Cookbooks generated $519 million in 2006, according to Simba Information, an increase of 5.1% over 2005 and 20% over 2002. But talk to cookbook editors, and their outlook isn't all rosy. Despite Tony Bourdain's smash success Kitchen Confidential, food memoir remains a tough sell. Editors struggle to get attention for their authors if they don't have their own TV shows. And readers want cookbooks with color photos, yet aren't willing to pay higher prices. On the upside, cookbooks focusing on locally grown and organic foods no longer appeal strictly to high-end readers. Chef cookbooks are out, simplicity is in. And there's still room for upmarket books that don't promise dinner in 30 minutes.

PW gathered a group of 10 cookbook editors and publicists for lunch at Manhattan's Bar Stuzzichini to talk about how food bloggers influence cookbook publishing, what Whole Foods has done for cookbooks and why nobody wants to buy a Cambodian cookbook.

On what publishers want


There's still a market for books like The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook or Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques [both literary cookbooks from authors without TV shows]. But it's a more difficult market to reach. Upfront you're not going to have the support that you would have for a Rachael Ray or a Mario Batali. You have a lot of work to do to build these people and build the audience for a particular book.


You do have to build them, but it can be worthwhile. We might just do better this year than we did with [the IACP-winning cookbook] The Lee Bros. last year. The authors were not known, but they've spent a considerable amount of their time promoting. You have to have a Web site, you have to promote. This is the celebrity culture. It isn't just the Food Network chefs who are out there promoting.


I find that they [publishers] want a faster burn these days. They want something that comes out of the gate and is reprinted very fast, at least Simon & Schuster does. They're not as interested in investing in a long-term market as they used to be. Something that used to sell 200,000 over 10 years, now they want it in four months.


You want to make a splash. But we [at Workman] believe in backlist. The writer has taken a long time, put a lot of effort into it, and we put a lot of effort into our books. We don't want to see that disappear.

On the green movement

Bogaards: If you look at the penetration of Whole Foods and companies like that in our culture, you see there's a tremendous appetite. If you did a search by Zip code of who's buying these books on Amazon, you would see it's all of the country. It's not just New York and Los Angeles.

Krauss: It's no longer a high-end thing.

Von Glahn: Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth had something to do with a larger audience being more concerned about global warming. Cookbooks are also addressing this. It almost feels like back in the days when everybody had victory gardens. It's a different kind of war that we're fighting.

Martin: But people talk about how great it is to have these fresh and local products, but if you tell them you just killed a chicken—and I speak from experience—people are stunned. “You did what?” Still, for me, when I'd see a recipe that said, “One three-pound chicken, free-range, homegrown, from Peoria, Illinois, corn-fed,” I would cross it out and make it “One three-pound chicken.” But [that specificity] is not viewed as chichi anymore.

On color in cookbooks


Martin: It used to be that you could do a big cookbook like Complete Meat in two-color with signatures. Now the trend is toward full color as much as possible.

Wareham: [The sales department] will say, “My account doesn't want it if it isn't full color.”

Krauss: Consumers will say it, too. People want full color, but they don't want to spend $60 for it.


Bogaards: But there are exceptions. Look at a Steven Raichlen book. There are a lot of down-and-dirty cookbooks with low price points that sell incredibly well, year in, year out.

Guarnaschelli: With a full-color book, the text doesn't always stand out.

On food memoir

Martin: My experience is that numbers are small—unless it's Jacques Pépin or somebody whose name is of that magnitude. Although with its nonfiction narratives, Bloomsbury has blown everything out of the water.

Trautwein: I think the initial attraction with Tony [Bourdain, whose Kitchen Confidential sold more than 250,000 copies] was that he had been inside that world in a way that not many people who wrote as well as he does had. He also opened up a huge market among men.

O'Shea: Tony Bourdain made people interested in the back-of-the-kitchen story. And that definitely helped us with Heat by Bill Buford. Bourdain gave us an early quote that ran on Amazon. The other things that helped Heat were people's relationship to Buford from the New Yorker and Granta, and also Mario Batali, the subject of the book. But I absolutely think that Bourdain helped.

On ethnic food

Von Glahn: Americans love ethnic food, especially from a takeout point of view, but I think they're actually very afraid of making it in their own kitchens.

Rafer: If you've got a proposal from someone who's got a type of food that there are no restaurants for, that's tougher, like African or Belgian or Cambodian.

Martin: Esoteric subjects are a tough sell.

Krauss: Rachael Ray has a “Make Your Own Takeout” section in some of her books, and it includes Mexican food and Thai food, using ingredients you can get at the supermarket. That works.

On putting recipes online

Von Glahn: We do put recipes online.

Guarnaschelli: I hate putting recipes online.

Wareham: I don't trust things online. There's a handful that I would download and print.

Martin: But that's you.

Weiss: There's a new generation that's more trusting.

On high-end books by high-end chefs

Krauss: Chef and restaurant books are not as prominent as they were a decade ago. People are realizing you can have really good food and you don't have to do as much to it.

Weiss: Readers are far more interested now in what chefs do on their days off than they were in years past. The fancy dishes those restaurant books served up just don't feel as relevant anymore, because people are more interested in what the chef would cook for himself or his family when he's got a minute of free time than they are in the creation he comes up with for the restaurant.

On food bloggers


Krauss: We're trying to harness them. We give them early copies of our books. They'll cook a given dish, and then they'll have a live chat about what they cooked.


Rafer: Blogs are kind of like slowly accumulated cookbooks, but you don't know where the recipes are coming from.

Krauss: It's hard to sell something back to [consumers] that they've had already.

Weiss: The beauty of blogs is that they're daily, carefree, a slice of life in someone's kitchen. Where is the appeal of putting that in a book?

With additional reporting by Mark Rotella

Who's Cookin'
Paul Bogaards of Knopf edited Once Upon a Tart by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau, Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin and the forthcoming Crescent City Cooking by Susan Spicer with Paula Disbrowe.

Maria Guarnaschelli of Norton edited The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers, The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, and Cradle of Flavorby James Oseland.

Pam Krauss of Clarkson Potter edited Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis, Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten and the forthcoming The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters.

Rux Martin of Houghton Mifflin edited The Gourmet Cookbook, Fast Food My Way by Jacques Pépin and Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.

Sheila O'Shea of Knopf managed the publicity and promotion for French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano and Heat by Bill Buford.

Suzanne Rafer of Workman edited The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, Food to Live By by Myra Goodman with Linda Holland and Pamela McKinstry, and the forthcoming What Can I Bring? Cookbook by Anne Byrn.

Nick Trautwein of Bloomsbury edited The Devil in the Kitchen by Marco Pierre White, Beard on Food by James Beard and the forthcoming No Reservations by Anthony Bourdain.

Diana Von Glahn of Running Press edited Starting with Ingredients by Aliza Green, Bob's Red Mill Baking Book by John Ettinger and the Bob's Red Mill Family, and Black Forest Cuisine by Walter Staib with Jennifer Lindner McGlinn.

Beth Wareham of Scribner edited The Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Editionand Boy Gets Grillby Bobby Flay.

Luisa Weiss of Stewart, Tabori & Chang edited Feasting on Asphalt by Alton Brown, The New American Olive Oil by Fran Gage and 30 Minute Pasta by Giuliano Hazan, all forthcoming.