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Denise Vivaldo Headshot

Cookbooks

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I own at least one thousand cookbooks. I love each one I keep. I am sent at least thirty new cookbooks by authors, publishers and PR agents per year in the hopes that I will review their books. I usually don't because I know how much work goes into a cookbook, even the bad ones, and cookbooks are very personal to me. I think of cookbooks as friends. I make connections with the voice of the writer. I want to cook the food. I appraise the photos. If nothing hooks me about the book, I pass it on (some friends just discovered that the thoughtful present I gave them for their birthday was ... a freebie).

For crying out loud, didn't your mother teach you that it's the thought that counts?

My dearest cookbooks have lasted longer than my first marriage. Truly, my current husband (who knew husbands were so fragile?) threatens divorce when he sees the packages in the mail.

"Tell me that is not another cookbook?!"

"Okay, I'll tell you it's not another cookbook."

I'm sent beautiful cookbooks, expensive cookbooks, average cookbooks, totally useless cookbooks and even terrible cookbooks. A terrible cookbook makes me mourn the trees cut down to beat into paper. But then I think, at least this put some people to work. It's good for the economy.

Even when I think the book is a waste, it's very hard for me to tell anybody that. The author will know soon enough when it only sells three hundred copies, and two hundred of those were sold to their mother's church group. I understand from experience that to write and publish a cookbook is a hell of a lot of work.

Many cookbook authors will write just one. Even with a decent advance, you are writing for $1.19 an hour. Royalties will happen, maybe, if you're lucky, and your book touches a market.

The best days for me are the days I sign a cookbook contract and the day it hits Amazon. The rest is a blur. All that being said, I do believe if you think you have something to say, you have to. Just write.

There has been much talk in the news lately about cookbooks and food writing. Will cookbooks survive? Will paper books totally disappear? Is traditional publishing dead? Can you make a living writing cookbooks?

In my opinion, the answers are yes, no, need a new money model, and only if you can live like a monk or have a wildly successful TV show to help sell your cookbooks.

Cookbooks, good or bad, are all about sales in today's market. And they always have been. This is nothing new. What has changed is how the author will sell the book. Book stores have almost disappeared. More than ever, you have to blog, become a brand and create an online following. Tweet, tweet.

In many books, credentials, talent and knowledge have fallen by the wayside. How many books can the author sell? That is the only question.

What I keep asking myself: Are printed cookbooks important? Can't you just get recipes off the web? Why buy a cookbook?

Well, if you read like me, I personally need to turn the pages of a cookbook, not push a button on my Nook. I want to breathe in that new book smell. I want to write in pencil in my cookbooks about my results or any changes or additions to a recipe I might make.
I want to have the author sign my book and let me gush about how much I enjoy cooking out of it.

I cherish my cookbooks by looking at them and remembering what I learned. What wonderful memory or recipe does that book reminds me of? Where was I inspired to travel to by reading this cookbook and how do I share that with my friends and family? How can I set the table after I've cooked?

This week, I gave a cookbook launch party for my friend and legend, Anne Willan. If you don't know Anne Willan, shame on you. Go directly to Amazon and buy one of her cookbooks. She's not much of a twitter-kind-of-gal. She's only a brilliant author with fifty years of cooking behind her.

As I was introducing Anne to a packed room, I answered my own question. I looked down at my copy of her latest book, The Cookbook Library, Four Centuries of Cooks, Writers and Recipes That Made The Modern Cookbook (University of California Press), I held back tears and thought, "Thank goodness I can hold this book in my hands, because it's a lifetime achievement and it deserves more than a keyboard. I want to fall asleep with it across my chest, and hold it again in the morning."

Denise Vivaldo is the author of seven cookbooks. She writes everyday, whether she gets paid of not. She can't help herself.

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