done well with books on underpublished areas," says St. Martin's senior editor Marian Lizzi, "such books as Classic Turkish Cooking by Ghillie Basan, Lebanese Cuisine by Anissa Helou and Dok Suni, a Korean cookbook by Jenny Kwak and Liz Fried." Hippocrene, too, is known for its breadth of reach, and in its fall 2000 catalogue, it calls attention to 69 cookbooks on its list, representing over 100 countries and regions.
"We're seeing articles about Turkey in travel magazines," says Novacek of Sur la Table. "We'll probably be seeing more Turkish cookbooks. We always watch the travel trends because they make a difference in what people want to eat when they get back home."
"The hottest travel destinations are Tuscany and Spain," says Armstrong of Borders. "People want to live the Frances Mayes experience, touring the Tuscan countryside and imbibing with the locals. Unfortunately, as popular a destination as it is, we aren't seeing very many cookbooks on Spain, but they could be on the horizon. I'd really like to see more from that region, especially Portugal."
"The biggest one of our 165 categories is Around-the-World books," says Perry Berman, president of the three-year-old online company with the moniker and address, booksforcooks.ws. The firm lists 10,000 books on its system and fulfills orders through publishers and wholesalers. The Nepal Cookbook [by Association of Nepalis in America] from Snow Lion sold well, and so did The Chilean Kitchen [by Ruth Van Waerbeek-Gonzalez, HP]. We have links with 5,000 affiliates and do the fulfilling for other culinary sites and niche groups on the Internet. If there's an Icelandic Cooking School, we'll establish a link there. In any case, however, our biggest category within Around-the-World is Italian."
All right, there it is. Across the vast terrain of ethnic cookbooks, Italian has reigned supreme for years and looks likely to continue. Even though bookstore sections and home cooks' shelves groan under the weight of Italian books, they seem never to lose favor. Some publishers and booksellers charge that the Italian cookbook segment is enormously overpublished. Others say there will never be too many of them.
"Italian is America's favorite food," cookbook frontlist buyer Margaret Maupin at The Tattered Cover observes. "Although, unless a book is by Marcella Hazan, it tends not to stick around for long."
One coming back is The Vegetarian Table: Italy by Deborah Jones, one of six Vegetarian Table titles being reprinted as $16.95 paperbacks at Chronicle Books. "We published them in hardcover originally at the paperback price of $19.95," says senior editor Bill LeBlond. "But in analyzing the sales, we concluded that because they were in hardcover, the audience--a younger audience--never picked them up. Since vegetarian in general skews to a younger, paperback-buying crowd, we're hoping they'll find the new editions."
"I don't think Italian has run its course yet," says Suzanne Rafer, executive editor at Workman, which just released Italian Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Hermann Loomis. "It's such a wonderful cuisine, rich in flavors. It's almost not ethnic any more. When we think ethnic, we usually think of Thai or Indian."
|Italian still leads|
the ethnic cuisine parade
"Next spring we're doing a book with Fred Plotkin," says Broadway's Josephy. "La Terra Fortunata covers the foods of Friuli Venezia Giulia, which is the last undiscovered part of Italy. I'm always trying to find the next new thing, and it gets harder and harder to discover a cookbook that really seems original."
"I like to think we publish unique books," says Carrie Weinberg, director of publicity at HarperCollins, "like Savoring the Spice Coast of India [by Maya Kaimal, Aug.], which collects recipes from the southern region of Kerala. People do know the difference between northern and southern Italian food, but not between northern and southern Indian."
"It's hard to do a fresh Italian book," says Sydny Miner, Simon & Schuster v-p and senior editor. "It's been a while since I've seen anything Italian that's turned me on. I do think there's still a lot to be mined in the Asian field, and I'd love to see an Indian book with a young voice, one that would appeal to a younger audience."
The Perfect Cookbook
What cookbook editors say over and over again is that they want something original, and they want an author who comes well equipped with a personality and a platform.
"I look for someone who has a distinctive voice," says Rux Martin, senior editor at Houghton Mifflin. "When you have an author like Aglaia Kremezi [The Foods of the Greek Islands], she brings a lifetime of experience to what she's writing about. She spent years talking to women who learned from their mothers and their mothers' mothers, some who still cook on equipment from the Bronze Age while watching television. Even so, the book's recipes are very appropriate for what we cook here. The voice of experience cooks out of a tradition, but it needn't be international. It can be a personal tradition. Maybe an author has been cooking up 75 renditions of turkey to find absolutely the best version of a Thanksgiving turkey. That's a tradition too. As much as works of fiction, cookbooks are about the power of language. It's the power of a title or an introductory note that makes you say, 'Oh, I've got to make that recipe.'"
Cookbooks by chefs are hotter than a pizza oven these days, even if the food they preach is often beyond the reach of many home cooks...
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|"We look for passion," says Workman's Rafer, "something we feel passionate about. You want to give the reader something to take into the kitchen, something that can stand some marinara sauce on the page." In terms of original ideas, Rafer found one in last October's The Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn. "The marketplace is full, but that d sn't always stop you because sometimes something wonderful comes across your desk," she says. "The Cake Mix Doctor was a number-one cookbook bestseller at Amazon.com. It's got 325,000 copies in print."|
"We look for personality books," says John Duff, publisher of Perigee, HP and Avery books. Editor of Putnam cookbooks as well, he says, "We bought Isaac Hayes's cookbook [Cooking with Heart and Soul], which was a very Putnam thing to do. When he approached us, we had visions of Patti LaBelle dancing in our heads. She did very well for us. Because Isaac has never done an autobiography, he's got 30,000 words of text in the book, stories from his life, a lot of it revolving around food. We think a lot of people will buy it who will never use it as a cookbook. They'll just want to read about Isaac Hayes."
Duff's emphasis on cookbook readership is underscored by the swelling amount of text in many titles, text accompanying or even outweighing the recipes themselves. Last year's James Beard-winning A Mediterranean Feast by Clifford Wright (Morrow) contains nothing less than an epic history of the cuisine along with 500 recipes. "The people who read cookbooks are a real phenomenon," says Broadway's Josephy. "Did you read the profile of Johnny Mathis in the New Yorker a little while ago? He's a cookbook reader." Armstrong at Borders also points to consumer interest in reading about food, rather than just preparing it: "This year, it's Kitchen Confidential [by Anthony Bourdain, Bloomsbury]," she says, "last year, Tender at the Bone [by Ruth Reichl, Random House, Broadway], and before that, The Man Who Ate Everything [by Jeffrey Steingarten, Knopf, Vintage]."
From Bay Books, Avventura: Journeys in Italian Cuisine by David Rocco features a full-color travelogue to 26 destinations throughout that booted country along with 44 recipes and an extensive public television tie-in. "For me, travel and food form a kind of connective tissue," says Bay Books publisher Connolly. "With this robust economy, so many people are traveling. Last fall we did a book called World Food Cafe with recipes for vegetarian street food from around the world."
Authors--Visibility Is Everything
It's nearly a necessity today to have an author with a highly visible profile. Because of the plethora of new cookbooks entering the market, an author needs a platform raising him or her above the competition, or a cookbook will encounter tough going. The platform can be a restaurant, a TV program, a newspaper or magazine column, a cooking show--almost anything that serves to promote name recognition. Marketing is the name of the game, whether it is an aggressive author or a publisher pushing a list.
Asked how publishers can help booksellers, Armstrong at Borders replies: "Market, market, market. Get their authors' names out there. Look at Thomas Keller last year. For several months before the release of The French Laundry Cookbook, his name was everywhere. There were bios on him, his restaurant and his philosophy as a restaurateur in all the food magazines and papers. The media wasn't even for the book. It just made Keller a household name, and the book was just a pleasant surprise for everyone from the publisher and bookseller to the consumer."
Novacek at Sur la Table, where stores average between 700 and 900 titles in stock, says: "We have cooking classes in eight of our stores, and authors visit us when they have new books out. For example, Kitty Morse came to promote her new book, Couscous [Chronicle, July]. In the last quarter of 1999, we had over 200 events associated with books in those eight stores. If an author is outgoing, we can sell a lot of copies. Hugh Carpenter [whose Hot Book series is published by Ten Speed] is very funny, and whenever he d s a class, I've got to have all his backlist books on hand." Sur la Table also features displays of employees' favorite cookbooks, and when the IACP or James Beard awards are announced, "we have a full-color sign showing the covers of all the winners, which has turned out to be a great merchandising technique. When Clarkson Potter published Martha Stewart's Hors d' uvres Handbook, they did three-way folded handouts with recipes from the book and drop-dead gorgeous photos that we gave to our customers. Some publishers provide us with postcards of a book cover that let us remind customers that a book has come in."
"You really need the TV presence," says Sean Moore, publisher of adult books at DK. "That's one reason we've entered into a new venture with the BBC. Each of the authors of the first four cookbooks--Delia Smith, Ainsley Harriott, Ken Hom and Gary Rhodes--has a six-week block of time on PBS's Great Foods program. Someone like Delia Smith has never had a TV platform over here, although she's one of the most successful authors in England in either fiction or nonfiction. She's sold 12 million copies of her books." The BBC and Great Foods logos figure prominently on the covers of Delia Smith's Summer Collection, Ainsley Harriott's Barbecue Bible, Ken Hom: Travels with a Hot Wok and Gary Rhodes Fabulous Food. Moore reports that the BBC is even planning to support U.S. publication of the books. He expects to release six to eight new cookbooks a year, all of which will have been entirely Americanized.
Another favorite type of American cookbook stems from down-home traditions, such as those found chockablock in 500 Treasured Country Recipes from Martha Storey & Friends. "This is food that people used to make," says Storey, cofounder and vice-chairman of Storey Books. "It reminds you of where you came from. The book also includes time-honored techniques like making ice cream, canning and preserving, bread-baking. Many of the recipes come from books previously published by Storey, some of which are now out of print."
Better Homes and Gardens is similarly an American standby. "We know who our audience is," says Jennifer Darling, executive food editor at Meredith/BH&G. "It's primarily middle America. Some are new cooks who are not quite as confident as others, but we help them aspire to the next level of cooking. For example, in some recipes we put in ingredients that may be new to them. Overall, we do well because of our longstanding and respected brand name." Darling is seeking, however, to enlarge the company's cookbook stance beyond the BH&G label. "Our new book, A Passion for Chocolate, is something very different for us," she notes. "It's not a Better Homes and Gardens book. It's a Meredith Press book. We want to grow our business and so we're trying new things. A Passion for Chocolate takes a very romantic approach. It also has a lot of black-and-white photos of the 40s. It's very retro and more of an impulse purchase."
Yet one more American icon is Betty Crocker. The basic Betty Crocker's Cookbook celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with an updated ninth edition in September. "Our core strengths are our series and our branded publishing," asserts Jennifer Feldman, publisher of IDG Books, cooking and gardening, from which come Betty Crocker, Weight Watchers and Dummies books. "The topics we're interested in are very broad because there are such huge numbers of people who need to get dinner on the table every night and who want to do it in an enjoyable way. For instance, there are interesting things you can do with existing products, like with Betty Crocker's Bisquick Cookbook [Sept.], which has recipes for a Tuscan Torte, California Pizza and Almond Biscotti. In January, we'll have Weight Watchers Great Recipes for Great Cooking, which we're doing with the Culinary Institute of America to show that you can cook gourmet food and still keep to a weight maintenance program." IDG will also nudge Betty's fans in a new direction with next spring's Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking. "Cooking can be adventurous and still be relatively uncomplicated," says Feldman.
"Others that sell well for us are the Junior League cookbooks," says Tattered Cover's Maupin. "People trust them. They have the recipes that real people cook." Offering proof of the organization's appeal, Putnam's Duff reports that The Junior League Celebration Cookbook (Putnam, Nov.) "has higher advance sales than any cookbook I've ever published."
To Your Health--or Not
In recent years, it has been often noted that the heyday for low-fat cookbooks may be over--except for consumers searching for that elusive perfect diet. "We've got too many low-fat books that just aren't moving," says Suzanne Lyon, cookbook backlist buyer at Tattered Cover.
"The primary thing that jumps out at me about cookbooks today is that health is a common denominator among so many," says Lisa Ekus. "There's a lot of heavy nodding toward books with healthier recipes, but without an emphasis on dieting." In addition, of course, the low-carbohydrate gurus have sparked an ongoing trend, which could be seen on a recent Amazon.com cookbook bestseller list that included The Low-Carb Cookbook by Fran McCullough (Hyperion) and Dr. Atkin's Quick and Easy New Diet Cookbook (S&S/Fireside). Bay Books was most happy with the 50,000-copy performance of last fall's upmarket low-carb cookbook, The Gourmet Prescription by Deborah Friedson Chud.
"It's a given now," says Ten Speed's Melville. "Everyone assumes that cookbooks will have healthier dishes today, but there's an opposite reaction as well. Sometimes people just want to splurge on rich food." Responding to that desire, Melville is currently working on a future book oozing with richness entitled Milk, Butter, Cream, Cheese by Jonathan White.
"We're all sort of schizophrenic about our eating," says Broadway's Josephy. "We're concerned about health, but when people buy cookbooks, they often throw those health concerns out the window." Showing how inconsistent the American palate can be, Deborah Madison's This Can't Be Tofu! became a Broadway bestseller this spring, while over at Morrow, Bell says, "Meat is hotter than ever, which is why we're enthusiastic about How to Cook Meat [Oct.] by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby."
Bell expects this latest from the Schlesinger and Willoughby team to backlist well, a fervent hope that all publishers express for the cookbooks they publish. Booksellers appreciate them just as much. "With cookbooks, as with anything else, you have standards you just have to have on the shelf," says Tattered Cover's Maupin, "books like The Joy of Cooking, Silver Palate, Betty Crocker."
"I wish there were more backlist books that didn't go out of print," says Amazon.com's Hahn. "Every chef I talk to and people who have hundreds of cookbooks always mention not being able to find some of the classic books."
|"Countless numbers of titles are published every year and only a fraction of those will make it to the backlist for more than a couple of years. It's for this reason that we hope publishers recognize strong backlists and continue to give them a high priority when it comes to reprints and distribution," says Armstrong at Borders. "We could have sold hundreds of copies of Jacques Pepin's La Technique and La Methode if they hadn't gone out of print," declares Cook's Library's Rose, adding, "We always try to pick up copies of books going out of print. We have a picker back East looking for books for us." Fischer, the store's manager, agrees. "Sweet Miniatures [by Flo Braker] has been out of print for many, many years, and we still get three calls a week for that book," he says. "I noticed on eBay that there was a copy going for $300." Braker's bakers will be relieved to know that Chronicle will reissue a revised edition of Sweet Miniatures in September with over 60 new color images.|
American and Not
Is African-American cooking today more African or more American? To what heritage d s African-American food belong? Furthermore, is African cuisine today more European or more African? Four forthcoming cookbooks obliquely address these intriguing questions.
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The debate about whether or not to include color in cookbooks is generally settled on a book-by-book basis. "Most of our books are acquired with a photographic component in mind. It's what we do best," says Chronicle's LeBlond. "The physical beauty of a cookbook is extraordinarily important," notes Martin at Houghton Mifflin. "It d sn't have to be photographic. Our book, Three Bowls, d sn't have photographs, but it has calligraphy that provides a lovely feeling. That said, a book like Foods of the Greek Islands must have photos because it is important to be led into the accessibility of a dish by a photograph."
The addition of color almost inevitably increases the cover price, but as Margaret Maupin puts it, "Price just d sn't matter as much any more with cookbooks."
The Final Course
Summing up the cookbook category, most editors and booksellers claim to be very bullish. Despite the ferocious competition, the market keeps demanding more. However, one editor remarks off the record, "My big books are doing better and better, but my smaller ones disappear into the throng. Also, we've all seen so many copycat books simply disappear."
Duff at Perigee, too, expresses reservations of a different sort. "I'm unhappy sometimes with the initial sales on my books," he says. "It's hard to get books out the door. It can take a long time for a book to click, and if it d sn't have a critical mass out there, it can't."
To cope with such distribution w s and the difficulty of find-ing slots on bookstore shelves, all publishers rely heavily on sales to special markets such as Price Club, Costco and any other nontraditional outlet where cookbooks can find a welcome or cross-merchandising can flourish. "Special sales are a major part of what we do," says Harvard Common Press's publisher, Bruce Shaw. "Sixty percent of our sales are outside traditional bookstores. It used to be 50-50." Chronicle Books offers just one example of placing Cocktail Food [by Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford] in gift stores, where it can be cross-merchandised with various party accoutrements. "It makes a nice add-on to shower and bridal presents," says senior editor LeBlond. Many publishers find QVC a wide-open avenue for direct sales. "Emeril sold 65,000 books in one day on QVC," says HarperCollins's Weinberg, who adds that she is gearing up a full-scale Emeril Lagasse backlist tour this fall.
"Special markets don't have the pressures of keeping up with frontlists," says Martin at Houghton Mifflin. "The average consumer d sn't care what year Marcella Hazan was published."
Some publishers are opting to sign up fewer books to concentrate more strongly on those they do take on. "We're being more selective in what we publish," says Connolly at Bay Books. "I think we'll probably be doing fewer, but better books," says Bell at Morrow. "That way we can get significantly more copies out."
"We won't sign up a book unless we can get out 25,000 copies the first year," says Shaw, who adds that he expects Harvard Common Press to lean more toward cookbooks now that Pam H nig is there. "We've specialized in big, fat trade paperbacks with 250 to 400 recipes in them," he says, "although last year we experimented with hardcovers like The Basque Table by Teresa Barrenechea. I can't think of one cookbook of ours that has gone out of print. We'll reprint 1,500 copies just to keep them available."
Whatever the present circumstances, it is certain that cookbooks aren't going to go away anytime soon. Many thousands of people lie in wait for them. Just ask David Strymish, whose catalogue and online business, Jessica's Biscuit, has grown exponentially. Begun in 1980 with a single ad for a single title in Gourmet, it now mails six catalogues a year with circulations ranging between 250,000 and 400,000. It has 20,000 subscribers for its weekly newsletter, which is available at ecookbooks.com. As if all that isn't enough, Jessica's Biscuit has even taken to republishing such o.p. cookbooks as Desserts by Nancy Silverton. "We stock 8,000 titles," says Strymish, "and cookbooks sell better than they ever have."
"The cookbook market will never be saturated because our attitudes toward food are always changing," says Simon & Schuster's Miner. "You talk to people and they claim they eat out all the time," says Tattered Cover's Maupin. "Yet cookbook sales are so good. I think people love to accumulate this stuff. Let's face it. Cookbook junkies love to get new cookbooks."
Spreading Joy Around
Instead of "Joy to the World," Scribner is about to sing "Joys to the World." In October, the classic (and photoless) Joy of Cooking becomes the progenitor of the Joy of Cooking All About series, drawn from the basic volume's contents. Notably, each 128-page series volume will contain 150 specially commissioned photographs, 100 in full color. In addition to depicting finished dishes, the pictures will also show ingredients and a variety of equipment. They'll also demonstrate step-by-step techniques for preparing some of the individual recipes. The recipes themselves in each $19.95 book will range from 80 to more than 100.
a classic (Scribner).
"We have a commitment to do 10 books in this format," says Bill Rosen, director of reference publishing at Simon & Schuster. "The first four are All About Chicken, All About Pasta & Noodles, All About Soups & Stews and All About Vegetarian Cooking. We have two more scheduled for next spring, two for next summer and two for next fall."
These books, Rosen notes, are something that S&S has had in mind for quite a while. "When the Scribner folks started in on the revision that we published in 1997, the eventual plan was to produce more books to expand the reach of the Joy of Cooking name." He tells PW that the format--each book is 7 3/4"-by-10"--is "a function of our research. A lot of people who have a huge affection for Joy of Cooking also express a desire for more focus that a big reference book can't give and they want color photographs."
It was the "About" feature introducing specific topics throughout the omnibus Joy of Cooking that influenced the development and design of the new series. "In some cases, these have been edited for the new books," Rosen remarks. "For example, in the piece 'About Tomat s,' we've changed it to include information about grape tomat s, which have become hugely popular since the revised Joy was published." Also, vegetarian cuisine was not treated as a stand-alone section in Joy, so that introductory title in the series required additional attention.
Although most recipes are taken from the 1997 edition of Joy, not every one on a specific subject is included in the All About series. Asked if original recipes have been created for the new project, Rosen comments, "We haven't done that yet, but it's likely we'll do so in the future." What will appear, however, is some material that was gathered for the last revision, but not used there.
The series byline remains the same as on the revised edition: Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker. Says Rosen, "It was important for us to remain true to what made Joy successful for all these years, but also to pay heed to the successes achieved by single-subject illustrated books."
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| Chef Lite |
Cookbooks by chefs are hotter than a pizza oven these days, even if the food they preach is often beyond the reach of many home cooks. However, a noticeable change is beginning to seep into a surprising number of their recipes. "Some of the chefs are trying not to be so detailed about their restaurant food any more," says Gayle Novacek, book buyer at Sur la Table. "Alfred Portale's 12 Seasons Cookbook [Broadway] is one of those books, and so is Tom Colicchio's Think Like a Chef [Clarkson Potter]. These books teach people how to interpolate ideas and won't put home cooks off."
|From a leading|
"Now, people understand the cooking vernacular at home," says Amazon.com's cookbook editor Sumi Hahn. "They've learned how to roast, how to saute, how to throw things together and eat well. In his newest book, Simple to Spectacular [Broadway], Jean-Georges Vongerichten has written a deconstruction of the average chef cookbook."
"I'm not interested in publishing restaurant recipes," says Jennifer Josephy, Broadway's executive editor of cookbooks, "so that's not what Simple to Spectacular is all about. It includes many quite easy recipes. It's significant that Jean-Georges wrote this with Mark Bittman, who's well known as a minimalist and the ultimate home cook." The hook for this book is the fact that each dish--Quick Oven-Braised Halibut Steaks, for example--begins with a basic recipe utilizing just a few ingre-dients and no fancy equipment. If that seems just too simple, however, a cook can step up to Halibut with White Wine and Shallots, then to ProvenÃ§al Halibut, Halibut with Mustard-Nut Crust, Three-Fennel Halibut and Halibut Braised in Red Wine. Such progressions throughout the book promise to deliver on its title.
"Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home is Charlie's explanation of his approach to cooking and of the ways in which people can apply them at home," says Kirsty Melville, Ten Speed publisher. "He's certainly not dumbing down his recipes. Instead, he tells how to use his techniques and his thought processes in your own kitchen. It helps the cook at home rise to the next level of sophistication."
"When we work with a chef, we try to determine what we can do for the home cook," says Workman executive editor Suzanne Rafer. "David Waltuck has done that in Staff Meals from Chanterelle Cookbook. Chanterelle may be a four-star restaurant, but this is family-style cooking." The cover line on the October book is 200 Recipes for the Home Kitchen, and reportedly the most requested recipe is David's Famous Fried Chicken with Creamed Spinach and Herbed Biscuits.
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|African: American and Not|
Is African-American cooking today more African or more American? To what heritage d s African-American food belong? Furthermore, is African cuisine today more European or more African? Four forthcoming cookbooks obliquely address these intriguing questions.
|Recipes flavored with|
history (SUNY Press).
The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro (Beacon Press, Oct.) gives a time-capsule perspective on African-American fare in the U.S. Editor Tisha Hooks explains that the book, which is being re-published in a facsimile edition, was originally produced under the auspices of the National Council of Negro Women in 1958. "It's a book I wanted to make sure was available to the community and that I could pass down to my children," Hooks says. "I am African-American myself. The book contains information I hadn't seen before--it's full of vignettes about famous people and also about amazing figures you don't hear about in history books." The retro recipes, dating back to the 1950s and before, were contributed by NCNW members in 36 states plus the District of Columbia. Hooks remarks, "Every recipe is related to a historical event or figure, so the book lets us see how people were envisioning themselves back then. It's an incredible history."
The vantage is decidedly Afrocentric in Diane M. Spivey's The Peppers, Cracklings, and Knots of Wood Cookbook: The Global Migration of African Cuisine, which the State University of New York Press is reprinting in September. "It's a new approach to presenting culinary information," asserts Fran Keneston, senior marketing manager. "It's a cookbook, but as a bonus, it's also an anthropological study." Spivey, an independent scholar and research associate at the University of Miami, states, "As an African- American from Chicago, I was appalled and insulted by the cookbooks I read back in the 1970s and 80s, which in essence said that Africans had not contributed anything--and I mean nothing--to world cuisine. The information that I gathered regarding the tremendous cultural and culinary contributions of Africans to various cultures was in many cases a revelation to me. My purpose was to once and for all reverse the standard beliefs regarding African cuisine, but also to celebrate African cuisine's recognition as an integral and influential component of every cuisine worldwide."
Keneston adds, "Peppers, Cracklings, and Knots of Wool is a very serious book." And the historical recipes tend to be very serious as well, many containing difficult-to-find ingredients such as kasaba flour or egusi melon seeds. "The recipes are cool, but it's not Betty Crocker," she concedes.
Interlink focuses on contemporary African cuisine with a twist in The African Kitchen: A Day in the Life of a Safari Chef (June) by Josie Stow. The book is illustrated with numerous color photographs of safari life, food preparation and preparers, plus atmospheric images of wild animals in the exotic landscape. Some recipes are exotic, too, such as pizza cooked in a termite mound. "Not an active one," clarifies publicity director Moira Megargee. "You have to find a dead one." She relates that Stow, originally from England, was once the private chef of Roald Dahl's family before moving to Africa. "She became entranced with its food, but the top safari camps all served European cuisine." Once Stow became a safari chef, the menus changed. "She cooks indigenous African food as it is cooked today," reports Megargee. "Some dishes are traditional, but there's definitely a fusion. Her menus incorporate authentic recipes and ingredients from all over Africa, seasoned with her unique sense of fun."
In The Family of the Spirit Cookbook (Amistad, Feb.), home chef and photographer John Pinderhughes shines the spotlight on contemporary African-American cooking and cooks. Presenting time-tested favorite recipes from such seasoned sources as Verta Mae Grosvenor and Leah Chase, Pinderhughes, who is African-American, characterizes the featured fare as "traditional African-American cooking with a dash of the nouvelle."
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