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Writing a Cookbook for HarperCollins

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The experience of writing my first cookbook for HarperCollins was a mix of excitement and low-level panic.


I had wanted to write a cookbook for years - and finally that dream was coming true! I would be lying if I didn't admit that along with the excitement, I felt a bit of low-key panic as well. This was really happening!

I had barely reconciled the fact that I had just signed a cookbook deal with the Harper Horizon imprint of HarperCollins in the spring of 2020 when an initial zoom call was set up between myself, my agent and the Harper Horizon editorial team. 

I believe there were six people on that first call and I have to admit that I was a bit overwhelmed. I felt as though I had been thrust into a bit of an alternate universe!


Writing a Cookbook for HarperCollins

Although I'm hardly new to being an author, it was starting to sink in that I would be writing a cookbook this time around which was a whole 'nother thing. For one of the largest publishing houses in the world.

My previous books have a fairly good track record, selling well over 100,000 copies in total, spanning over 7 years, but my new publisher was likely going to expect my cookbook to sell that many in the first 12 months! (No pressure... right?)

The pressure would be on me to not only write the best cookbook I possibly could, but also to promote it and sell the heck out of it! And my work was cut out for me. 

I've read statistics that of the more than 500,000 books published each year, only about 10% sell more than 500 copies. And in general terms, a book is considered a success if it sells 7,500-10,000 copies. And only about 40-50 books sell more than 100,000 copies in any given year. 

But this was my dream come true and I was up for the challenge! But first, I had to write the book!

The Team

September 2020

The ink was barely dry on the contract when I was assigned a publisher, senior editor and marketing person, along with a team of copy editors, then later a design team including a cover designer. 

The recipe tester and an independent PR firm to market my cookbook were also retained. Fortunately, I didn't have to pay for any of that. It was all included in my contract.

Remember that hefty advance I told you about in my previous post?  Well, I don't get to keep all of it. My agent of course will get his 15%. And the IRS will take their chunk. 

In addition, I would be responsible for footing the bill for the food styling and photography, which I had read could be somewhere in the $20,000-$30,000 range. I also had to buy the ingredients to recipe test on my end as well, although my publisher did include in the contract a budget line for a professional recipe tester.

But first, I needed to decide on the recipes that would be included and get them written up. I had been sent some style guidelines which the recipes would have to follow as far as formatting and consistency between them. 

As I mentioned earlier, I had already started writing some of them up, which I was happy about because I had a feeling things were going to start moving pretty fast! 


The Recipes

October 2020 - January 2021

With the country deep in the throes of Covid, it was the perfect time to hunker down in my office and put my head down and write.  My deadline for turning in all the recipes was February 2022, so that gave me roughly 5 months to figure them out.


My affinity for Post-Its came in very handy as you can see here! I started by writing each recipe I was considering on a Post-It and tacking them up on a corkboard. 

Some recipes were a given: favorite family recipes, those I remember my Mom or Grandmother making, classic egg recipes, etc. 

Others were recipes that simply use a LOT of eggs... or really highlight eggs as the main ingredient. 

I had different reasons for choosing each. I just kept going through all my recipes - some of which I've had for decades written on old school recipe cards - and others I had recently discovered. I spent hours perusing old cookbooks, and sifting through piles of egg recipes my Mom started sending me as soon as I told her I was writing a cookbook.

I started going through all the magazines I had laying around and made a vision board for my office to start to visualize what a cookbook might look like when it was done. That was one of the more fun parts of the whole process!

I also had to write headnotes for each recipe. A headnote is basically the intro explaining why the recipe is important to me or why I included it. 

Sometimes it will be something interesting about the dish itself. I actually found that part to be harder than writing up the actual recipes. Recipe writing becomes pretty rote after the first few because of the consistency required in a good cookbook.

But I was at a loss as to how to organize them. At one point, I had all the recipes printed out with photos and laid them out on the floor of my office trying to figure out what should go where!

That's where the recipe tester my editor had hired to help me really was a Godsend. Over the course of several phone calls, she helped me come up with a format, chapters and guided me through how to lay out the succession of recipes.

And of course I tested every recipe. Even those I've been making for decades. Just to be sure they were as delicious and as easy to follow as possible. My poor husband ate way more egg dishes than he wanted to, I'm sure! Like the weekend I made 16 souffles, trying a slightly different method each time.


And since half of the cookbook is sweets, we ate tons more dessert than we should have. I would make a cake or cookies or whatever, and we would eat a bit each night after dinner until it was gone, then I would make the next dessert recipe to carry us through the next few nights. It was a lot.

I never thought I would say this, but I got tired of eating dessert every night. It's not something we usually do, and wasn't very good for the waistline to say the least! In fact, I ended up buying a treadmill (which I love!) as a gift to myself for getting my cookbook deal, and which I now use nearly every day trying to walk off all those "cookbook calories".

But finally, I was finished, and turned in the manuscript a week ahead of my deadline.

The Photography

February 2021

While I was working on finalizing the recipes, we had also started looking for a photographer. Since this was my first cookbook, it was important to me to find someone who not only shot in a style that I liked that fit my brand, but who also had worked on cookbooks in the past. 

There are some really amazing food photographers out there, many of whom I follow on Instagram, but since a cookbook has so many working parts, I felt that having an experienced cookbook photographer was critical. 

After looking through portfolios of several photographers (again, I used my cookbook library to find some leads), and even getting quotes from a few, but not being 100% sold, I found Tina Rupp


She is not only an excellent photographer who has worked with Giada, Rachel Ray, Oprah and Martha Stewart, she lives in Connecticut so it would be convenient for me to attend the photo shoot (not mandatory, I was told, but I absolutely wouldn't miss it for the world! 

I was bound and determined to live this cookbook author experience to the fullest!) I also liked her style and thought it would fit my brand and vision really well.

With bated breath we reached out to Tina. I had no idea if she would even want to work on my cookbook, much less be affordable. Tina replied. She agreed to talk with me on the phone before making a decision. 

During the course of our phone call, she admitted that she's very picky about who she works with these days and just wanted to be sure that we would "click".  We did. We had a great conversation. She submitted her quote and I was thrilled that we could make it work! 

After several meetings with my editors, Tina and myself, deciding a shot list and which recipes would be photographed, as well as the overall asthetic of the book and potential cover shots, we scheduled two weeks in April for the photo shoot at Tina's home/studio in Old Saybrook. 

She would be responsible for assembling her team - a food/prop stylist and two assistants. It turned out that the stylist she chose, Cyd McDowell, not only styles for Jamie Oliver when he's stateside, she has worked for Epicurious, The Kitchn, Williams-Sonoma and loads of other prestigious foodie sites. I was super excited about this photo shoot! I figured I could pick up some valuable photography and styling tips if I paid attention.

Although the food stylist is generally responsible for procuring all the ingredients for a cookbook photo shoot, I wanted to use eggs from my chickens (naturally!) for all the recipes. 

So I started hoarding eggs and saving them in cartons I stacked in our refrigerator. By the time I left for Connecticut for the photo shoot, I had over 400 eggs packed in the back of my Subaru! And we used every last one of them!


The Photo Shoot

April 2021

Those two weeks I spent in Connecticut with the photography team were some of the most fun I'd had in recent memory. It was actually the first time I had really left the house since Covid started, which in itself was exciting, but the group of women Tina had assembled were truly amazing. 

Every morning, with Alexa playing a random playlist chosen by one of us and hot coffee in the French press, they whisked and cooked and baked, then styled and photographed my recipes. My recipes.




Recipes that I had developed and taken my own (best effort but merely mediocre) photos of - which they taped to the refrigerator to lay out what they would be making for the day. 

It was so surreal to see the recipes come to life. The photographs were so beautiful and hearing everyone's thoughts after tasting what they cooked gave me so much confidence in my skills as a cook and baker. Every single recipe worked. Every last one.

I'll admit I had nightmares leading up to the photo shoot. I worried that none of the recipes would turn out right - that the cream puffs wouldn't puff, the souffle wouldn't rise,  that nothing would taste good. That I would be mortified in front of all these talented, creative women.

Realistically I knew that wasn't going to happen, but as each day went by and dish after dish was churned out of that kitchen, I started to really enjoy myself. My confidence levels soared. I was really beginning to believe that I was a bona fide cookbook author! 


And as each dish was photographed, the photos were printed out and mounted on white boards organized by chapter so we could all see how things were shaping up.  

On the last day, a few potential cover shots were staged and I posed for some headshots and other candids to use in the book. I was exhausted, but smiling from ear to ear.

It was a long two weeks, I won't lie, but on the last day as we all said goodbye, I was really hoping that we could do it again sometime.


The Lifestyle Photos

May 2021

Since I wrote an introduction in the book describing life on our farm here in Maine and a bit about my family's background, we had decided to also do a day of "lifestyle" photos here. 

So Tina drove up with her kids to shoot me and the chickens in their natural habitat. And that finished up the photography portion of the cookbook.

After having worked on this project almost non-stop for the past nine months, I finally got a break and a chance to sit back and take a breath - and pinch myself that I was really writing a cookbook! But my break didn't last long....

The Cover 

July 2021

Next came one of the most exciting parts of this journey. Deciding on the cover. In the end, none of the shots that were specifically taken for the cover were used and instead it was decided to create a cover around one of the specific dishes instead. 

I was thrilled that for this part of the process, as with all other parts, my editors included me completely and I was given a say in how I envisioned things looking.  

I wasn't sure, working with such a large publisher, if I would lose control at some point and have the decision making taken away from me, but I am pleased at how much they seemed to value my input and opinion and make sure that I was happy with everything.

Anyway, the design team sent several cover options for my editor and publisher and me to weigh in on.  We unanimously chose the Eggs Benedict cover as our favorite, so then there were several versions of that one sent for us to look at. 

After going back and forth several more times, the cover was finalized and added to the cookbook listings on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. My cookbook is officially available for pre-order!

The Edits

July 2021

While the cover was being designed, the copy editors were busy at work. Over the next several weeks  I must have read over the recipes ten times, as did my editor and several other editors. 

Each round of edits, I had pages and pages of corrections, revisions and improvements to go through. It's a testament to the quality of books that Harper Horizon puts out that so much time was devoted to the editorial process.

Although the cookbook was originally supposed to be 224 pages, I do tend to be wordy and always manage to over-submit to my editor. Normally things are edited out to come int at the originally budgeted content and word count, but the decision was made to leave in everything and so my book will actually be 301 pages.

So finally, once everyone was happy with the overall content, and it was time to work on the interior layout.


The Layout

August 2021

Although the day that box of review copies of the new book arrives is probably the most exciting in an author's life. The first look at the interior design also ranks up there. For me, seeing my Word document manuscript being turned into an actual book layout is super exciting. And this time was no exception. 

Again, my thoughts on fonts and colors and layout were all requested and my opinions taken into consideration. 

The cookbook is going to be beautiful! I can't wait to hold it in my hands. It generally takes about 6 months for a book to be printed and shipped to the warehouses and distributors, to Amazon and other retailers, so the first week of September, my cookbook went to the printer.


What's Next? 

September 2021 - February 2022

Now that the preliminary work on my cookbook is officially done, the real work starts. The next six months will be devoted to promoting and marketing my book. The PR team has been assembled and target media outlets, local and national tv and radio stations, print and digital publications and celebrities and influencers who might want a copy of the book identified.

While the pros work on all that, I have been focusing on drumming up some pre-orders of my cookbook among my online community. Pre-orders of any book are super important. 

Pre-orders signal to retailers which titles and how many books to order, they signal to the industry which books might be exciting and popular with readers. And most importantly, they are the best way for a book to land on the various best seller lists, which then in turn helps to drive sales.

My cookbook is available for pre-order now from various online sites or you can ask your local bookstore or library to order you a copy.  

As for me, I'm cracking open the champagne and counting down the days until February 15, 2022. The birthday of The Fresh Eggs Daily Cookbook


Did you miss the beginning of how my dream of writing a cookbook came true? If so, you can read here how I got my cookbook deal in this earlier post -->

Part I | How I Got a Cookbook Deal with HarperCollins

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