It takes guts, patience, perseverance, hard work and luck. Looking sexy on camera doesn't hurt, either.

Put that all together and you have the winning recipe for a best-selling cookbook. Maybe.

"People have no idea how hard it is to write a good cookbook," says Beth Wareham, director of lifestyle publishing for Scribner. "Everyone thinks they can write one -- just like everyone thinks they can write a kids' book."

An estimated 1,500 cookbooks are published annually in this country, but only a small percent become top sellers. Even Food Network superstar Rachael Ray, who's sold more than 4 million cookbooks, had to talk a small publisher into printing her first book.

"If you're not on TV or famous or writing on just the right subject at the right time, it's really tough," says David Strymish, chief executive of Jessica's Biscuit, a leading catalogue and online cookbook seller.

Still, cookbook sales have been strong for the past few years, he says. This year, the company is estimating sales up 31 percent over last year.

So, still think you want to write a cookbook? We asked four Washington area writers with new cookbooks out this month for advice. The four, pictured on this page, are a Washington chef who snagged a lucrative advance with his very first cookbook and three veteran authors who have carved out successful careers over the past 20 to 30 years. Read their stories on Page 2.