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CRIP UP THE KITCHEN: My Unconventional Journey to Signing a Book Deal

I can’t believe I’m about to say this but on Friday, November 26, 2021, I signed a contract with TouchWood Editions (TWE) for CRIP UP THE KITCHEN: REALISTIC TIPS, TRICKS, AND RECIPES FOR THE DISABLED KITCHEN. It will be published in APRIL 2023, which is super fast in the publishing world, especially for a cookbook! Cookbooks typically take three years to product after a contract has been signed.

Which also means, no new recipes for reasons you will learn if you decide to stick around and read to the end.

Crip Up The Kitchen Mock Cover: A charcuterie board with the following text overlaid: Crip Up The Kitchen by Jules Sherred. Realistic tips, tricks and recipes for the disabled kitchen
This is not the book cover for CRIP UP THE KITCHEN. This is a mock cover that I made up for use at the title page for my book proposal.

Non-fiction books are sold on proposal. A book proposal is very similar to a business plan. You have to tell the prospective agent or publisher why now for this book, why you are the best person to write it, the market for the book with stats, comp titles, propose a marketing plan, 3 sentence outline for each chapter, and a few other tidbits.

Unless you are selling a memoir, you don’t have to have a complete book finished before pitching a non-fiction book. But you do need a banger of a query letter and proposal. In fact, agents and publishers don’t want you to have a complete book because publishers have a lot of say into what goes into non-fiction books.

Cookbooks are the most difficult type of non-fiction book to sell to a publisher. Which makes finding an agent super difficult. My book had a lot of interest, from both publishers and agents. I sold this book without an agent, which was not my intention. In fact, my goal for 2022 was to get an agent. Now, it is to have everything complete for the first major deadline: March 1, 2022.

The Road to Publication for CRIP UP THE KITCHEN Was Far From Typical

In early 2020, I came up with the idea for the cookbook. I noodled on it for a few weeks. Then, I sat down and wrote the first 20,000 words in about one week. That is how my brain works. I first write everything in my head, before I spit it out on the page. I did this as I slowly started to lose function in both of my thumbs because of an issue with my tendons.

Once I was convinced I had something saleable, I wrote my cover letter and proposal. My proposal didn’t change much since that first draft. My cover letter went through three different versions, which I’ll get to.

Next, I created an account on QueryTracker and I began researching all the agents who said they accept pitches for cookbooks. That took about a month as I checked their social media, websites, agencies, lists, etc. The next step was to rank them in order of preference.

While that was going on, The Tobias Literary Agency was offering help critiquing the query letters of trans authors because of yet another anti-Trans thing happening in the world. I think it may have been yet another thing to do with she-whom-shall-not-be-named. One of the agents was very happy to look at my letter, told me I had great bones, then gave me some suggestions to make it really stand out.

CRIP UP THE KITCHEN – Query Round 1

I made the edits and queried my first 15 agents. Over the following six weeks, a few of those queries automatically closed because the agents didn’t respond. That is completely normal. But the majority gave me some sort of response, which is rare! The norm is that you will have more queries that automatically close than agents who take the time to respond, even if those responses are rejections.

Out of those rejections, a had a few that said they love the concept and really hope to see it published but they have stopped representing cookbook authors because cookbooks are just so dang difficult to sell. I had one reject over ableist reasons, so I’m glad I dodged that bullet. I had one request for my incomplete manuscript which was now at about 30,000 words. And I had two Revise and Resubmits (R&R).

The agent who requested my manuscript eventually passed because, even though they really saw the need for CRIP UP THE KITCHEN, they wanted more personal food stories in the book; stories that really connected the reader with the dish. The two R&Rs also gave some great feedback for things to tweak.

So, I stopped querying. This was October 2020. I started to query in June 2020. Trust me when I tell you, getting to this stage in only four months is super fast! If an agent is interested in your work, it can take up to six months before they give you any sort of feedback.

I had planned to make some tweaks in regards to the feedback with which I agreed. One is never obligated to incorporate feedback but all the feedback I got was amazing. I was hoping to have the changed made by the end of 2020 and begin a new round of queries in the spring of 2021, including resubmitting to the R&Rs. But, life had other plans.

For most of 2020, I couldn’t use my thumbs. Which made working on the book really difficult as I had to dictate everything. Also, try cooking without thumbs! But at least we all know my cookbook is well-tested. By the end of 2020, doing anything with my manuscript was a big NOPE. But, I was still noodling things to that when time came, I could crash out of the gate.

CRIP UP THE KITCHEN – Round 2 at Lightning Speed

In early 2021, an agent friend of mine offered to look at my query letter. They suggested some more tweaks to tighten it up even more. And then I had three surgeries in four months. Two of which were on my hands. There was absolutely no way I was going to do the early 2021 restart.

So, at the end of June 2021, I felt ready to query again. While I was still recovering from my third surgery, my hands were healed enough where I could resume typing in short periods.

Aside: My hands are still healing from my surgeries.

I queried five agents with my updated letter, two of which were R&Rs. Within 24 hours, I got a request for my proposal directly from an agent who normally doesn’t respond that quickly. They also responded personally when usually, it is their assistant who does it. That was a big deal! I also received a thank you from one of the R&Rs. I knew the other R&R wasn’t going to respond for months because I know them and their process. And one agent rejected with a form letter within 24 hours.

Whenever you get a request, it is a good idea to stop. I had three of of five people considering my proposal, so it was time to pause the query process.

But, at the beginning of August, I got it into my head that I was going to pitch a Canadian publisher based in Vancouver, B.C. My thinking was, it wouldn’t hurt. And their submissions page says, if they are interested, it will take 6 – 12 months before getting a response. That is really typical. When we say publishing is slow, we mean it.

Within two days, their acquisition editor emails me back.

WTF IS HAPPENING?!

They let me know that they are no longer publishing cookbooks and recommended that I submit to TWE because my letter and proposal was super good and they felt my book deserved to be published.

So, I submitted to TWE in mid-August. Their website also says the same thing. They get hundreds of submissions a year. They only publish a handful of very select books each year. If interested, expect to wait up to a year for a response.

Then PITMAD rolled around at the end of August 2021. On a lark, I decided to pitch my book during the Twitter pitch event, expecting no requests because non-fiction is usually ignored. Especially cookbooks. Well. I received requests to submit my proposal from two more agents and one publisher, based on 200 characters.

So, now we have six people who have requested my proposal and are considering it. I say to myself, “Okay. We are really done now because that is super a lot, like WTF IS HAPPENING?!”

Then, a week later, two weeks after submitting to TWE, I receive the following email:

Thank you for thinking of TouchWood for your work. I’ve reviewed your submission and will be including it with the projects I bring forward to our fall acquisitions meeting. It will be a bit before you hear more from us, but I just wanted you to know it’s cleared the first cull anyway! And if you have interest from other publishers in the meantime, please do let us know. Thanks.

WHAT THE HECKIN HECK?!

We are now at seven. That is unheard of.

The following week–we are now at mid-September 2021–I receive the following email from one of the R&R agents:

Thank you so much for submitting sample pages of R&R-CRIP UP THE KITCHEN: REALISTIC TIPS, TRICKS, AND RECIPES FOR THE DISABLED KITCHEN to me. Even though I found many great qualities in your work, I must decline it at this time. After doing some research and speaking to editors, there needs to be a more solid platform for authors of books that will be published with the market in the US. I’m sorry to not have better news to share.

All my best,

This agent went above and beyond and gave my book so much time and care! One day, I hope to let them know how much this meant to me. The fourth wave of COVID was really kicking in and I needed that. Agents do not put this much effort into a book unless they are really keen to represent the author.

And now we are at six: four agents and two publishers.

Selling CRIP UP THE KITCHEN in Record Speed

Two weeks later, at the beginning of October 2021, I received the following email from the acquisitions editor who requested via PITMAD. Keep in mind, once a book is submitted to a publisher, the process is upwards of a year before hearing anything:

Thanks for your patience as my team and I reviewed this book.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s the right fit for NAB. We don’t usually do cookbooks, so I’ll be honest, I was taking a bit of a reach in reviewing the manuscript because I thought you had a really unique idea–and I still do! However, I think this might be better suited to another publisher, or might even work well as a self-pubbed title, especially based on how much this overlaps with your personal story.

I wish you the best of luck in making this book a reality.

Patience?! I just handed you the proposal and pages like 2 seconds ago?! And I love this rejection! Thank you for taking the time!!

Now we are at four agents and one publisher.

Fast forward six weeks to mid-November 2021. I receive the following email from TWE:

We’re having an acquisitions meeting next week and I will be bringing your manuscript to the group, assuming it’s still available. I know our acting publisher is already quite keen to talk about it. I wish I could give you a more definite answer for the agents who you’ve said have expressed interest, but I will know more very soon. Thank you again for thinking of us for this project.

“Quite keen” is huge praise in Canadian. Okay. So, I have to keep telling myself to breathe and not read too much into this. Let’s chill our bones and remember that this can still result in a rejection, as way more books die at the acquisitions table than are purchased. Only a teeny tiny fraction make it beyond this point, never mind get to it.

Four. Days. Later.

Just wanted to send you an update. We’ve just had our acquisitions meeting and our acting publisher and promotions person both share my enthusiasm for this project. We’re going to chat with our publisher, Taryn Boyd, about it in the next day or two. Taryn is on maternity leave right now but still very involved with our acquisitions process, and is particularly involved in cookbook development. So, thanks for hanging in there. I know this part is a lot of waiting, but there’s definite interest in your book here and I’ll know more very soon. Please do let me know if you receive interest from another publisher in the meantime. Thanks!

I ROARED with laughter at “a lot of waiting” because it has been milliseconds in terms of how slowly things move in publishing.

CRIP UP THE KITCHEN To Be Published April 2023

One week later, on November 24, 2021, I got the request for “the call”. This is still not a done deal, even if we are 95 per cent of the way there! There could be a lot of things that just won’t make for a good business relationship that only come up during “the call”. The call happened on November 25, 2021 which evolved into contract negotiations! It was a long call. With a publication date of April 2023 which is super fast! Cookbooks usually take 2 – 3 years to move through all the stages of publication once the contract has been signed.

The morning of Friday, November 26, 2021, I emailed the four people who had been considering my proposal since the end of June. The fact they had been sitting with it for so long was also a very good sign. I let them know about the deal and that I had accepted it. I thanked them for their time and let them know that their enthusiasm for my book kept me going through these difficult months.

Within minutes, they had responded. All very positive. All very happy for me. All congratulating me. All looking forward to sharing it when time comes.

Agents do not get enough praise, let me tell you. Without two agents helping me with my query letter, and all the agents I queried making available resources to education aspiring authors about this entire process, I wouldn’t have been able to navigate this process on my own.

By the evening of Friday, November 26, 2021, the contract was signed and the announcement was made.

And that, my friends, is my very unconventional journey to publication. Part of the deal was that I don’t post any more recipes to Patreon or any new recipes on Disabled Kitchen and Garden. The reasoning is, Canadian books have a really difficult time breaking through in the marketplace. To give this book the best chance possible, it needs to mostly contain information not available elsewhere.

So, the questions is: Do you want to continue paying for first read of behind-the-scenes tidbits I am allowed to share over the next 16 months as CRIP UP THE KITCHEN makes its way through all the next steps?

My first major deadline is March 1, 2022, when I have to have the 50,000 words finalized and most of the 50+ images ready.  April 1, 2022 is when I have to have all the images ready, which is way more than what is typically found in a cookbook. Meaning, I’m going to be super swamped and have no idea how frequently I’ll be able to update.

Anyway, let me know your thoughts on this!

And thank you for your support during this process!!

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