Friday, May 2, 2014

Cumin and Honey Roasted Carrots, Ricotta, and Gremolata


The past month has been a bit of a roller coaster.  


I've wanted to publish a cookbook for as long as I can remember, and I finally got the opportunity when a publisher contacted me last month. After weeks of negotiations, consulting, emails, phone calls, and boring Jay with every minute detail (the man has the patience of a saint), I finally declined the offer. Since many bloggers are finding themselves in similar situations, and information is hard to come by, I wanted to share the experience a bit (or as it turned out - a lot) here. Please note: I am in no way an expert in cookbook publishing, so please don't take any of the numbers stated here as the gospel truth. (And if you're just here for the carrots, feel free to skip down to the recipe below.)

Food bloggers are attractive to book publishers for several reasons. On the positive side, we often have an established audience that comes from years of diligent posting. We don't just create content, we create community based around our values and aesthetic. We have a strong network with other bloggers and food professionals. We're supposedly good at self-promotion (ha), and sometimes we take pictures of food that are high enough quality for print.

On the downside, since most of us don't work in the field of writing, publishing, or photography, many of us don't realize our worth. Getting information about industry standards for writing, recipe development, and photography is difficult, so we often charge below market value or are willing to work for free. This results not only in us being broke, it also undercuts the market and short-changes the professionals who make a living doing what we will do for free.


Publishing a cookbook is the end goal for many food bloggers, whether or not we began with that in mind. I started my blog simply as a way to share a recipe that I was proud of and wanted to put out in the world. I had actually begun to write a novel, and the teacher of a writing class I attended, Leslie Keenan, suggested starting a blog in order to put my work out there. I dismissed the idea at first, but, inspired by other food blogs I read, eventually decided to go for it. I enjoyed sharing recipes and images on this space so much that the novel quickly fell away. In recent months, I began gathering recipes for a cookbook, working on a proposal, and researching agents. I'd been focused on this for a good six months when a publisher contacted me. They wanted to publish a book together.

When I first saw this publisher's email, I felt flattered to even be asked. Visions of cookbooks filled with my recipes and photos danced in my mind. Maybe my parents would finally stop harassing me about getting a real job. Maybe I'd earn a bit of cash. Maybe I could finally buy a smart phone. But a couple of online articles gave me a dose of reality: 9 Questions for When the Book Publisher Calls by Dianne Jacob, and When is a Cookbook Deal Too Good to Be True? by Justin Schwartz. If you're considering signing a contract, have a read through these first – I found them extremely eye-opening.

In addition to reading (and re-reading) those articles, I did as much online research as I could to help me come to a decision, Numbers were difficult to find, so I ended up reaching out to a handful of published authors and professional photographers, friends and strangers alike. All were happy to share their experiences and help shape my decisions as I navigated the many hurdles of the offer.


Hurdle #1: The topic that the publisher wanted wasn't exactly what I wanted to write about. 

I had spent the last 6 months putting together a proposal for a specific topic. This included researching the competition (other cookbooks on similar topics), reading statistics and articles on the subject, brainstorming recipe ideas every waking moment of the day (and sometimes even in my sleep), and beginning to test out some recipes to make sure I had a good handle on the beginnings of a book. I even hired a consultant, the same writing teacher who had encouraged me to start my blog five years previously, to edit my proposal. In other words, I had put a ton of time, thought, and a bit of money into my topic already and was loath the set it aside and start fresh with something else. 

Hurdle #2: The time frame was short. 

The publisher wanted the manuscript and 75-100 recipes handed in within 5 months, and around 130 images a month later. I calculated that 1 out of the 5 months alone would be spent having others test my recipes and making edits to the manuscript, so that left me with 4 months to develop the content. I would be allowed to reuse up to 20% content from my blog, which left a minimum of 60 new recipes to develop, or 4 new recipes per week. Most baked goods recipes take me around 4 tries to get right, so that meant making 16 recipes per week. There would be no wiggle room if I got behind, or if I got stuck with a recipe that wouldn't turn out. Additionally, I would need to be shooting the recipes as I made them. Each shoot of a final dish takes me about 2 hours. Including shopping for ingredients, baking, cleaning up, shooting, and writing, all of this work would add up to roughly 60 hours per week.

There was a chance that I could make it happen, but only if I did nothing else for the next 6 months. I would have to drop my blog, social media, other freelance projects, and cancel a working vacation I'd already planned. I asked the publisher whether the time was negotiable, but they said the most they could push back the project was 2 weeks because of their tight publishing schedule. I thought that perhaps I could use some of the advance to hire help to complete the project – maybe a photographer or stylist. Which brings me to...

Hurdle #3: The advance was low.*

The initial offer was $8,000 total, including the images. According to the Dianne Jacob article, advances for cookbooks from first-time authors range from $3,500-$25,000, and professional photographers charge $20,000-30,000 to shoot the images. I know that an advance (which means advance payment of royalties) is different than being paid a flat or hourly rate for a project. Authors have the benefit of earning royalties once the advance has been made back from sales, so for this reason, an advance will rarely translate into a good hourly rate upfront, and authors hope to recoup their time and costs via royalty payments over the years. All photography and ingredient costs come out of the pocket of the author. Unfortunately, 7 out of 10 books never earn out, so it's always safer to negotiate the best advance that you can. A larger advance also gives publishers a bigger incentive to push your book once it's released (though most of the marketing is also left up to the author).


I realized that accepting this offer would be sheer madness. We would be losing money upfront, and wouldn't see royalties for two years after release of the book. I'm a slow, diligent worker, not fast or slipshod, and I don't do well under pressure. I would have been a disaster.

So I declined the offer a first time, citing these three factors and my thinking that I wouldn't be able to produce work that was up to my standards with the time and budget allotted. I wished the editor the best of luck in finding the right author, and figured that was that.

But it wasn't.

To my surprise, they came back offering more time (10 months), a slightly higher advance ($10,000), and a way to integrate the framework and recipes I had already created into their concept. I was honored that they were willing to be so flexible. I thought, "They must really want me!" Though I didn't understand why the publisher had refused more time upfront until I was ready to walk away from the deal, I decided to go ahead with the project.


Hurdle #4: Everything is negotiable and I suck at negotiating.

I had a call with the editor, who was very nice. We discussed the design and price of the book. I was concerned that I wouldn't have a say over the final design, but he assured me that I would, though the publisher would have the final say. Then he sent me the contract. "The contract is my least favorite part," he said. "I wish we didn't have to make them at all." He warned me that it would be 13 pages, written in legalese, and that there would be clauses that would rub me the wrong way. He advised me to read through it and get back to him with questions. "We'll get through it," he assured me.

Hurdle #5: The contract was 13 pages of legalese.

The first paragraph of the contract made my eyes cross, so I hired a consultant – a friend of a friend who works in publishing and who I trust very much – to look through it. Thank goodness I did. Still concerned with the low advance, I asked the consultant if he thought I should hire an agent. He said that if the advance was no longer negotiable, hiring an agent probably wouldn't be necessary. "Let's see what kind of shape the contract is in first," he said. 

I spent the next two days floating on a cloud. I was going to publish a cookbook! My lifelong dream! I told everyone I knew.


Hurdle #6: The royalty rates were low.*

I came home the second night to check my email (because I still don't have a smart phone and have to check my email on a laptop, the old-fashioned way) and my elation fizzled like a day-old souffle. My consultant had found several red flags in the contract, the most egregious being that the royalty rate was, according to both him and the Dianne Jacob article, half of the industry standard, at 8% net or about 4% of the price of each book. Both Dianne Jacob and my consultant quoted the normal rate as 7.5% of the book's cost. I can understand a publisher playing it safe with an advance, since that's a risk they're taking, but royalties for authors are so low anyway that to skimp out on those just seems mean. 

Royalty rates explained

Royalty rates are calculated either by a percentage of the price of the book (called "list") or a percentage of the wholesale price (usually 50% of the list price, called "net"). Since the list price is twice the net price, the net royalty rate should be double the list royalty rate. (If you think that's incredibly confusing, it is!) The consultant said, and my research confirmed, that the average royalty rate for a cookbook is 7.5 - 10% list, or 15-20% net. That already isn't much, considering that I would be creating all of the content. But this publisher was offering me half of this, at a rate of 8% net, which translates to 4% of the price of the book. So for every $20 book sold, I would receive only 80 cents, and only after my $10,000 advance had been repaid to the publisher. That seemed like too little considering the hundreds of hours I would be putting in. A low royalty rate also means that it will take longer to earn out the advance. The publisher estimated that it would take 2 years to earn out at this rate; were the rate the normal 15% net, or closer to $1.60 per book, I would have begun earning royalties a year sooner. So for this project, I would be making a grand total of $10,000 for three years.

The strange part was that when I asked to negotiate the royalty rate, the publisher insisted that their offer was on par with the industry standard. "This is not a lowball offer," he wrote, and refused to budge beyond escalating the rate to 10% net (still below industry standard) only after 10,000 copies had sold. I scoured the internet and didn't find any evidence of royalty rates below 12% net (a.k.a. 6% list). Maybe the publisher was correct, but I decided I needed to find that out for myself rather than taking his word for it and wondering for the next 10 years whether I'd made a poor decision. 


Hurdle #7: I no longer felt that I could trust my publisher.

My editor's words were incongruous with those of my consultant and of several findings online, so I didn't know whether he was telling the truth or not. I didn't know who to believe, but the odds were not in his favor. On top of this, the royalty rate wasn't the only red flag in the contract. I couldn't trust that the publisher was interested in my well-being, particularly after having made the first initial (crazy) offer that I had turned down. Now it seemed they were trying to take advantage of an inexperienced writer through a convoluted contract. I understand the need for publishers to protect themselves, but the contract seemed to go above and beyond that and skew toward taking away many of the rights that authors normally have. For example, one clause stated that they could refuse to publish the book at any time and for any reason with no liability to the author, a clause that my consultant dubbed inappropriate. "This should be taken out," he said. (Please note that this was my first experience with a contract, so it is entirely possible that this clause and the rest of the contract were perfectly normal.)

Hurdle #8: I was already exhausted and I hadn't even started working on the book yet.

I imagined having to fight my way through the rest of the contract, sinking more time into arguing clauses that my consultant claimed were unusual and needed to be removed. As Jay pointed out, the editor was getting paid for his time here, whereas all of the hours I had sunk into this offer so far were on my own time. Plus, I had to spend money on consultants since I don't have the experience to understand this type of contract. I wasn't about to hire an agent for this deal, since, as my consultant put it, "An agent is best used to get the best possible deal you can, not an average offer from a publisher who is offering you less than what they should." I pictured spending the next 10 months hard at work, wondering whether I should have waited for something that felt more fair, and the following ten years (or as long as the book was in print) questioning the royalty rate. 

I asked my consultant whether I should walk away, and he said, "At the end of the day, it needs to feel like and be a partnership between you and your publisher, they should be your biggest advocate for book success, rather than another adversary."

I declined the offer a second and final time.


Now that the whole ordeal is over, I feel sad and relieved at the same time, like when you get out of a relationship that wasn't working. Maybe it wasn't healthy, but at least it was something. Maybe I won't be offered a better deal in terms of royalties and advance, but at least I'll know that rather than having to wonder. In any case, I'm glad I made the choice that I did, and that I got such good advice from a bunch of people who were generous enough to share their knowledge and experiences with me. And I'm glad I got to see the book contract process first-hand. Now I know why agents get the big bucks; I sure as hell never want to have to look at a book contract again. That alone is worth 15% of all my revenue.

*Update: After publishing this post, I received a note from a cookbook editor saying that the advance and royalties offered here are perfectly reasonable, so please don't take my findings as the objective truth.


Now, onto the carrots!

In the midst of all this book craziness, I headed down to Burlingame to dine at Delfina's new pizzeria. My dear friend Amelia, maker of awesome bowls and coasters, waits tables there, and tempts me daily with news of the latest dishes. On the night that we went, she recommended a contorno that I would have otherwise overlooked: carrots roasted with honey, cumin, and ricotta. It sounded bizarre, but when I took my first bite, the whole world dropped away. It was just me and the euphoria of flavors in my mouth: succulent carrots, musky cumin, a touch of sweet honey, and creamy ricotta. We had tricolore salad, cheese-stuffed arancini, pizza with smoked speck and green garlic, and warm roasted olives. But I would have been content with five bowls of the roasted carrots, they were that good. 


Between fretting over advances and royalties, I sank into a dish of my iteration of those carrots. I toss whole, multi-colored carrots with olive oil, cumin seed, honey, and chile flakes, roast them until tender, then serve them on a bed of warm ricotta topped with gremolata made from mint and carrot tops. Gremolata is just a fancy term for garlic, herbs, and lemon zest all chopped up together. Sprinkled over food, it is akin to classy MSG, giving any food a burst of vibrant flavor. I used carrot greens (yes, they're edible!) and mint leaves, which offset the earthy rich sweetness of the other components.


If you have experience in book publishing, I'd love to hear about it! And if you have experience with yummy roasted roots, I want to hear about that, too. Bon appétit.

  
Thanks for reading! For more Bojon Gourmet in your life, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Bloglovin' or Pinterest, subscribe to receive posts via email, or make a donation.

Crazy for Carrots:

One year ago:

Cumin and Honey Roasted Carrots, Ricotta, and Gremolata

Inspired by a contorno I enjoyed at Pizzeria Delfina in Burlingame

This dish is all about the carrots, so use the sweetest, freshest ones you can find. Save the greens for making the gremolata. I have a physical dependency on Bellwether Farm's whole milk, basket-dipped ricotta and highly recommend it here. Alternatively, you can make your own. Don't prepare the gremolata until you're about to serve the dish, as the mint will blacken. I don't mind making a meal of this, a green salad, a hunk of bread, and a glass of wine, but you can also serve it as a first course or contorno, or to the side of grilled meat of some sort. 

Serves 4-6 as a first course, 2-3 as a main course

For the carrots:
1 pound carrots (from 2 smallish bunches)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon fine sea or kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes

12 ounces good quality, whole milk ricotta
juice of 1/2 a lemon
finishing salt, such as Maldon flake
black pepper

For the gremolata:
small handful mint leaves
small handful carrot greens
1 small garlic clove
zest of half a lemon

Roast the carrots:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375ºF.

Trim and scrub the carrots, reserving the greens. Slice larger carrots in half lengthwise, and halve crosswise if longer than 6 inches. Place the carrots on a baking sheet, drizzle with the olive oil and honey, and sprinkle with the cumin, chile flakes, and salt. Roast, tossing occasionally, until the carrots are golden and collapsing in places and very tender, 20-30 minutes.

Spread the ricotta in the bottom of a medium-sized baking vessel. Top with the roasted carrots and any good stuff that's stuck to the pan. Bake until the ricotta is warmed through, 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the gremolata just before serving:
Place the herbs on a cutting board, and use a microplane (or the finest holes on a box grater) to grate the garlic clove and lemon zest over the herbs. Use a sharp chef's knife to chop everything together.

When the ricotta and carrots are done, remove from the oven and sprinkle with some of the gremolata (you may not need all of it), a good squeeze of lemon juice, a few pinches of flaky salt, and a grind or two of black pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

97 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness Allana, what a learning ordeal you've shared, and thank you for sharing it.
    Plus, those carrots look spectacular as usual. We all hope maybe someday to see you publish a stress free beautiful dream come true for you cookbook.
    Take a deep breath now and know that you did your best, and we all appreciate all the hard work too!
    Take care.

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    1. Thank you so much for the kind and supportive words, Angela. :)

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  2. Thank you so much for your honesty here. It's wonderful and is going to be so helpful to many, many food bloggers who receive similar offers. I think every food blogger dreams of writing a cookbook, but it seems that reality doesn't always live up to the fantasy. I'm so glad you got such wonderful advice and were able to find all of this out now rather than being disappointed after the fact.

    As for your beautiful carrots. They look absolutely divine. I'm heading to our farmers market tomorrow and might well make this when I get home.

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    1. Hi Jennifer, Thanks so much for reading, and for the kind words. I do hope others find this post helpful, and I hope you give the carrots a go, too. I personally would like to have a trough of your caramelized white chocolate ice cream right about now... ;)

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  3. Great advice and thank you for sharing the details of your ordeal.

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  4. I'm sorry Allana, I'm reading this on a smartphone, but can i just say those carrots look amazing. Your writing and photography are superb and i have no doubt one day you will create that cookbook! But, rightfully, in a way that is fair & fun :)

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    1. Aw - thank you, Jo, for the super sweet note. :)

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  5. Wow. That's all I can say. Thank you for your candor and honesty. I decided to self-publish my cookbook and haven't looked back. You are super talented and creative. You don't need a publisher and can easily create your own work of art, for less money out of pocket and reap all of the profits. And those carrots look AMAZING!

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    1. Thank you for the super inspiring comment! That's fantastic that you self-published - I'm so impressed. Hopping over to your site to check out your book. :)

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  6. Allana, I came across this post via Food Bloggers Australia and was quite blown away by what you have experienced. That said, I had thought that these things happened. I know people who have self published (years ago). The people in question were absolutely hell bent on the idea and went to Asia for the printing. If your dream is to have a book, then I guess you might just about do anything.

    Anyway, thank you again for your post... and now I'm off to explore your blog!

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    1. Hi Bizzy Lizzy - thanks for reading, and for the note! How impressive that your friends went to Asia to print their book - that's hard core.

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  7. Thank you for your candor. It is both illuminating and frustrating to read about your experiences in the publishing world. I myself was called to a publisher's office--of course I was so excited--they told me we love your work, we'd like to publish a book with you, but wait, you do not have enough twitter followers, could you come back when you have more twitter followers? I am currently involved in another book project where the authors aren't being paid at all. In the freelance world, the going rate seems to be the promise of "exposure," as if that could account for the countless hours we all put it. It can be maddening, to feel as if this work is not valued. I could go on and on! But I really do appreciate the work you do. You are such a talented writer, photographer, and recipe developer. I hope very much I will be able to buy you book, written and published on your terms, someday.

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    1. Hi Cristina, That's weird that the publisher didn't check your Twitter stats before if they're so important. I'm forcing myself to Twitter for the same reason. "Exposure" gigs drive me crazy, too, for the most part. I'm so curious about your book project, though! Thanks very much for reading, and for the kind words! Ps. Glad find your site - it's lovely!

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  8. What a story! I know what it feels like to want something so badly you ignore the red flags. Kuddos to you for hiring the right people and being willing to wait for the right opportunity. And for sharing your story to help other people!

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  9. Hi Alanna, I really think that your blog is one of the best out there - not gimmicky, and with truly innovative, thoughtful, high quality recipes. When you do publish, I'm sure it will be a success. You have my respect and admiration for the way you handled the situation.

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    1. What a sweet thing to say - thank you, Sara!!

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  10. Wow. I'm so impressed with your diligence to get clear on what would be in your best interest! I am and always will be your biggest fan, even though I don't cook :-)

    Love you my sister!

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  11. I've never bothered to comment before but I've been reading for at least a year now-- a book will come in time I'm sure! Until then, please keep taking beautiful pictures and creating gorgeous food. You're smart to not have budged with the book deal. Your talent is worth so much more.
    I'm the kind of person who just looks at the pictures and skips to the recipe, but I read this whole post. Your writing style is very engaging; it does not surprise me you wanted to be a novelist at some point.
    You should think about meshing the two a la Clementine! I love to hear the stories of how recipes came about, real or fantastical, and you have a lovely writing voice.
    Thanks for all you do :)

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    1. Thanks a bunch for reading and for taking the time to comment, Amity - I really appreciate your kind words! Who is this Clementine?

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  12. I've already safely bookmarked this post for future reference, if I should ever be so lucky. What a fascinating, and painful, account of a complicated issue. I had no idea! You seem to have the right attitude, I hope your publisher has read this. Anyway, your faithful fans are the winners here, you'll have so much more time and energy for posting!

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    1. Hi Sue! Thanks a bunch for saying so. I know, I couldn't believe all that's involved in book publishing either. It's a whole other world that I knew nothing about up until a few months ago.

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  13. Thanks for being so forthright about your experience getting published. We've dealt with all of those issues ourselves and simply haven't found an offer that was a good fit for us. If it doesn't work out, that's OK! We're still fulfilled blogging and making our own ebooks. BTW, I just tried Delfina pizza this week in San Francisco and it was AMAZING! Those carrots look bomb. Hugs!

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    1. You were in SF and I missed it?! :( !!!!

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  14. Way to stick to your guns. What a stressful experience. I'm tired just thinking about it :) Thanks for sharing!

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  15. I have so much to say about this post I don't know where to start. Thank you so much for writing it. It is really important to get this info out there. I have been contacted twice in the last six months by publishers, but have decided to go the agent route. Your info about net and list is really helpful. I am now clicking through to Dianne's post to read that too. Love the carrots too, and that "pizzeria" sounds amazing!!

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    1. Hi Katie, Oh boy, you're working on a book? I will be first in line to buy a copy!

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  16. I think it's incredible that you shared all of this. Your blog, writing, photography, and recipes, are inspiring to me and many others! I'm a big believer in the saying, "the harder you work, the luckier you get" -and clearly, you're working hard to see through your personal vision of your cookbook, not somebody's half-baked idea. You go girl!

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    1. Wow, thank you for saying that, Allison. :) I did like the publisher's book concept and I do hope they find an author who's a good fit for the project. I really appreciate your words of encouragement!

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  17. Such an refreshing post! I am pleased to hear you chose to respect your dreams, your time and your life's work. After all a book is the culmination of all the places we've been, our experiences, our knowledge, our goals. A book is in your future, one that honors your commitment to your craft. It will be phenomenal!

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  18. I work for myself (I'm a semi-Bojon) so over the years have become increasingly accustomed to translating legalese. A couple of months ago I had an experience similar to yours in that the contract was clearly not in my favor - and I aim for equality not favor. After a good week spent combing through the contract and trying to negotiate (rather than working) I felt tense and anxious. Both the contract terms and negotiations were unpleasant. Finally I followed my instincts, said no, and a weight was lifted from my shoulders. Seriously, a big sigh of relief. And I've never regretted my decision.

    A better fit will come along. And you deserve it.

    Now, as to recipe testers I am volunteering should you ever need me. I had actually decided last week to start making every recipe you publish. Because every one I have made was delicious. Am already awaiting cherry season to make your Cherry Frangipane Tart (again).

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    1. Awww!! Thank you Katherine for trying my recipes and for your kind words. I so appreciate both. Good job turning down that contract! What was it for?

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    2. Boring accounting software stuff :)

      Basically if I had signed I would have been restricted from many other opportunities.

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  19. Beautiful photography! At the end of the day, you have to do what feels right to you. That said, as a cookbook editor of 8 years and an author of several cookbooks, 8% net (for paperbacks, or 10% net for hardcovers) really is pretty standard these days, and a $10,000 advance offer is something to be proud of. Publishing has changed tremendously in the last couple of decades, and most publishers are struggling just to stay in business. I don't know who the offer came from, but you might ask the editor if you can speak with other authors he has worked with and ask them about their experiences. But as I said, if your decision feels right to you, stick with it. And keep up the wonderful blogging!

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    1. Thanks a bunch for chiming in, and for the kind words! I appreciate knowing that what the publisher was offering was standard, though I'm still confused about the differing information I'm getting from different sources. I did add a couple of notes into the post because of your assertion here; thank you for the information!

      I know that publishers are having a rough time of it - it is actually probably due to us pesky bloggers that fewer people are buying cookbooks.

      I actually did get in touch with two authors who published under this company (though with different editors). One had a not-so-great experience similar to mine, while the other loved the experience. Asking to speak with authors published under the same editor is a great idea - kind of like checking references. Thanks for the tip!

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  20. This was absolutely fascinating - thank you so much for your openness and honesty. I fear that too often bloggers (and others) get lured in by an offer that is just too good to be true and don't do their homework. I'm sorry that this opportunity didn't work out for you but I have absolutely no doubt that there is a decent agent/publisher just around the corner for you and I will be first in line to buy your book xo

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  21. Wow, that does sound like an emotional roller coaster! I read Young House Love's explanation of their book & royalties etc and was pretty surprised to find out that they wouldn't be earning that much money on it...which is crazy when you consider the amount of work that goes into creating the content and writing the book. Well, your carrot photos are absolutely stunning, and the recipe sounds just up my alley. Love roasted veggies.

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    1. Thanks for the nice note, Denise! I'll have to check out Young House Love - that sounds like a good read.

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  22. Thanks for posting this, Alanna! It was super informative. There was a time when I felt like I needed to work with anyone that offered me a product to try or showed mild interest in my blog, so I am sure if I got an offer for a book deal I'd freak out. There's so little honest info about this sort of thing on the internets and it's really refreshing to see. It really seems like it wasn't the right fit and I definitely think you'll find the right publisher.

    PS, those carrots look amazing!

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    1. Hey, Cindy! Oh yes, I totally know. Wait - why on earth have you not gotten a book offer?!?!

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  23. This was SO interesting to read, Alanna--thanks for sharing. I'm sorry about all the headache and disappointment, but you are far too talented to not have the right offer come along eventually. I don't know anything about this sort of thing, but it definitely seems like you made a wise decision. If it feels wrong, it probably is.

    P.S. The dish! It looks incredible. I'm a sucker for ricotta, and rainbow carrots, and cumin. So lovely.

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    1. Aw, thanks, Danguole! What a sweet note. :)

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  24. Oh love. What a wonderful post that needs to be shared. I know you are going to publish a beautiful cookbook in the future...and you are going to get every single dollar that you deserve. Yes, we so often "settle," and I SO ADMIRE you for realizing your worth. You are wise, wise, wise. And these carrots look delicious.

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    1. And you are sweet, sweet, sweet! Thank you for your kind and supportive words, dear Monet!

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  25. Hi Alanna! A good friend of mine here (in NY) works for a large publishing house and she said these are definitely not industry-standard rates. I think you dodged a bullet. I'm so glad you didn't undersell yourself because there is no doubt that you deserve a fair book deal. I'm positive one will come soon enough, so just keep producing the wonderful work you're producing!

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    1. Hi Linda! Thank you for saying so! And thanks for checking with your publisher friend. That's fantastic information that's so difficult to find. I really appreciate your note. :)

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  26. I read this a few days ago - and keep thinking about you and your decisions, and thank you for detailing the experience! I really like Diane Jacobs, and you have inspired me to be more serious about crafting a really good proposal, even though it might be awhile before I can do anything with it.

    You have unique visions and solid recipes, and your future is going to reflect it. Whenever I read your site, I'm more certain that something perfect is going to come your way in due time!

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    1. Aw! Thanks, Rebecca. Dianne Jacob is a hero - I wrote to thank her for writing that article that helped me make this decision, and she said she's going to include mine in her newsletter! How cool is she? Have you read her book? I just got my copy in the mail (I read it years ago from the library). I think she goes into detail on writing proposals. I also just purchased this $8 course on how to write a pitch and proposal (http://shop.abeautifulmess.com/course/write-pitch-book/). I'm liking it a lot so far.

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  27. You are brave and strong to know exactly what you want & don’t want, and I admire you for that. I am SO GLAD that you did not succumb to “the big bad wolf.” I am 100% sure that your book deal (with a good publisher) will come along before you know it. And when it happens, I will pre-order your book as you are writing it. :)

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    1. Aw, thank you, Pang! I'm unclear as to how wolfy this publisher was, which is exactly why I wanted to explore the publishing world some more before signing that contract. I don't know that they were deliberately trying to take advantage (though that first offer was certainly cuckoo...). In any case, thank you so much for the kind words!

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  28. This looks and sound so delicious! Happy to follow along now. :)

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    1. Hi Ana! So nice to have met you, and thanks for following. :)

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  29. First of all beautiful carrots! Can't wait to try them!
    About the book deal... Thank you so much for sharing it. What an interesting read. Alanna, you made a right decision by declining whether they offered you a fair rates or not. The deal just was not right for you and your work! So many red flags, so many hurdles. At the end of the day, when you make the right decision, you feel it and you know it. When you make a right decision, you have a piece, no more doubts. I'm so happy that you were so brave not to jump onto the first opportunity, but you did your homework. I'm a firm believer that when one door closes, the other one opens! The best of luck to you. You will get your perfect proposal just right for you. I can't wait for that moment!

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    1. This is the sweetest note, Shinee. THANK YOU for the kind words of support and encouragement.

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  30. I'm in favor of creating a blacklist of companies and publishers. This is the sort of thing others should never ever have to experience. I had a similar call and didn't bother to look at the contract because they suggested that I get a promotion from a celebrity! Not like Martha Stewart but like... Tori Spelling or somebody since that's somehow feasible. I laughed at him and then deleted his email. Who wants a B-list celebrity endorsing cupcakes?

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    1. OMG, that's the most absurd thing I've ever heard! I cracked up when I read this, Phi - you're hilarious. Thanks for the note!

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  31. great post and thanks so much for your insight. I was keen to publish a cook book until a similar conversation with a friend who has published made me realise that maybe I really didn't need to! Congrats on making the decision you did - am sure it would have been very hard.

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    1. I know, seriously! It's so much work and doesn't usually pay off financially. I guess it has to be rewarding in other ways, just like writing a blog. ;)

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  32. Whoops - forgot to say, those carrots look AMAZING!

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  33. Having been through the process of producing and publishing my first cookbook this article is spot on. I declined a publishers deal thinking I could make more on my own and in the end I only made a small amount. The truth is there is not much money in book publising unless you negotiate the best royalty deal, you are on TV and sell thousands of books. I am in the process of doing my second book, this time with a very big publisher but do wonder why soetimes. The ingredients and lawyers fees (to deal with the contract) will reduce my earnings by half (and that does not incllude my time). It doesnt really make financial sense. Luckily I had a lot of time to do it so am able to manage it all in amongst my normal freelance work and blog life.

    I really enjoy your work and have been following for a while. These carrots look insanely delicious.

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    1. Hi Sam, Thank you for writing, and for the kind words! I'm a huge Drizzle & Dip fan! I was going to contact you to ask how you found self-publishing. It sounds like a huge amount of work, but at least you get to keep more of the revenue. In any case, I'm excited for both of your books, though I'm sorry to hear that the first isn't paying off better. Boo! I've been told that it's difficult to profit from a first book, that you have to write several to start selling them, which I can understand. You have so much talent, I can't imagine your books being anything less than hugely successful, though. Thanks again for chiming in!

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  34. Oh, Alanna! My heart goes out to you over this whole ordeal. I can't imagine the roller coaster of emotions -- and admire you so much for keeping your head through the entire process. You're a total rockstar for how you handled this. Despite it all, I'll still say CONGRATS because I know this is just a sign of bigger and better things to come :):):) and the cookbook deal that you deserve!! Thanks so much for sharing this with us (and OMG, I LOVE these photos!!!! These carrots look and sound out of this world delicious.)

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    1. Aw! Thank you, Cynthia! I got so frustrated with how emotional I was throughout the whole thing, so I really appreciate your understanding. And indeed, even though it was a challenging situation, I'm glad I went with it to the extent that I did because I got to learn so much and share it with others. Thanks for reading, and for your super sweet note!!!

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  35. I just came for the carrots...but found myself with a new favorite blog and so peased to see you are also a pastry chef and dancer in the Bay Area! I have just found your blog and am anxious to see the rest of it. Great post, thank you. :)

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    1. Hi Mariel, Thanks for stopping by and for the super sweet note! I'm psyched to see your blog, too - brown butter bourbon ice cream 'wiches, yes!!

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  36. I've never commented here before, but de-lurking now to tell you how much I enjoy your writing style, photos, and recipes. I think you're an amazing recipe developer with all the ingredients (pun intended) for a great cookbook, so I hope to slide your name onto my shelves someday. Remember that it took Julia Child herself eight years to get her first book done.

    I also should take the opportunity to say that your lemon-buttermilk pie has become a family favorite, especially with cherry jam.

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    1. Hi, Sully! Thanks so much for reading, and for de-lurking to post such a lovely comment. I so appreciate it! I'm glad to know that you all are enjoying the pie - it's a house favorite around these parts, too. Cherry jam sounds like the perfect accoutrement - I'll have to try that next time. Yum.

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  37. Wishing you luck for your book dream and these carrots look so delicious!!

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  38. Blarg that sounds like an awful (but valuable and eye-opening) ordeal!!! I'm sorry that this first deal turned out to be not so hot, but I'm POSITIVE that better ones are on the way--how could anyone pass up your immense talent?! I mean, you make these carrots look as good as layer cakes ;)

    I'm so glad you wrote this post because I feel like no one ever does! I was in the cookbook section of the library section this weekend and was COMPLETELY overwhelmed with the sheer volume of books crowding the shelves--it seems like such a saturated market that I'm always amazed at the number of new books that keep popping up. But when you put it in perspective (only 3 out of 10 books succeed/earn out?!), it kind of makes sense. Getting the book deal isn't as hard as getting a GOOD book deal and writing a really successful book. Still, having the grit to turn down a real live book deal? So much respect, Alanna!!

    Anyway, these carrots sound heavenly and I want to make them ASAP!! I might finally be trying your grapefruit custard pie tonight to bring to a party tomorrow--we'll see if I have time :) So excited!!!

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    1. Awww!!! That's the sweetest note, Erika - thank you for your kind words! It's always nice to be approached, and though I'm sorry it didn't end up working out, I'm glad I got to learn so much and share that knowledge with others. I agree with you on how saturated the market is. (I received a free cookbook a few months ago - the recipes used so many store-bought sauces and processed foods and the photographs had no love put into them. The whole thing made me sad!)

      Anyway, I hope you get chance to make that pie! It's pretty fun. :)

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  39. What an emotional whirlwind. Way to stick to your guns, Alanna. Sounds like you made the right decision, and I doubt this is the last opportunity you will have to pursue your cookbook dreams. Love your blog and recipes. Always inspiring! Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

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    1. Thanks so much for the kind support, Ileana!

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  40. I have to take a stand for editors here. As one, I can tell you that we do the very best we can for our authors and work tirelessly at our jobs (no one comes to book publishing to make money...). The numbers we are given to work with come from strict financial models and when/if more money if offered, it is only through intense re-figuring to see where we can cut (even more) costs. (Hell, there have been times when I myself have done recipe testing/styling/baking for shoots/buying props.) The numbers you were given were not meant to "take advantage" of you--they're very standard, and in fact better than most deals I'm able to give, especially royalty-wise. (And I stand by your editor's contention that having an agent really doesn't do much--what we can give is what we can give, and our contracts are very much boilerplate--they're made to protect all parties, not just our own).

    Like having a blog, cookbooks are a labor of love--on everyone's part. If you don't want to do one, that is understandable, but please don't blame the editor because your "industry standards" did not align. We are all doing the best we can.

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    1. Hi there, Thank you for reading my post and for the thoughtful answer. I didn't mean to imply that this particular publisher was trying to take advantage, I was simply getting differing opinions and wanted to explore more offers before committing to one like that. I understand that publishers aren't making a lot of money either. I'm really impressed that you as an editor have done recipe testing/styling/baking/prop-buying - that is formidable. This publisher was not offering to do any of those things for me.

      To clarify re: agents, it was my consultant who advised hiring an agent to get a top-notch offer rather than to negotiate with a publisher who wasn't able to offer any more. He in fact highly recommended getting an agent, which I agree with after seeing how much work goes into negotiations and contract-deciphering. Additionally, my consultant advised that several of the clauses in this particular contract were not boilerplate.

      I agree that a cookbook is a labor of love for all, like blogging. But from my experience so far, the two are very different. No one is profiting from the work I do on my blog, and I work on it only as hard as I want. There are no deadlines, no contracts, no negotiations. I am careful to keep my blog fun for me so that I can reap rewards that aren't financial.

      Thank you again for chiming in - I appreciate hearing your point of view.

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  41. Hi Alanna,
    I'm writing as a cookbook editor. I credit you for sharing your experience with others, but I honestly do worry about potential authors who read this. It's clear to me that a traditional publishing book deal is not a good fit for you (as you discovered), but I hope your experience does not discourage others. Not once have I had a cookbook author regret their decision to write a book with me/my company--even if the book did not earn out. Authors have an opportunity to craft a project they can be proud of, to distribute it around the country and around the world, to have a publisher take on the full production, printing, distribution, and marketing/publicity costs (ok admittedly we share marketing responsibilities!) and to potentially even earn some money on it. I think it's a hugely valuable process. Contract negotiations are not easy--but that's the thing, you didn't negotiate! If you had, you would have found that many of the terms, full of legalese, can be adjusted. Editors have to begin at square one with every author, per the publisher's policies, but have a lot of flexibility if you simply ask. Your editor seemed very willing to help you understand the contract and work with you throughout the process. Though I do not blame you for pulling out--it was clearly the right decision for you--I hate to think that others may give up when it gets complicated.

    The actual terms here seem quite reasonable based on what I know about the publishers I have worked for and what I know about what other publishers offer. Some publishers are more flexible on royalties, and some are more flexible on the advance or other terms. Larger publishing houses typically offer more money, but they also publish more books and authors receive less individual attention. It's all about finding the right place and the right partnership.

    I hope that if you decide to take on a book project, you hire an agent to deal with the contract for you. I think you'll find you will all get on the same page and learn that a partnership with a publisher can be very rewarding. I promise as a cookbook editor, I'm working to get authors a book deal they can be proud of. What do I have at stake here? I don't get a bonus or a commission when I low-ball authors. But you have to start somewhere--we fully expect authors to negotiate. I find that when authors are open-minded and that editors/publishers are too, great things can happen!

    Best,
    Jess H
    gruffalo84 at yahoo dot com

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    1. Hi Jess,

      Thank you so much for reading my post and for writing such a thorough and thoughtful response.

      I didn't mean to imply that a traditional publishing book deal was not right for me, simply that it appeared that this offer, when compared to my own research and advisement from my consultant, was below the industry standard in many ways. I wanted to explore more possibilities before accepting an offer that may or may not have been fair. I still don't know the answer, but I thank you for adding to my research!

      For the record, I did speak to several authors who did regret accepting an offer like the one I turned down. Their experiences helped inform my decision.

      I also did do a great deal of negotiating with the publisher, as I documented in my post. We came to an impasse in the case of the royalty rate when they were unwilling to budge. That was eventually why I declined the offer – I was willing to negotiate, but they were not. I certainly did not give up simply because it got complicated; I apologize if my post made it sound that way.

      I think very highly of publishers and I'm sorry if that didn't come across in my post. I do hope to find a publishing partnership with the help of an agent.

      Thank you again for your valuable thoughts and opinions here - I greatly appreciate hearing your point of view.

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    2. Thanks for clarifying, Alanna. And I apologize for misunderstanding your efforts to negotiate; re-reading this post it's clearer now. It was really your "Hurdle #7" paragraph that was so alarming, and I agree with the poster above me that cookbook editors regularly go out of their way to prepare and market the books they edit, often taking a large part in publicizing its release. Publishing can be a thankless job sometimes, especially these days--it's a struggle. Publishers (and editors especially) are not getting rich on your work--they're making an investment in you. Remember that earning-out rate you mentioned--often these books fail to break even, so consider the risk publishers have to take on. Year after year publishing gets harder and the stakes change so rapidly. A few years ago many publishers were still offering royalties on list prices, but I don't know any that still do that--everyone seems to be offering on net. As the industry gets more competitive publishers have to work hard to stay alive and relevant. I wish I could offer as much as your editor did, but he has even more reasonable terms than I can typically get. I do hope you get a great book deal down the road--I'm rooting for you!

      Best,
      Jess H
      gruffalo84 at yahoo dot com

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    3. Hi Jess,

      Thank you for re-reading, and for your thorough response. This industry is completely new to me, and I really appreciate hearing from all sides.

      I understand that publishing is becoming harder and harder - no doubt we bloggers are contributing to this by giving everything away for free. I hate that. I am glad to hear that offering net royalties is the new standard - I was confused by that before, but of course it makes sense with the way books are being sold these days.

      Thank you again for reading, for taking the time to write, and for the kind and supportive words. I'm looking forward to learning more about how the publishing industry works, and I thank you for shedding some light on that side of things.

      Best,
      Alanna

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  42. I so admire all of your diligence in doing your research and even hiring people to help you better understand things. I tend to be very impulsive and not always do my do-diligence which can get me into trouble sometimes! Judging from your beyond beautiful photographs (I'm seriously obsessed with looking at them!) and your delicious and creative recipes I know that someday soon I will be reading your post about how you found a cookbook deal that worked for you and how excited you are to finally have your cookbook :)

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    1. Your comment warmed my heart - thank you Isadora for all the kind and supportive words!! I'm really glad I was able to get the advice and support that I did, and that I had the resources to hire some assistance as well. I'm pretty impulsive myself. ;)

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  43. What can I say? My biggest disappointment was having only orange carrots. I can deal with that. The creamy ricotta, sweet carrots, burst of lemon and peppery gremolata melded beautifully. And so easy to prepare - I even followed your link and made home made ricotta which turned out creamier looking than yours (I had to stop eating it with a spoon to save some for the recipe). Thanks as always for an adventure in the kitchen.

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    1. Yay! I'm so glad you liked these, Katherine - thanks for giving them a go. Kudos for making your own ricotta - it sounds exquisite.

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  44. Wow, what an interesting post! I love when writers are willing to tell their honest experiences for the benefit of their audience --- thank you! My husband and I are in the midst of a book-publishing process, and I have to say that when we were negotiating the contract, I had no idea what I was doing, ha! Looking back, I have learned a TON... sometimes the hard way. : ) If you ever want to chat details, shoot me an email. Also ps your photos here are lovely.

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    1. Hi Shanna! Thank you for reading, and for the thoughtful note. I would LOVE to chat details and will most certainly take you up on the kind offer. Thanks!!

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  45. Hello, I am new to your blog and found it through this post someone shared.
    I am going though a similar thing and posted a similar post this week.
    But, I am maybe a bit luckier.
    I got aproached by a few publishers but one of them really wanted me to come up with a book I wanted and asked me if I would like to design and photograph it, although they would do it themselves if I had rather have that. Of course as a graphic designer and photographer I wanted to do it myself so I came up with a proposal which is kinda nuts but they are going with it anyway. They really want to see the project and they really are taking a risk on this. My pay or advance isn't nearly as much as you were getting, wow, if only I would get that amount I would really be very happy. I made the choice to do it, I will not make a penny from it as all the money will be going towards making the book. But at least it will be the book I wanted to make not the one they wanted me to make. It's a hard choice you made but I understand it. If you would have been able to create the book you 100% wanted you might have felt differently. Much succes to you!

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    1. Hi! Oh my gosh, I'm just loving your site, Regula. Thank you for reading my post and for your note. I just read your post, as well, and am enjoying learning about your experience. You're absolutely right - if the publisher had approached me saying, "we think you're rad and we want to publish your book, whatever you want it to be" we would have started out on the right foot. Instead it was, "your concept is no good, ours is better, and we only want you if you're willing to execute our idea, not your own. Oh and by the way, you only have 4 months and might not make any money." I had to fight and fight to get terms that were just ok. I got tired of it being a struggle and decided to keep looking and find something that felt more right. Your situation sounds much more right, and I'm happy and excited for your journey!

      Much success back at you, and I hope to become one of your testers! :)

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  46. Such an interesting and honest post Alanna! My cookbook has just come out here in Australia and NZ, so I know first hand how much work goes into it, and for little to no monetary gain! Call me silly, but I went into this knowing I wouldn't make any money and maybe this is the best way to be when publishing is involved? I don't think many authors make huge amounts of money these days, especially in cookbooks with every recipe photographed. I just know, deep down is was something that I had to do, even if it damn near killed me!
    I wish you well love and I'm always here if you wanted to chat about any book stuff.
    Much love Emm xx

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    1. Hi Emma, Thanks a lot for reading my post and for your thoughtful note. Many congratulations on your book, first off - I can't wait to see it!! I'm sure it's spectacular. I really appreciate your offer to talk book publishing with me - I will gladly take you up on that! I'm only sorry I missed you while you were in my hometown of San Francisco last month.
      xo, A

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  47. Thanks for sharing! Really insightful.

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    1. Certainly! Thanks for reading and for the nice note. :)

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Nice comments make me warm and fuzzy!