After Months of Brainstorming with Harold Dieterle, A Cookbook Concept Emerges
[Editor’s Note: In this post, the first of a two-part series, we take you inside the process of developing of a new book project. This piece describes how a concept is devised; the follow-up, which I’ll run on Friday, will take you inside a working session, complete with audio of an interview and an illustration of how a chef-collaborator relationship works. – A.F.]
Every so often, somebody pondering a book idea asks me for advice. One of the questions that inevitably arises is how long it takes to write a book proposal, the document that literary agents circulate to editors and publishers in hopes of setting the project up with a publishing house.
“Writing a proposal only takes a few weeks,” I say. “The variable is how long it takes to come up with a concept.”
With very few exceptions, even the most well-known culinary celebrities need a solid concept to convince a publisher that their book is viable. Oh, sure, if you’re a big enough television star, you might be able to sell the flimsiest of ideas, or even enter into a blind book deal, with the idea to come at a later date. Generally speaking, though, a concept will make or break one’s publishing prospects.
I’ve collaborated on projects where the concept was evident from the get-go, restaurant books being the most obvious examples, along with those that grew directly out of a chef’s area of specialization, such as Go Fish, which Laurent Tourondel and I conceived while he was the chef of the posh seafood temple Cello. In cases where the concept isn’t as turnkey, my main goal is to come up with a concept that bridges what a particular chef does in his or her restaurant kitchen(s) with what home cooks do in theirs. Sometimes the answer reveals itself quickly; others it can take several frustrating months
As mentioned a few months back on this site, Harold Dieterle and I have been engaged in a sporadic dialogue about a possible cookbook project since last fall. It’s been a long and winding road: At first, we were going to write a Thai book since Harold has such a passion for it. But we succumbed to the commercial limitations of that notion, switched gears, and decided to write a more general cookbook. To put it in restaurant terms, we went from focusing on what Harold does at Kin Shop to what he does at Perilla.