By the time Lisa Yockelson sought out a contract for her first cookbook 25 years ago, she was already a published food writer and she had an agent. She had also prepared a lengthy proposal for a primer on baking. She'd even commissioned step-by-step photographs of the process of making pastry dough to send along with the proposal. And on top of all that was a lifetime consumed with baking, from the time she made her first cake -- her mother's buttermilk chocolate -- when she was 7 years old.
She didn't get that contract, but the publisher was so impressed that he asked her agent to come up with a different cookbook idea. (Yockelson later found out that she would have had a better shot at the pastry primer if she'd been a well-known male pastry chef.) The agent suggested a book on weekend cooking for the week ahead. The publisher liked the idea, and Yockelson's cookbook career was launched.
Since then Yockelson, 51, of Washington has written 12 cookbooks, nine of them about baking, her primary area of expertise. But they certainly didn't fall into her lap. She describes her career as "circuitous." She has always meticulously researched ideas for books, newspapers or magazines before submitting them to editors and publishers. "If you're going to write about food, you need to be represented across the board in publications that highlight your work appropriately," she says.
She's also continued to hone her cooking and baking skills. She's been working on the material in "Chocolate Chocolate" for 10 years. "I'm very hands-on," she says.
Her advice to would-be writers: "Identify your area of expertise. Scour the marketplace and look at what's being published. See how what you want to write fits in, and how it can interest potential publishers. . . . Secure an agent." Then time your proposal, she suggests, so you're not submitting an idea in an area already flooded with similar cookbooks.
She knows her approach is labor-intensive and demands patience. But it's worked for her. "It taught me about standing by the work I wanted to do," she says. "And over the years, it's allowed me to flourish."
-- Judith Weinraub